Mastering - Why do you need it? I get asked this question a fair bit. You’ve tracked the song, it’s edited and mixed, why do you need to do anything else to it? What does mastering even mean anyway? Does that just make it louder? Like everything in music, there are very few answers which are definitely wrong. So, what is mastering? Mastering is the last stage your song or album will make before being released. I heard a phrase a while back that mastering is “Photoshop for audio.” Which is to say, it can make small changes which will affect the whole song, but it can only do so much. If a song isn’t mixed well, then a mastering engineer is limited by what they can do. The prime example of which is Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album which has the most ridiculously hyper-crushed master you’ll ever hear. Mainly the mixes were immensely crushed before they found their way to mastering, but the point is, it’s very fatiguing on the ears to listen to. While it’s tempting to get something mastered very loud, it’s also self-defeating due to most platforms now having maximum playback levels. If you go higher, you’ll get turned down. Mastering unifies an album into a complete body of work and can do a lot more than making something just louder. A touch of compression and EQ here, a twist of saturation and limiting. Maybe the kick drum is slightly too loud in the chorus. You can find the frequency and compress it slightly so it gets pushed down in those sections. These are just spices to bring out the flavour of the song. So what’s the solution? Work with your engineer. Communicate clearly what you want. Quite often making your song that slight touch louder will destroy the dynamics of it. After the “loudness wars,” I would suggest that “dynamic” is the new “loud.” Loud can be exciting depending on the genre and if that’s what you want, but bringing songs changes out as much as possible can be better. A good mastering engineer can make a good song sound great or even turn an average mix into a good master. Sadly, it’ll never turn an awful mix into gold dust, but that would be too much to hope for. If you want your music to sound the best it can possibly be, don’t skimp on mastering. You’ll have gone through so much just to let your music down at the last hurdle. If you need any help with the mastering of your songs, get in touch now and let's discuss how I might be able to help you.
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