There is a great deal of confusion about the role of mastering engineers and the part they play in the audio post production chain. To understand their role, we need to first understand what exactly is mastering. Once a song is mixed, it has to be sonically sculpted to sound perfect when played on a Varity of audio systems (hi-fi, car audio, laptop speakers etc). A mastering engineer balances the entire frequency spectrum of the song and adjusts the dynamics to sound consistent across audio systems. Mastering adds clarity, depth and ‘loudness’ to the mix. It is the most critical step to get that million dollar sound that all musicians aspire for. In a nutshell, Mastering is the final step to polish a previously mixed musical content. Mastering also prepares the audio for distribution using physical media like CDs, vinyl tapes or by audio streaming methods.
In most cases, accomplished mastering engineers are hired to take the mix to the next level. These engineers make the tracks professional sounding, making it suitable for a specific delivery format, like radio, films Tv etc. To produce excellent mastered tracks, a mastering engineer should have years of experience and much trained ears. A mastering engineer is also responsible for the final editing of the audio and prepares manufacturing copies of the product. Mastering engineers should be experts in audio engineering and should have an excellent understanding of music and its theory. They must show proficiency while working on music of any genre.
What They Do- Mastering engineers role typically include:
• Applying Eq, final compression, stereo imaging and limiting to the tracks.
• Balancing the highs, lows and mids.
• Chasing fade in’s/out’s to make the digital silence perfect
• Fading out songs, or fading in songs that have weak starts
• Processing each song separately so that the volume of all songs are similar.
• Making necessary adjustments to make the audio ready for the radio
• Removing clicks and glitches that may occur during the audio recording
• Adjusting the spacing between the songs which is called “spreads”
• Burning final master cds for duplication, with PQ code etc.
Mastering is often seen as the link between production and manufacturing of music. This is the final chance where any problem related to the audio quality can be identified and corrected. More importantly, the mastering engineer hears the mix with set of fresh ears, and tweaks it to sound perfect. A good mastering engineer can take an average mix and turn it onto gold. No mix is complete till it has been mastered!
Rajiv Agarwal is sound designer, Music composer and Mastering engineer. His studio http://www.audioshapers.com/online-mixing-mastering-studio.html delivers professional audio mixing, mastering and audio post production solutions.