The art and science of mastering is surrounded by many myths and even more misconceptions. Among these are its ability to turn even the most uninspired and flat recording into a release quality masterpiece, then covering a whole spectrum of subjects, through to it only being able to be practiced by a few highly skilled sound engineers.
Mastering is just another piece of of the production process, just like tracking and mixing. While preserving the original feel and quality of your audio, Zana Audio will take your track and give it all the body, color, warmth, and fullness you track needs. Below is a description of the process we follow and what we can do to your tracks during each phase.
Phase I: Send Your Track(s)
Phase II: The Listening Process
Once we receive your work we will immediately begin the mastering process, always starting with the reviewing stage. Each track is different and by listening on multiple speaker set ups several times we can get a feel for how your track is supposed to sound, and define in our minds what you as an artist are trying to accomplish. We also take time here to analyse your track for its peak levels, so we can adjust the volume and and allow us sufficient headroom to master your track to its full potential.
Mastering requires critical listening, even now we have so many sophisticated software tools to facilitate the process. The final result still depends upon the accuracy of speaker monitors and the listening environment.
Phase III: Equalization
EQ is the most important part of the mastering process and also the most skilled (p)art of mastering. There are 4 basic ranges in the frequency spectrum for audio EQing: Low end, Low mids, High mids, and High end. Low end is from 0-100Hz, Low mids from 100-1000Hz, High mids from 1-5kHz and High end from 5-20kHz. To get a good master you need each of these frequency ranges to sound just right separately and together as one. EQ as a phase goes hand in hand with compression.
The mastering engineer’s choice of EQ unit or plug-in is determined by a variety of factors, perhaps for its transparency; its character; its linear-phase attributes; or simply because it adds some valve warmth considered missing in the audio. This rich tapestry provides a welcome palette of resources to choose from.
Many mastering engineers live by the motto that ‘less is more’ and will make their EQ adjustments accordingly using gentle slopes, aiming ultimately to preserve the integrity of the music. However, with multi-band processing it has become possible to make broad changes to the tonal balance of any audio material, which can happen unintentionally through neglecting to rebalance the make-up gains, or intentionally by altering the bands’ relationships.
Applying even seemingly simple treatments during mastering can have a dramatic effect on the material at hand, so care is paramount. Choosing the right EQ application is the most important first consideration, and each engineer will have their own solution.
Phase IV Compression
The application of compression is the next part of the process to apply. Always remember that too much compression in a mix will distort the sound and it will lose it’s ephemeral detail, or variation and gradation. We look over the sound spectrum as your track plays allowing us to pick out and take apart the different frequencies that need compression. Basically we reduce the audios dynamic range, so that the louder passages are made softer, or the softer passages are made louder, or both.
We have the appropriate compressor with the proper attack, ratio, and release times exactly right for your music. Having experience of all the compromises, advantages and disadvantages of applying overall compression. We can program that compressor with precision, adjusting it optimally for each track in question. We also use a calibrated monitoring system so that we know exactly how loud your “CD in the making” is compared to other CDs of similar music.
Phase V: Stereo Widening
Although a relatively simple part of the process. The well-balanced, creative use of the full stereo field can, in a lot of cases, be the thing that separates a decent sounding demo from a professional track. Stereo Widening will not only improve the experience for your listener, it will also add clarity and space to your audio production. I did say a relatively simple process, but making something sound ‘wide’ isn’t always a simple as a bit of left and right panning.
Stereo Widening can work wonders on complex mixes, helping to separate instruments and provide an extra sense of size and space. Most wideners use psychoacoustic processing to push sounds beyond the range of the speakers, creating an almost impossibly wide sound when pushed to extremes. Of course, like everything else in the mastering process, a skillful touch is the best way to go.
Phase VI: Adding Loudness / Maximization
This is the last stage of the mastering process. Although compression can make your master sound proportionately louder, there’s still another stage to the signal processing chain called. Maximization is the combined process of carefully compressing, limiting, and clipping the signal, freeing up additional headroom in order to allow for the perceived signal level to be increased. we add that final bit of volume without any nasty overs. This is why it is important export your tracks with at the very least -3db of “headroom” before you send your tracks to us. We recommend you export your work with at least -4db headroom.
We squash your levels so that during playback you will see no headroom and this will create a more consistent level reading at the top of your signal meter. The process makes the quieter parts of your tracks more consistent with the louder regions of your track. It also gets rid of any frequencies that don’t belong. The sound engineeer’s goal is to squash your frequencies as close to 0db without changing the overall dynamics of your track. This is a very important part of achieving a quality sound.