|What is Mastering?|
Mastering is often thought of as the first stage in the duplication process but it is equally true to call it the last stage in the creative process. Mastering may simply involve 'topping and tailing' the start and end of each track, matching volumes and adding the correct subcodes for the master CD or creating a set of DDP master files. On the other hand, the mastering studio is where a dull, lifeless track can be transformed into something far better.
Nowadays most mastering is computer based. The original mixes are transferred to our computer hard disc via a lossless digital link or via high quality analogue to digital convertors. Once loaded into the computer the options are almost unlimited. You can do standard processing like equalisation, compression, reverberation and delay effects. You can also widen or narrow the stereo image and add different levels of compression to different types of sound. You may want to fade one track in as the previous track fades out or add separate sound effects between tracks.
Our newly built studio is well soundproofed and properly acoustically treated to give the best possible listening environment. The vintage Tannoy main monitors are powered by a Hypex powered monitor amplifier. We also have a second system based on BBC Ls3/5a speakers with Quad amplification.
The best advice is to do as little as possible and record to the highest quality medium as possible. Many people still regard quarter or half inch analogue tape as the best medium for rock music while high resolution digital is often regarded as better for jazz and classical music. This is purely a matter of personal taste though and I regularly master all kinds of music from analogue and digital sources.
Don't try to compress or equalise the whole mix although by all means treat individual tracks with whatever effects you feel are needed. Don't try to go for maximum level on your pre-master DAT or CD - try to make the loudest parts peak at 2-3dB below maximum but don't worry if they are a little below that. Don't try to edit out noises at the start and end of tracks because your recorder may not get up to a stable speed for a few seconds - professional video people always allow 10 seconds before a take for the recorder to get up to speed. Go for the best mix that you can and then do a few others, one with the vocals up a little, one with the vocals down a little and maybe one slightly off the wall with odd effects. If you've spent time getting the mix as you want it then the additional time it takes to do these extra mixes may save another mix session. It is amazing the number of times that an alternative mix is actually the one that gets used.
1. Work from the original master or as close as you can get.
Here at JRP Music Services we will use our many years of expertise to extract the most we can from your tape or disc. The tape machine will be carefully aligned to match your tape and the equalisation adjusted to match any tones on the tape or to the theoretical best match if there are no tones. Dolby A, B, C, S or SR decoding can be applied if needed as well as Dbx type 1 or type 2.
Once transferred we can use digital processing to correct any issues with the recording such as removing clicks, crackles, hiss and other unwanted noise. We use Adobe Audition and Izotope's RX software as well as a few custom scripts to do this. The end result can be supplied as .wav, flac or aiff files or on a quality checked CD.