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What Is Mastering?

Since so many people are unaware of the mastering process, I thought I would give a brief overview. I have learned mastering on my own, and almost everything has come from my experience recording friends. Here's how I understand it:

In essence, audio mastering is the last stage of the recording process. The term comes from the way audio recording used to work: After a track was recorded a "glass master" was created, which was then used to replicate into vinyl albums. This "master" copy was created in a format that would be optimal for record players. If the master wasn't formatted right, the record needle wouldn't sit right on the record and the volume could be wrong.

Today mastering remains the last step in producing a professional recording. We don't always make physical copies of a master, but we format the recording in way that it will sound it's best on a variety of systems. While the mastering adjustments are small, they contribute a great amount to the quality of a recording. Mastering engineers use the following:

Compression
Compression "squeezes" the sound waves of a recording. The low volume sound s are made louder, and the high volume sounds are made quieter. By reducing the variance in volume with compression, more subtle elements of a recording are exposed.

Equalization
Equalization adjustments help bring out the full frequency of a song, to achieve a balance. This makes recordings sound more "full" and ensures that songs will sound right on different stereo systems.

Volume
Professionally recorded music is often set to be much louder than home recording systems output to. It's strange, but without mastering most recordings are too quiet. Mastering solves this issue.

Uniformity
Besides making adjustments to make individual songs sound their best, mastering engineers can make all of the songs on an album fit together. By matching all of the elements above as well as applying fades and track cuts, mastering makes an album of songs sound uniform.

Mastering adjustments are very subtle, but they make a recording sound the best that it possibly can. Let me know if you have any questions! Click here to contact me.
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