The mystique of Mastering...

There are few parts of the audio production process that are steeped in as many misconceptions as mastering. Some believe that mastering is a mix-saving-glue capable of preparing any number of faults embedded in the mix, as well as delivering the polish and loudness that you see and hear only on commercial CDs. Others, though, we'll tell you that mastering is in capable of such miracle chores, being, in fact, far closer to the mechanical task of duplicating CDs in the creative pursuits of writing, Recording and mixing music.

In truth, the role of mastering lies somewhere between these extremes. Like all parts of the production process, mastering as witness fundamental changes over the last 25 years, both in respect to the did the rise of digital technology and the growing number of musicians and projects studios. Understanding the root that masteries taken over the years, therefore, is vital to unlocking its relevance in today's music making.*

Attempting to summarize in a few sentences what the mastering process involves is like asking an actress what is involved in acting, or asking a producer what goes into producing?  There are an endless number of answers. So lets try to put forth just one simple sample- just one of many.  Your at the end of a mix, every instrument independently is eq’d perfectly.  The vocals shine, the stereo spectrum is wide, but the song lacks some energy in the mid range.  So you attenuate the mid range eq on some of the instruments to compensate- but since you adjusted the eq on the instruments, now the instruments don’t sound right.  Or maybe the instruments in the stereo field sound fine but the center of the whole image sounds hollow.  Musicians often wonder how equalization tools and gear can be so different for mixing engineers and mastering engineers.  This is because we are listening for slightly different things and need different tools to complete our end of the work.

A well Mastered record will shine sonically and deliver the musical essence we are accustomed to hearing from professionally released records. Trouble is, not many people know how to go about it.  And this often hold true among music and sound professionals. Just as you wouldn't want a podiatrist performing cardiac surgery, no more would you want a mixing engineer performing mastering.

That's not to say that one can't do some of what the other does. Any experienced Mastering engineer will at some point engage in some mixing to fix issues prior to mastering. Nonetheless, specialities exist for a reason. And not to be undermined is that opportunity to have a fresh set of ears to seek out sonic problems that may have masked themselves through the course of time during recording and mixing. 

So take care to accomplish everything you need to do in order to get your music out to your audience in the most desirable way, with the most desirable sound.  You've certainly worked hard enough so far- Don't skip on the very last step!

*First two paragraphs written byMark Cousins for Music Tech Magazine who graciously allowed us to take from their content