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The case for professional mastering

What is audio mastering | What is mastering
Choosing the best online mastering
Stem mastering
Free mastering
Mastering plugins or online mastering ?
Mastering engineer questions and answers
Advantages of online mastering
The case for professional mastering
Mastering prices
Preparing for mastering
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SAS Album mastering

Everyone would like to know everything, it would be nice to be able to do everything yourself. A lot of people are attempting their audio mastering with mastering software and there is no wrong doing in that intention. After all people are recording and mixing at home and it appears to be a natural thing to do. In life I have found that there are a lot of people who specialize in an area of work or interest and you will commonly find that the experiences that are gained by serious interest, practice and professionalism mean people become expert, their skills set them apart. Professional mastering has so much to offer a piece of music and in some instances this is not understood. There can be various reasons for this, in the worst case musicians may not have the listening acuity or equipment to even be able to hear the differences between a professional master and an amateur attempt with mastering software.
 
This is somewhat disturbing as the result is a lowering of quality of music that is released into the public domain. This is not good for musicians, people who work in the music industry or the listening public. An erosion of standards on top of the existing financial climate and music industry specific issues is something we can all do without. A mastering engineer is someone who is experienced enough to make good judgements on the tonal balance of music and how any decisions will translate onwards to a wide variety of musical playback systems. As well as analogue equipment it will include mastering software. An experienced online mastering studio will be able to get your project from sounding good to great. As a mastering engineer if I am given a good mix I find musicians and producers can be quite surprised at the improvements in terms of richness, width, punch and clarity that mastering with high quality tools and experience can achieve.

The skill of the mastering engineer will have started with a background in audio production. My background for example is in recording many, many music sessions for broadcast on the UK's national radio provider the BBC. I have been in a very fortunate position of recording big artists such as Chick Corea, Lemar, Craig David and many others. Being in this position and recording largely to stereo meant I developed an ear for musical balance. This has stood me in very good stead for the work as a mastering engineer. This experience has allowed me to make effective equipment choices which is a key aspect of audio mastering. In a world of 1,000's of mastering software plugins where do you start to find out where the gems are, the plugins that can make a real difference ? How does one choose their high end analogue equipment, the boxes that make a difference? You have to listen and be able to discern what the qualities are and how they would be applied. Mastering engineers are specialists, day in day out they listen to music with a very specific type of listening technique which takes years to perfect.
 
"What is audio mastering?" fact : The most significant aspect relating to the results of mastering is the engineer you employ and his skillset and ability to chose and apply the right tools for the job.

I believe that the internet has skewed what the definition of mastering audio is and it seems as if "popping mastering software on the output" is commonly perceived as being mastering. Well mastering is so very much more. The enhancements of energy, space, warmth and clarity in mastering go a long way to dispel this myths that adding a limiter irrelevant of results is the mastering job done. unless you have had the chance it would be easy to feel that mastering software is the be all and end all of the audio production world. However a mastering engineer who has access to top quality analogue audio equipment will know that analogue can add a special something to the sound. Analogue equipment is by it's very nature almost impossible to replicate to perfection as it is always adding something very slightly different to the sound as the voltages representing the music pass through the circuits. 

Conversely I do believe there are a few people who are over charging for their mastering services. Ultimately this comes down to the business model you adopt and your expectations of earnings as an individual. There are engineers with low experience in mastering audio charging high rates for mediocre services.I believe in offering an uncompromised service which is affordable and yet has the same level of quality associated with it as mastering studios charging significantly more. The service of mastering is also changing, mastering has always had an element of quality control and as such this can be extended to artists who may wish to have some feedback regarding their mixes. If a mastering client has paid up front or definitely proceeding I am more than happy to offer a few tips and feedback relating to their mix if that is requested. This is good for both parties as the end result will end up being better. 

When it comes to the mastering software options available I constantly hear differences in subjective quality. For example I can hear a great difference between the various digital equalizer plug ins that are available on the market. When you are in a position of responsibility you want to be making certain that only the best is being employed when mastering tracks. Again, limiters all have a different sound and applying the right one for any given track is very important. The differing characters of mastering software plug ins is critical and using the wrong ones can mean a sub standard master is created. These days I use a combination of analogue and digital tools to generate masters and as such selection of the right tools is a significant part of the resulting sound. Compromise has no place in mastering, by definition it is application of the best tools to create the best end result. If compromise in skill, toolset, monitoring or room acoustics is evident then the track has not been mastered.

So if you decide to do your own self finalizing on your musical project I suggest your re consider and think about what a specialist can offer your project. Experience, objectivity, choice of tools, full range monitoring, accurate acoustics make a significant different to results and that most people will understand.
 
©Copyright 2011 Barry Gardner
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