What is mastering and why do I need it?

Mastering (and a mastering engineer) can simply be thought of as the bridge between the creation of music and its public release. It is often surrounded by misinformation and unnecessary mystery, but mastering is actually pretty simple. 


Mastering refines the overall presentation of music so that it can be enjoyed in a cohesive experience, alongside any other professionally-released material. Mastering enhances the details of music in preparation for consumption by the general public.


It’s also the last chance you have for quality assurance before your music is released. Without a dedicated, quality mastering engineer, the music listening experience would be quite jarring. Volume would be very inconsistent, and many potential problems and common mistakes would be left unresolved before public release.

Why should I use you for mastering?

For one thing, I care deeply about great music. It's a core part of who I am and I enjoy it so much. Because of that, I care deeply about YOUR music and want to do everything I can to help it rise above the noise, stand out, and be the best it can be.


Every song that comes through the studio is equally-valued in its importance and the attention it receives. Ultimately, I realize that my success is based on YOUR success. Therefore, I bring passion and excellence to every project I work on.

Can't I (or the mix engineer) master the mix?

Sure. Plenty of awards and accolades have been given to songs/albums that didn’t have a dedicated mastering engineer. So what’s the value of one, then? I would summarize it in a word: perspective.


A mastering engineer is quite valuable, simply for their objective view and approach to the music. Because they haven’t spent days, weeks, or even months with a song, they are able to hear it with fresh ears and quickly make valuable decisions, free of any previous bias towards the song.


Another value they add is musical translation. A pro mastering engineer should have a space that is specifically designed and tailored to be sonically-neutral and revealing of details in the music, both good and bad. Because of this, they can identify any deficient or excessive traits in the mix that might be due to room problems, speaker problems, or listening fatigue from long mixing sessions or repetitive listening. This allows them to make the absolute most of the music so it can sound great - or translate - in just about any environment.


Also, most pro mastering engineers bring a wealth of knowledge in specific and detailed areas that many in the music industry are simply unaware of. This isn’t a knock on anyone else, it’s just the result of being focused on the craft of mastering.

Automated/Instant mastering services (like L*NDR) are very affordable and have an immediate turnaround. Why wouldn’t I just use them?

Many automated mastering services are available online today, but they all lack important qualities that any good mastering engineer will bring to your music. For example: 


#1 - Music is a human experience that is felt, heard and renders an emotional response from the listener. A mastering engineer responds to this experience while automated mastering will simply analyze numbers and apply predetermined processing based on those numbers.


#2 - You probably have specific desires for the outcome of your music - things like impact, feel, vibe, tone, and emotion. You can't have a conversation with an automated program about how to achieve these results. Further still, you can't ask for a recall with specific changes in mind. 


#3 - Some mixes are great just as they are and may only need to be brought to a more industry-standard level. A good mastering engineer knows when this is the case and will leave it at that. But automated mastering will always apply some sort of processing, regardless of the initial state of the mix. Even if you process a track through these services once, it will be further processed if it is submitted again - which raises the question, “Was it not done correctly the first time?” 


#4 - In mastering, lots of potential problems in a recording and mix can "surface." Things like noise, pops, clicks, room issues, beginnings/endings cut short etc. Automated mastering services don’t have the discernment to properly identify and effectively address them. A mastering engineer can fix common problems like these in a sonically-natural way. Additionally, they can offer mix feedback and notes, if desired.


#5 - Preparing songs for release often includes things like track sequencing, crossfading, tonal and dynamic balance from song to song, metadata encoding and more. Automated services offer few (if any) of these things.

Will my music sound different after mastering?

This really depends on your desired outcome for the music. However, it should always complement and improve upon the mix. Amongst other things, the mastering process can bring the volume of your music to a similar level of other professionally-released music in its genre.


I always appreciate your direction with answers to some of the following questions... What are the things in the mix that you like or dislike? What sort of vibe/feel/emotion should it have? Should it feel more vintage or more modern? What sort of songs would you like it to sound like, and how loud vs. dynamic is your preference? Knowing your thoughts on these questions helps guide my decision making and gives me a better idea of the sound you're after.

Do you master for vinyl?

Yes - I offer what is often referred to as a “vinyl pre-master." It is an independent process from other types of masters (CDs or streaming formats, for example), but it still requires being sent to a lacquer cutting and vinyl pressing plant once I’ve prepared the pre-master.

Can you provide a DDP image for CD duplication?

Yes! It is not already included in my base rate though, so a small charge is added to the project for this extra step.

What formats/mediums do you master for?

I offer mastering optimized for digital distribution, streaming services, physical CDs, vinyl, video, and also offer delivery of HiRes 96k 24bit master files.

Do you offer stem mastering?

Yes. This method is often best if you are unsure about a mix or are having a hard time getting the mix where you want it. If you have stems (or groups of instruments, vocals, etc.) exported and would like for me to bring everything together for a final mix, followed by mastering, this is absolutely an option. Please contact me if you're considering stem mastering.

Can I submit or request alternate versions of songs (instrumental, TV, vinyl, CD, streaming, etc.) to be mastered too?

Yes. Because the mastering process requires individualized processing for different versions of a song, alternate versions aren't included for free, but are significantly discounted from the standard, per-song rate.

What mix levels are ideal for submitting for mastering?

My main concern is that there is no heavy limiting or audible clipping/distortion from signal going past "0" on the output (no red lights please). If you happen to have a limiter on your main output, typically I'd prefer to get mixes with it bypassed if it's reducing more than 1 or 2 dB, but ultimately, I want to receive what you and/or the artist is happy with. I'll make it work!

Can you provide ISRC codes, or should I (the customer) handle that?

If you already have ISRC codes, I can certainly embed those into your masters. I also offer assignment of ISRC codes and can do so as an additional service at $1 per track.

What export settings are best for mastering?

When exporting your mix or mixes, please use the same sample rate and bit depth that your session is set to. Any uncompressed file type such as .WAV or .AIFF is perfect!  For ideal quality, a 48k (or higher) sample rate and 24 or 32 bit depth would be used, but settings at 44.1k, 16 bit are certainly acceptable.