Listening to an album should be an immersive experience. Each song tells a story, sends a message. Your aim as a musician should be to captivate the hearts of those who listen to you, so that your message can be delivered more effectively. Therefore, the last thing we want is for your listener to get distracted.
When the already recorded and mixed tracks are listened to in sequence, the differences they present may be too strong to allow a fluent listening experience. In other words, a collection of songs can hardly be called an “album” without the contribution of mastering. This is the last phase of record production; it serves a corrective purpose as well as a creative one.
Mastering consists in balancing perceived levels (loudness), timbre, dynamics, stereo image and depth.
But why do these elements need to be balanced?
The reasons are many. For example, the mixing may have been performed in a normal, acoustically untreated room; alternatively, the positioning of the monitors within the room may be suboptimal. Or maybe, the person who is mixing is not used to the sound of his/her own monitors. These factors, and many others, can affect the judgment of a sound engineer. The tracks of your album may also have been mixed by different engineers, who work in different studios, with different monitors that interact differently with the unique acoustics of each room. All of this contributes to create a lack of homogeneity.
The Next Level
From a creative point of view, the result of mastering strongly depends on the musical genre, on the context and on personal taste.
This phase represents the last chance to emphasise the movement, the power, the impact of a mix, and to increase its density so that the songs will acquire the “sound of the record”. As it happens with mixing, it is possible to use several techniques in order to emphasise the sound of specific sections of a song, such as choruses and the pre-choruses that precede them.
Therefore, mastering - if performed by an expert engineer – can bring out the emotions in your songs and help you in your effort to captivate your listeners’ hearts.
A Delicate Procedure
Mastering operators need advanced technical preparation, since a poorly performed mastering procedure can compromise the – often laboriously achieved – sound of an album. Unwanted side effects include excessive pumping (legitimate to some extent and in certain contexts) distortion caused by excessively high levels (Loudness War) and a series of phenomena (e.g. Inter-Sample Peaks) that might occur should the audio be converted into a different format (e.g. to a different sampling frequency), compressed (e.g. MP3) or uploaded to portals such as Youtube, iTunes (which requires a specific mastering procedure) or Soundcloud.
Finally, mastering software offers the possibility to input data such as CD-Text and ISRC codes for a proper identification and attribution of royalties to the authors.
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