Mastering? Huh, What?
Mastering is the final step of audio post-production. The purpose of mastering is to balance sonic elements of a stereo mix and optimize playback across all systems and media formats. Traditionally, mastering is done using tools like equalization, compression, limiting and stereo enhancement.
Think of mastering as the glue, varnish and polish that optimizes playback quality on all devices — from tiny iPhone speakers to massive dance club sound systems. Mastering bridges the gap between artist and consumer. The term itself comes from the idea of a master copy. All copies or duplications of the audio come from the master. These copies can be distributed on multiple formats like vinyl, CD’s or Tape, and streaming services like Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud. Additionally, mastering allows for restoration of hisses, clicks or small mistakes missed in the final mix. Mastering also ensures uniformity and consistency of sound between multiple tracks on an album. Ultimately, what mastering does is create a clean and cohesive feeling across all your audio.
The goal of mastering is to ensure that your audio will sound the best it can on all platforms. Music has never been consumed on more formats and devices than today. Even if you are recording and mixing in a million dollar studio, or recording in less than ideal conditions, you still need the final quality check of mastering. This ensures that your sound will be heard the way you intended it to be.
A good mastering job makes an album consistent and balanced across all tracks. Without mastering, individual tracks can sound disjointed in relation to each other.
What’s the difference between mixing and mastering?
Though mixing and mastering do share similar techniques and tools, and are often confused, the two are indeed different. Mixing typically refers to a multitrack recording, whereas mastering is the final polish of a mixdown. Think of it this way:
Mixing is all about getting individual parts or instruments to work as a song. Think of it like building a car. All the parts of the car need to come together for it to run properly. The mixdown process is all about making sure all the parts are in place.
A good mix should easily flow into the mastering process. Check out this helpful post on how to prepare your tracks for mastering.
Now think of mastering like the best carwash ever. You want your new car to look as slick and shiny as possible. Mastering polishes everything to a perfect shine. It puts gas in the tank and oils up all the moving parts for the best possible performance.