Can't I just take my mixes and upload them to SoundCloud or any other digital streaming service?

After your recording and mixes are done, it may feel like you are finished. But one last step will insure a professional product, one that will be competitive with other music on the web. Mastering, as it turns out, is one of the most crucial parts of the whole creative process.

You may be tempted to ask your  mixing engineer to take a crack at the mastering, or simply run your music through a mastering plugin. But what you need is a new set of ears - professional ones - to help you get your product to the next level.

Learn about mastering from this video

What are the specific steps in audio mastering?

Audio mastering usually entails three steps or phases of operation: 1) loading the audio, 2) sequencing and editing, and 3) improving the sound.

The first step is to import your music into our  system. If you have mixes at different sampling rates, the mastering engineer will probably consolidate them into one common sampling rate. Most importantly, your mixes should be recorded at 24 bit.

Step Two involves fashioning the starts, the ends (fades), and the spacing between songs. Anything from standard two second pauses to complicated overlaps can be created.  If needed, the mastering engineer can also edit musical sections quickly and easily.

The third step involves volume balancing, equalization and compression/limiting. Gain optimization and frequency equalization are important to make the project consistent, and listenable.  Compression can help give the audio a more professional, streamlined sound while sacrificing some dynamic range.  Limiting is necessary to prevent loud peaks from clipping or distorting.  All of these processes will make the audio more dramatic, powerful and "consumer ready."

Should I use compression?

We believe that compression is an aesthetic choice, best delayed until the end of the mastering session. Some projects warrant compression and others do not.  For instance, most pop songs include healthy compression in the mastering to make them sound more unified and solid; acoustic and jazz genres use less for a more natural sound; almost all classical releases use no compression to maintain the original dynamics.

Will my project be loud enough?

Our goal is to get your project as loud as we can without compromising the integrity of the audio.  Unfortunately, there is no guaranty that your project will sound as loud as the latest commercial heavy metal release. Much of it depends upon the strength of the tracking and mixing.   But it will have at a very healthy, competitive level. Thankfully, the loudness wars have begun to subside, since musicians have figured out that loudness is not the key to making a good record.

How is a transfer from analog done?

There are many steps here, some of which are quite technical.  But the first step is the responsibility of the client: to provide the most original, best sounding analog source.

Analog magnetic tapes manufactured from 1972-1985 often suffer from "binder breakdown" where the adhesive chemicals in the tape begin to dissipate because of moisture absorption. The remedy for this is to bake the tape at low temperature in a convection oven for several hours. We do this very carefully with no resulting harm to the tape, to insure smooth playback.  How do you tell if a tape needs baking? Telltale signs are squeaky, sticky playback with accumulation of oxide or gummy residue on the heads and guides. If these symptoms appear, stop playing the tape immediately and contact us for assistance.

If calibration tones exist on the tape, we optimize the frequency response and azimuth to make sure that high frequency detail and phase are correct. If any splices have dried out we re-splice them carefully to ensure smooth playback.

Usually an analog transfer for archiving is done without additional equalization, but sometimes an analog master can use some analog EQ to restore detail and clarity after years of storage. For this we use a discriminate amount of analog equalization to restore the proper spectral balance to the recording.

Once the levels are optimized without incurring any overs or distortion, we make the transfer through a high quality 24 bit Analog to Digital Converter at a high sampling rate (48-96 kHz). The audio is stored on a hard drive on our soundBlade mastering system, and can be uploaded to DropBox for the client to download. We can also provide a reference CD or a DVD of the 24 bit .wav files.

Once the audio is digitized, it can be manipulated in many ways. Denoising and declicking are common procedures to reduce unwanted noise. Also, any necessary editing are done can be completed before finalizing the file.