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What is Mastering?

Mastering is that last step (last chance?) between completed mixes and a finished project. Oftentimes a CD may sound like a collection of songs, but doesn’t have the cohesion that makes it feel united. Good mastering, by subtle use of compression (ie.dynamics control) and equalization (tonal balancing) with state-of-the-art equipment, can assist in the creation of that desired end product that presents the producer and artist in the best light. And more technically, a red book master will be created that contains both the audio and housekeeping information that is necessary for manufacturing. This must be a technically perfect entity since thousands of commercially available CDs will be duplicated from this master.

Mockingbird Mastering, Inc.

Why you shouldn't do it yourself:

  • Another set of ears listening without prejudice to both the technical and musical aspects of your project. The acoustically neutral mastering room can reveal flaws in the mixing environment and an experienced mastering engineer can help to correct those flaws.
  • The best equipment for the best job: Mockingbird Mastering, Inc. has state-of-the-art equipment that will enhance what you want and not subtract from what you’ve got.
  • I can error check the master. The final master will be checked for digital integrity by computer analysis as well as receive a thorough and critical listening evaluation.

Mockingbird Mastering, Inc.

How should I prepare for mastering?

The best preparation is to ensure that your project is recorded to the highest resolution possible (see the next paragraph). Ideally, songs are mixed to a professional analog 2 track….then the critical analog to digital conversion can be done with the highest quality converter. However in this day it is a rare situation where an analog master is made. However, it is still possible to have a great sounding source for mastering by using care and keeping the resolution high (start and stay in the 24 bit domain and work in the highest practical sampling rate. 96K is ideal). Eventually your music will end up in a CD format (44.1KHz sampling and 16bits). Don’t go there prematurely…we’ll do that as the last stage in mastering.

Jeffrey Norman - Mockingbird Mastering, Inc.
Jeffrey Norman
Mockingbird Mastering, Inc.

I have excellent analog and digital equipment and there’s a place for both. There are cases where only digital compression and/or equalization is called for. If we absolutely know that we’re going to stay in the digital domain (ie. not use analog compression or equalization) throughout the mastering process, then the source sampling frequency ideally will be in some multiple of 44.1K (ie. 88.2K or 176.4K) so that the decimation to CD master will be a cleaner mathematical procedure. However, since Mockingbird Mastering has such excellent digital to analog converters (Pacific Microsonics Model 1 & Model 2), it often pays to convert to analog and do compression and/or equalization in the analog world. In this case, 96K/24bit or even 192k/24 bit is best. The project usually dictates which process to use.

Mastering Philosophy:

Much is made of CD level. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of excessively loud CDs. There is certain point when the quality of the music suffers because of over compression and poor technique to get a loud CD. To quote Joe Gastwirt, one of the industry’s leading mastering engineers, “…every record has a magic level where it sounds best…”. I’ll create a great sounding, competitively loud CD…if you want an excessively LOUD CD, I can do that too. Ultimately, my job is to give the client what he wants and also to give him the most informed choices.

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