The initial task of the mastering engineer was to turn the audio data from the tape recorder on which it was recorded and mixed into a vinyl record that could be played on a typical turntable.
As technology advanced and new formats like cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and CDs became available, the position of the mastering engineer evolved. Mastering engineers were now expected to optimize audio for a variety of formats. But is mastering necessary in the digital era, where most music is created, recorded, mixed, mastered, and listened to on a computer?
Yes, perhaps more than ever.
Whether you’re publishing your music on traditional media such as CDs or vinyl or uploading your tracks to streaming sites such as Spotify and YouTube, mastering guarantees that your music plays correctly in all formats. Even happy birthday personalized songs get mastered by custom musicians.
This article will explain why mastering is vital in the production process and how you can utilize it to ensure that your music always sounds as lovely as possible.
The final step in the manufacturing process is audio mastering. The mastering engineer balances the good aspects and optimizes the music for playing on various platforms and formats after a song has been recorded and mixed. The “master recording” is the final version of the music posted to streaming sites and used to generate tangible media such as CDs or vinyl.
Mastering is a combination of technical and artistic skills. To improve the sound of music, mastering professionals utilize techniques such as EQ, compression, and effects. It is also the mastering engineer’s responsibility to ensure that your track sounds nice regardless of the system on which it is played, from small speakers on laptops and cellphones to gigantic sound systems in clubs and events.
Mastering is also the ultimate stage of music quality control. It’s your last chance to double-check your music for faults or technical concerns before releasing it to the public. That is why mastering is such an essential phase in the manufacturing process.
What Is the Distinction Between Mixing and Mastering?
Mixing and mastering are phases in the production process, and they even use some of the same methods and tools—but there is one significant distinction.
- Mixing aims to improve each of the individual tracks in a session and combine them into one coherent mix. Each ingredient should be audible and work in tandem with the others to create a balanced sound.
- Mastering is concerned with improving the final mix and preparing it for dissemination. So, instead of working with numerous tracks, you use the last “two-track” combination to add the finishing touches and make it sound as pleasant as possible—similar to applying a coat of polish after a thorough cleaning.
The Evolution of Mastery
Although mastering has been around for a while, it has not always had this appearance. Initially, mastering engineers were referred to as “transfer engineers.”
When the magnetic tape became the standard analog recording medium in 1948, studios began hiring transfer engineers who specialized in transferring the finished recording from the tape machine straight to 10-inch vinyl records. There was no specialization in recording studios before 1948, and audio engineers were expected to handle the complete process from start to finish.
Classic 12-inch recordings became the preferred media for listening to music in 1957. However, radio remained the most effective medium for getting your music heard by the general public, and record firms rapidly learned that louder songs sold more albums. So studios began to hire “cutting engineers” who were in charge of optimizing recordings for radio playing and making vinyl stamps to replicate the records.
Finally, mastering music turned digital in 1982. The CD introduced a new job for the mastering engineer. Mastering engineers are now responsible for improving audio for playing on a broad range of digital devices and platforms and making a “master” copy for physical media.