Mastering is the final stage in the recording process.
Mastering is usually performed using one of two kinds of source
material: stereo mixes (the most common method) or stems.
The following text details the process involved in mastering for CD
release using stereo mixes.
Mastering sessions can happen both with the client in attendance or
if the client is not local or cannot make the session for other reasons.
In fact, with high-speed internet connections, the majority of the
process can be handled long-distance if needed.
You can upload your mixes to my web server and I can post mastered
versions for your review.
My approach to mastering includes five steps:
Evaluate your recordings, goals and reference
Sonically polish each song to achieve its full
Assemble the album, including setting song spacing
Submit the first master for client review and
Generate the final master, perform quality
assurance on that master and prepare paperwork for manufacturing
First, your material is evaluated in an acoustically accurate
using a high quality monitoring system.
If you have CD's you want me
to reference to create your master, I’ll listen to them as well.
During this process, I’ll
get a sense of each song and the album as a whole.
- Are your mixes
- Are they too dull?
- Do they lack bass?
do they compare to your reference material?
- Are the mixes
consistent with one another?
- How could each song best fit into
the sonic context of the entire album?
- Does a given track sound great
and not need additional processing?
Next, each song is carefully sculpted and processed to achieve its full
sonic potential and to best balance it against the entire album.
Here at Jaxsn
Music, this usually involves high-quality analog
equalization (Millennia, Neve, API and Tube-Tech)
and compression (Summit, Pendulum, API and Purple Audio).
processing is used, such as stereo expansion, the addition of reverb,
M-S processing, noise reduction or other sonic
A well-mastered song sounds great on all kinds of systems, whether on
an audiophile-quality sound system, a car radio or an iPod.
Accurate monitoring and well-trained ears ensure that your mastered CD
will translate well onto almost any system.
Once each song is treated, the tracks of your album are assembled in
The beginning and ending of each track is examined and
The spacing between songs is carefully set and any
cross-fades are applied. CD track start and end markers are
Then, the relative volume of each song is adjusted to
create a balanced listening experience.
loudness, focusing on the fact of your CD being played on the
If you are attending the session, I burn you a reference CD to take
home and review. If you are not attending the session,
reference audio files and upload them to my secure server.
Once we are
both satisfied, I burn you a final redbook master disc, perform one
last quality assurance test,
you the paper work for disc
Stems are a full set of sub-mixes representing all the tracks in a
song, broken out in some logical grouping.
For example, the stems for a
rock song might include: kick, snare, the rest of the drums, bass,
lead vocal, backing vocals, keyboards and reverb/effects.
These sub-mixes are created so that when they are mixed together they
add up to your exact, final mix.
Some clients like to have their album mastered from stems rather than
from stereo mixes.
The advantage of this method is that the mastering
engineer has the ability to treat and process the material
at a more
granular level; they can address any sonic issues with the voice or
adjust the overall relation between
the bass and kick and how they
merge to form the low-end of the mix, etc.
They can then re-combine the
processed stems using a high-quality summing device or pro sounding
(like my SoundCraft, Allen & Heath and Neve Mixer and Channel
and feed this stereo mix through my
V-mu Tube Compressor, or
State Avalon Compressor, to add warmth or sheen
to the over all mix, then we mix to 24
bit HD, and burn to 16 bit CD on the industry
The primary disadvantage
mastering from stems is obvious: it takes
more time than mastering from stereo mixes.
More time means more
cost, but the benefits can be well worth it, for most projects,
The final issue with mastering from stems is that it blurs the line
between mixing and mastering.
This can be a double-edged sword:
individual musical elements can be treated and
adjusted in a way that
is impossible with stereo mixes.
This could be a godsend for the
in the wrong hands, working from stems can lead to a final
from the artistic intent of the original
Communication and careful review is key!