WHAT IS MASTERING?
The goal in mastering is really three fold. The first goal is to make sure that each track on an album flows into the next with some continuity. That would mean that the spacing is right, the beginning and ends are cleaned up, and the sound is similar. The second goal is to make sure that the overall sound of the album or song matches up well in terms of brightness, bass, and loudness to other albums or songs in the same genre. The third goal is to generate and fully test a master that can be used to replicate or duplicate CDs or vinyl.
To accomplish this, the mastering engineer must have a set of speakers and a room that has a flat frequency response so that there is no mystery about the sound of the song(s) being mastered. Also, the mastering engineer must have tools that are specifically designed to accomplish the goals stated above. These tools are basically, compressors, peak limiters, equalizers, and a digital audio workstation to edit and set up masters with.
A mastering engineer may or may not have big ears but he or she must be very tuned in to listening for distortion, overall tonal balance, and dynamics. This is a skill that comes from years of mastering everyday. They also must have a good idea of how each genre of music should sound in order for it to stand up against other music in the same genre.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE I SEND MY FILES TO BE MASTERED?
Be sure that you are happy with your mixes. If you are mostly satisfied but have some minor issues, make notes to send along to the mastering house. Sometimes certain issues like "the bass is too loud" or "the vocals are a touch too sibilant" can be addressed.
Be sure not to mix your songs with heavy limiting or compression on the stereo bus. On individual tracks, this is fine, but leave the overall compression and limiting off so there can be more options later in the mastering phase. If you like the compression that you are getting, go ahead and do it but also send a version without.
Be sure that the highest peaks on your master fader do not reach 0dB.
Also, don't send an MP3 or AAC. The best digital file formats are WAV, SDII, and AIFF.
CAN I GET INSTRUMENTALS MASTERED AS WELL?
Yes! SE Mastering is happy to do a pass of your instrumental or clean mixes at no extra charge.
DO YOU MASTER FOR VINYL?
ARE YOU MFiT CERTIFIED?
Yes. You can find us listed in Apple's list of MFiT authorized studios.
IF I DON'T LIKE THE WAY THE MASTER SOUNDS, WILL YOU FIX IT?
Yes! We will do as many revisions as it takes until you're happy.
CAN YOU DO A STEM MASTER?
Yes. We are happy to do a stem master, although we recommend (and prefer) stereo mastering.
CAN YOU ENCODE METADATA TO MY MUSIC'S FILES?
Yes. BUT for digital releases this is a step usually done by your distributor. This is something we're happy to discuss with a client. We can provide a DDP as well as PQ sheets for physical CD duplication.
CAN YOU MASTER MY MUSIC DIRECTLY FROM TAPE?
No. Unfortunately we are not set up to do this.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET MY MUSIC MASTERED?
We can usually start projects within 24 hours of receiving all of your files. We start with a test master (1 song). Once that is approved - the rest is typically done within another 24 hours. The whole process typically takes 2-3 days (depending on how fast you review our masters, and if revisions are needed). If you need something in a rush, let us know and we will try to accommodate you.
WHAT IS THE DELIVERY SPECIFICATIONS FOR MASTERED FOR iTunes MASTERS?
The final deliverable is a high resolution PCM digital audio file. 96 kHz/24 bit is the preferred or optimal resolution, but please do not up-sample to achieve this. The appropriate resolution will usually be the native resolution of the project. For instance, if a project was recorded or digitized at 48 kHz that would be the recommended sample rate for the master. All Mastered for iTunes sources and masters must be at least 24 bit.
CAN I SIT IN ON MY MASTERING SESSION?
No. If we allowed sit ins, we would not be able to operate as quickly and cost effectively as we do.
WHAT FORMS OF PAYMENT DO YOU ACCEPT?
We accept Paypal, Venmo and QuickPay.
DO YOU USE PLUG INS OR OUTBOARD GEAR TO MASTER?
A: Both. We typically start each project by running a mix through an outboard chain that gives us the sound we're known for, then do the fine tuning in the box.