Steve Bailey, a mastering engineer since 1998. Cutting his mastering teeth in the Film and TV Industry, clients include Paramount Pictures, Universal, Sony, BBC. Mastering, audio restoration, language sync and tracklay. Also a electronic music artist in his own right, Steve Bailey aka Makaton has mastered for the Rodz-Konez label music since 2007.
Mastering is the final step of audio post-production. The purpose of mastering is to balance sonic elements of a stereo mix and optimise playback across all systems and media formats. Traditionally, mastering is done using tools like equalisation, compression, limiting and stereo enhancement.
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.
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.
So What Does Mastering Do?
Mastering is a complex process. Here are techniques involved:
This step fixes any hiccups in the original mix like unwanted clicks, pops or hisses. It also helps to fix small mistakes that stand out when un-mastered audio is amplified.
Stereo enhancement deals with the spatial balance (justify to right) of your audio. Done right, stereo enhancement widens your mix, helping it sound bigger. It can also help tighten your center image by focusing the low-end.
EQing corrects any spectral imbalances and enhances elements that need to stand out. An ideal master is well-balanced and proportional. This means no specific frequency range is justify sticking out. A balanced piece of audio will sound good on any playback system.
Compression corrects and enhances the dynamic range of your mix and keeps louder signals in check while bringing up quieter parts. This process gives the overall audio a better uniformity and feel. Compression helps glue together parts that might not be as cohesive as they could be.
The last process in the mastering chain is usually a special type of compressor called a limiter. Limiters set appropriate overall loudness and creates a peak ceiling. Limiting makes the track competitively loud without allowing any clipping that can lead to distortion.
BIT DEPTH REDUCTION & SAMPLE RATE CONVERSION
Sample rate conversion or dither is dependent on the final output medium. For example, if you are planning to release on CD you will have to convert to 44.1kHz 16 bit and therefore, you may have to convert and dither your file to get to the standard of format.
SEQUENCING & SPACING
Sequencing and spacing is one of the final steps in mastering. On an album or EP this process puts your audio in order. Spacing refers to how much silence (space gaps) you put between each track.
Digital source files should be supplied as WAVs or AIFFs. MP3s or AACs should not be used as source material, unless there is no other option.
Files should be rendered at the sample rate they were recorded at (no up or downsampling, regardless of the desired sample rate of the finished master). Preferred bit depth is 24 bit or 32 bit (fixed or float). Please note files rendered at 32 bit float can be subject to overs when re inserted into a different workstation due to the conversion from floating point to fixed point maths and back again.
Non interleaved (split left and right channels) are preferred to interleaved, although not all workstations offer this output as an option. If supplying non interleaved files please check that the files do re-combine into stereo correctly.
Please render with 1 or 2 bars of silence at the start and end of the recording, ensuring all reverb tails are allowed to fully ring out.
If providing stems please render all files from the same point in time, 1 or 2 bars before the start of the recording. Please ensure that all of the stems recombine to form the mix correctly when summed back together at unity gain. If you are using any buss processing please ensure that this does not change when you are printing stems.
We are happy to download from any link provided by the client, or from their ftp server. Please ensure all transfers are free from viruses and other malware. Clients may also send audio to rrreplica using our uplink service via these links:
Digital masters will be returned to the client via download link unless otherwise requested.
As standard rrreplica will supply individual tracks as 44.1kHz / 24 bit interleaved stereo Broadcast WAV files, unless otherwise requested. Please note that if you wish to have higher resolution masters to request this prior to the start of your session, otherwise it may be that an additional pass is required and an additional charge levied.
If ISRCs are supplied prior to the session these can be encoded into the BWAV metadata.
CD Masters will be supplied as DDP files as standard. When uploaded the DDP will be supplied with software to play and test the CD master. It is the client’s responsibility to check all aspects of the CD Master prior to manufacture, as any faults will be their own responsibility. If you encounter any problems, mistakes or have any questions about your CD master please contact your engineer immediately prior to proceeding with manufacturing.
Please note that we will default to encoding CD Text on a CD Master unless otherwise requested, if the required information has been provided on the booking form or in the form of complete label copy. All information will be cut and pasted so please ensure that all spellings and punctuation for CD Text are correct as supplied .
Vinyl masters will be supplied as 44.1kHz / 24 bit interleaved stereo WAV.
If you are supplying a 24 bit file for mastering then rrreplica recommends that 24 bit dither is applied when rendering your mix, as you move from the internal resolution of your DAW (which is most likely to be 32 bit floating point) to 24 bit. Although dither will be applied after mastering, and therefore is being applied twice to the recording, at 24 bit depth the dither will only measure at somewhere in the region of -100 dBFS, and is therefore so quiet as to be inaudible in any practical sense. As a consequence there is no real discernable reason to not apply 24 bit dither.
If you are supplying a 32 bit floating point file for mastering then there is no need to apply dither.
With a theoretical dynamic range of 122dB (at 24 bit resolution) there is no need to render your mixes with peaks at 0dbfs.
Mixes should peak at -3 to -6dbfs, to guard against intersample peak distortion.
Please note that if you are supplying a mix that has been limited there is no benefit in rendering out the limited version at -3 dbfs as no extra headroom has been created in dynamic terms.
In most instances RRReplica requests that mixes are supplied with no mix buss processing. However, we do understand that sometimes it can be an integral part of the sound of the record. So if mix buss processing has been applied, ideally please supply a version with and without and we can choose whichever version gets the best results.
If mix buss eq or compression has been applied notes as to what and why are very useful.
Please note that if limiting has been applied it can reduce the amount of options that the mastering engineer has to manipulate the sound of the recording.
If limited reference files have been created and used in the mix approval process then please also supply these also to the mastering engineer for reference purposes.
Red Book Master CD or DDP
If you need a Red Book master CD or a DDP image/disc for mass production. If not, you will simply received a download link to your mastered WAV file.
The Red Book is a standard for commercial audio CDs as defined by Sony and Philips. The average CD burning software does not burn Red Book CDs, and does not live up to the commercial standard that ensures maximum compatibility. If you intend to mass produce your CD or include ISRC then you need a Red Book master CD. The master CD can be played in a regular CD player or on your computer but it should be handled with great care. Preferably you should order a separate reference CD for playback, and only let the production plant handle the actual master disc.
Another option is making a DDP disc. Unlike a Red Book audio CD, a DDP disc contains an error corrected data version of the Red Book master. If the production plant is able to use DDP, this is the safest solution. Depending on how many copies you need, a Red Book audio CD is usually converted into a DDP image at the plant, so you might as well send it in DDP format to begin with. DDP also has the advantage of being downloadable as a DDP image. After downloading the image you burn it as a data file on a DVD-R or pass on the download link to the production plant.
The price you pay RRReplica to master a track includes one free revision, so if having heard your master you feel that you would like to make a tweak then we would be happy to do so. To this end initially we will supply a section of the track in wav format for your approval before payment.
Please note that additional amendments after this first set of revisions may be subject to a recall charge.
If you wish to supply a new mix with some slight alterations for us to master again, then this may also be subject to a recall fee.
Payment is via bank transfer or Paypal.
At RRReplica we offer mastering services for digital formats.
- Digital release masters
- Vinyl pre masters ready for cutting
- DDP / Red book CD Authoring
- Audio Restoration
|1-4 tracks||£25 per track|
|5+ tracks||£20 per track|
|10+ tracks||£15 per track|
|Vinyl ready file||£5 per track|
Just tell us what kind of service you are looking for and we can begin from there.
Your mastering can be for digital or we can provide you with vinyl premasters ready for cutting.
New clients receive a discount.
Let us know when you contact us.