In this article we will discuss the mastering process and what you can expect when you have your music mastered professionally with us.
The purpose of mastering
There are three main purposes of mastering:
- Creating the final masters in the correct master format
- Doing quality control
- Improving the sound
It is quite likely that improving the sound is the first thing you think about when it comes to mastering. Improving the sound is also what we devote the most time to when working on your record. We will in addition to that do a very thorough quality control and create the final masters for streaming, CD or vinyl.
How can the sound be improved during mastering?
When mastering we want to present the mix in the best way possible. The goal of both mixing and mastering is to let the song and performance reach the listener in a musically pleasing way without any distractions. Mastering is the last chance to make any changes to the sound before the music reaches the listener.
The most common areas that we work on during mastering are things like tonal balance, loudness, resonances, build-ups, sibilance, dynamics and removing clicks. This will often lead to the master sounding clearer, fuller, smoother and more present compared to the mix.
To do this we use tools such as equalizers, compressors, de-essers, dynamic EQ, peak limiters, restoration tools etc. We also have custom made software specifically made for Stockholm Mastering. The tools used are only one part of mastering though. The most important factor when mastering is how we use these tools. We have a large arsenal of methods and strategies after many years of working full time with mastering records.
How much will the sound be changed during mastering?
When you send a song or an album to us for mastering, we know that you have already made a lot of decisions about the sound and balances while recording and mixing. We want to make sure to respect these decisions when doing any changes to the sound.
Our approach is typically to make the mix sound intact but more polished and give it that final shine. However, if there are obvious problems with the mix, we will address those as well. We are not going to change the sound just to make it sound different. We have a clear intention with every change we make to the master.
If you would like to send us some extra instructions with things that you have been uncertain about in the mixing process, feel free to add that information and we will keep that in mind. Some of you also send us the mix beforehand. This is perfectly fine if you need some extra input or just some confirmation.
Since a few years back, we are both involved in every project in some way or another. We have found big advantages to this way of working and it also serves as an extra safety net to catch all the things that could be improved. Between us we will usually find a good balance between polishing the sound of the mix while also leaving all the good things intact.
A favourite comment that we often get from our clients is that the master sounds just like the mix but better!
What to listen for when approving
Once you receive the master back from us it is time to thoroughly listen before approving the mastering. Here are a few tips regarding that!
1. Do you like it?
First of all – do you like what you hear? You have probably heard the mixes many times before in their almost-finished state. Now is the first time you hear the final result. Your spontaneous impression will tell you a lot about the sound.
2. Are the transitions ok?
Listen to the beginning and the end of each song. Are there things that should be removed like count-ins, studio noise etc? If there is more than one song – do the pauses between the songs sound good to you?
3. Check the song order
Are the songs placed in the correct order? We are very careful to follow the instructions that we get from you but we always recommend that you double check.
4. Check the metadata
Check all the titles and ISRC:s if you have received a DDP for CD replication. This will end up on the finished discs as CD-Text.
Masters for online distribution will usually contain the metadata that you have provided us with, but note that this metadata will almost never be used. You will usually enter all the metadata when you upload the masters to the distributor or aggregator (CD Baby, Distrokid etc). That metadata will then be used by all streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music etc.
5. Listen through everything from start to finish
If everything is in order with the sound and the metadata, we recommend to do a final control of the master by listening to it from start to finish.
We always do this on our end, as part of our quality control before sending the master to you. Since we are two people who listen to every project we really do take this step very seriously.
However, you have the final say in whether the master is approved or not and need to make sure that everything is exactly how you want it to be.
Bonus tip – Compare to the mix
If you want to compare the master to the mix, make sure to use loudness matching when comparing. Most of the time, the master will be louder than the mix. Due to loudness bias, the master will almost always sound fatter, clearer and more present in a direct comparison with the more quiet original mix.
If you compare the mix and master using loudness matching, then you will be able to hear the actual differences. A great master should sound better than the original mix also when loudness matched.
If there is anything about the master that you don’t like or that you wish were different, be sure to let us know! Just tell us how you feel about the sound using any words that make sense to you. There is no need to use technical language unless you feel more comfortable with that. We are quite good at understanding most ways of describing sound and music and we will ask you if anything is unclear.
Revisions are an important part of our work. It’s a way for us to align our vision with yours. Mastering contains a fair bit of mind reading where we try to find the best approach for your record. Given the small amount of revisions we are asked to do, we can assert ourselves and say that we are pretty good at it. However, there are times when we don’t hit the mark, and that’s when your feedback is crucial.
The majority of revisions we do are about things like in/out fades and pauses between the songs. Sometimes there will be changes in loudness or the amount of bass, mids and highs. In rarer cases there will be more in-depth tweaks of the dynamics or overall approach.
We always try to listen to the master from your perspective after receiving your feedback and we can almost always understand what you are looking for. We will do our best to tweak the sound to bring it 100% in line with your vision.
We hope that this article has been helpful in giving you a better understanding of what to expect from mastering with us. Feel free to drop us an email at email@example.com if you have any questions!