Things you should wonder about:

Given that many clients ask the same questions prior to the mastering phase, we thought a section with some quick answers would help. First: Not-so-technical FAQ, then much more boring-techy FAQs:  Some of these answers are our opinions, by the way...

Not-so-techy FAQs

Should we release an actual physical CD

Yes.  At the end of the day, many audiophiles, believe it or not, still like to collect CDs, and the audiophile fan base has a fairly strong effect on the spreading of your music’s popularity.  Why, because they talk about music more than most!

But much more important is the sales side.  For those with smaller record deals, or an independent release, its important to understand sales psychology.  Someone who hears, enjoys, and connects to your music may very much be interested in owning a copy.  You have a much more significant chance of this fan purchasing your CD on the spot than going home and remembering to download it from iTunes after they take off their coat, check their email, and facebook, call their boyfriend, or their mother! You know it and we all do it. Life moves to fast.  Give your fans the opportunity to take your music home with them.  Publish physical CDs.

Using iTunes to convert your music for distribution:

Please take care, we have seen this innocent mistake too many times in the past few years- we deliver our master CD with a reference copy.  The musician/band/music director- whoever, will import the tracks into iTunes in order to generate a wav or aiff file for uploading to the iTunes store.

FIRST, unless you customize your iTunes settings, you will not import an original file, you will import a compressed file.  THEN, if you export the file as a wav or aiff, iTunes will have to rebuild the file from this compressed non-exact copy without instructions on how to do it.  (Yes, that’s really true- it does a damn good job at rebuilding the file, but its making a lot of guesses.)  Then finally, this wav is used for online distribution. Folks, please leave this process to your producer or us.  In this example, a third generation file would have been used for global distribution and we can affirm that this happens all the time.  Certainly a third generation copy in the digital domain is far better than a third generation cassette tape, no doubt.  But after all the time, sweat, tears, and $$$, lets get the highest quality whatever available for whoever.

What is this Pre-Mastering Consultation I hear about?

Possibly one of the most useful services Mastering Engineers offer is the pre Mastering Consultation, which is usually free. (Always free at DSI)  Why would we spend our spare time off the clock? Because education is everything and preparation not not far behind. Discuss the record in depth with the mastering engineer, ad try to include the producer and/or mixing engineer. Be explicit about what you are hoping to accomplish and be specific per track if its warranted. Recognize that there may be a vocabulary difference between a musician and a technician, so be descriptive and use plain language.  We at DSI encourage all musicians to speak with us whether or not you use our services.  While we want to cultivate every relationship we have, all of us strive to make music and to entertain the world.  We’re all in it together.  Go team!


What format is best for per-mastering delivery:

Lets start by saying that we accept nearly every format, especially considering that some work we do is sound restoration from older media.  But to answer our own question, the best format is that which was used during the mixing process.  Simply put, this means that there will be no conversion of an kind between mixing and mastering.  We encourage mixing engineers not to convert, dither, or even re-sample- let us do that because there is more than one way to skin that cat.  If you so happen to mix at exactly CD quality (16 bit 44.1k) and plan to delivery the final mix via CD rather than electronic delivery, PLEASE do NOT burn a music CD.  Instead, burn a data CD with the music files in a folder.  Ripping a CD, rather than copying files, is not a direct digital transfer without special software.  This is a very common misconception.  See “Audio vs data CDs” above.

What sample rate and bit depth is preferred:

The best sample rate is that which was used for recording; and the best for that is what your recording or mixing engineer recommends. 

If you are working in a project studio without a professional engineer or producer, the best bit depth is the highest depth which will occur in the signal flow.  Even when using 16 bits, often your plugins may process at 24 or 32 bits.  Consider doing a final bounce using the highest processing depth in your signal flow.

The best sample rate to use is simply that which was used to record the music.  Herein lies a trade off between your computers processing power, hard drive storage, and resolution of your files.  The higher the quality, the more processing power and hard drive space you will use, and it becomes nearly exponential.  The majority of files we receive are at 24-32 bit bit and 44.1-96k sample rate.

Do you accept analog tape?


Should we use analog tape?

We’re so not going there.

How much eq or compression should we add to the stereo mix prior to mastering:

We have a different answer than many Mastering folk.  Many in the Mastering field encourage mixing engineers not to add any eq or compression to the master bus.  That’s a little too “black & white” in our opinion. We encourage mixing engineers not to add any mastering intention with eq and compression.  But as the mixing god, if there is eq or compression that you add for stylistic reasons, please please do so.  But when your thought shifts to over-all volume or power, or sonic equilibrium between tracks, mid/sid balance, or anything pseudo-mastering related, that’s when it’s time to smile at the success of your completed mix, and let the mastering folk play.

Delivery of Audio CD vs Music CD:

As mentioned above, if you happen to mix at exactly CD quality (16 bit 44.1k) and plan to delivery the final mix via CD rather than electronic delivery, PLEASE do NOT burn a music CD.  Instead, burn a data CD with the music files in a folder.  If you burn a Music CD (red-book CD), no matter what quality your final files are, everything will be truncated to 16 bit and 44.1k....Period.  And truncating is not the most desirable way to reduce bit depth!! 

In addition, music CDs in there original invention, we’re not intended for computers.  As such, the file storage is raw data rather than in a recognized file format- very unfriendly to computers. This is why you couldn’t simply drag and drop sound bites from a music CD to an older computer- you may remember that the computer would show 0 bytes of data on the track.  While “ripping” technology has improved, without special software to verify bit perfect transfer, there will be errors.  Rest assured, this is common.  In fact, even today, replication plants overrun a CD order because a certain % will be flawed.  However, during the production process, lets not even play with that gun.  If you burn a Data CD, the files are exactly as you copied them, same format bits, samples, file type, and most importantly, your computers and our computers will get along much better.

Should we master for Vinyl?

If its going to Vinyl, you really have to make two masters.  But don’t go to Vinyl just for “Coolness” factor.  Go to Vinyl because you have a unique sound that would thrive on the medium, or because you play for a unique audience who loves the sound of vinyl.  Not that other audiophiles won’t enjoy the sound; but most people do not have the ability to play vinyl and it’s not cheap to make.  That said, as cassette tapes have died, and CD’s may be dying slowly, Vinyl continues to thrive!

For more information, please email

All rights reserved by Digilog Sound & Image, 2012