Submitting Songs to a Music Mastering Studio
Music mastering is the final stage of production, immediately following the recording studio session and before the master CD is sent to be duplicated and distributed. It is very important for the music and can significantly improve the quality and consistency of the studio recordings.
Since many musicians have home studios, it is more important than ever to get the songs mastered properly. For indies to try to distinguish themselves from the world of big recording budgets this level of mastering can have a huge impact on the quality of your home studio recordings.
Some of the processing done at the song mastering stage may include:
- Smoothing the harmonic balance for a consistent sound throughout the album.
- Adjustment of the micro / macro dynamics (changes in volume) of your songs for consistency and volume.
- Review the inter-channel phase and polarity.
- Adjusting the CD layout for good space, leads, fades and crossfades quantized to CD frame boundaries.
- Sample rate conversion and dithering to Red Book audio CD standard.
- And a couple of aces up our sleeves 😉
What you get after the mastering studio is done:
- Proper final master CD burning with relevant paperwork (PQ Lists, BLER print-out etc.)
- Full QC (quality control) on all final masters (C1/C2/CU/BLER error checks).
- Individually printed master CD with your name and contact info.
- A studio that takes it’s time (may take 1, 2 or more days; until you’re happy)
- A kickin’ album!
[pullquote]It’s amazing how music mastering can emphasize the width, depth and dimension of a song. [/pullquote]It’s amazing how music mastering can emphasize the width, depth and dimension of a song. You will hear sounds which have been buried in the mix. The vocals will shine through the reverb and be heard, and the song will be more pleasant through a range of listening systems. But of course this all depends on the original recording and mix of the song. The mastering engineer is not a Jedi and can not create or change something that’s not present in the first place. I like using the analogy “It’s like trying to take the eggs out of a cake”. Never gonna happen!
Sending your music to a mastering studio:
- Use the mastering order forms available to send us all your information.
- If you have, include the UPC number of the disc.
- Make sure ALL your song names are in full. No abbreviations please! The engineer needs full names to add as CD-TEXT (which some CD players use to show your band name and song name)
- Give a track list of the order you would like your songs to appear on the final CD.
- Include your CD’s full album title
- Include your FULL contact information (Band Name, Album Name, Contact Person, address, tel, fax, web, email etc). The engineer will use this information to print onto your duplication master disc.
- Send along a few of your favorite songs as reference. Rip a couple of songs from your favorite CD and add these in with your original files. This can do wonders in helping the mastering engineer understand the ‘sound’ you are striving for. It’s always easier to ‘hear’ an example than it is for you to explain it.
- Include all the song’s ISRC codes, if any. We need this information before writing the final master disc.
- Do not add any treatment to your main mix bus (ie, compression, etc.). We can not undo what you’ve done. Keep it natural and clean.
- Do not clip your files, keep the peaks around -3 dB and be safe. It is almost impossible to eliminate distortion.
- Leave a space before and after the song (ie, 2 – 3 seconds in the head and tail of each song)
Errors during the song mastering stage
Each audio CD in the world contains errors. It’s just the nature of the game. But every audio CD player is equipped with error correction. CD players solve these errors on the disk before you hear them, giving you clean audio playback. According to the Red Book standard audio CDs are allowed up to 220 errors per second!
Well, at Digital Sound Magic Recording Studios Ltd. we like to think we have better quality control than that. We like to make sure our error rate doesn’t exceed 30 per second. But often we only average about 5 per second. That goes to show, you get what you pay for!
And last but not least, always always ask questions. If you are confused, the mastering engineer will be more than willing to help. If not, take your money and run.
Oh yeah, NEVER EVER EVER use a mastering studio that asks for your songs in MP3 format. EVER!