Who are you?

Many people start looking into Mastering by researching facilities.  But rather than asking who are they, a better question is: who are you, and what are you looking for?

Learn about what the mastering process is about. Listen to other people’s published work and ultimately think about which facility may add the best final touches, sparkle, and warmth to your master piece.  Talk to people who you trust and ask seasoned professional their opinions.

And since we’re not on the topic, really consider where you want to be on the “Loudness Wars.”  As technology matured through the 80‘s and 90‘s, Mastering engineers had the ability to make music louder and louder.  Psycoacoustically, louder will usually sound better. But only for a very brief moment until your ears adjust (and they do so a lot quicker than you may think.)  It also made the music that much louder than the underlying hiss, or hum, or whatever noise floor there was, which was a lot more so in the 40’, 50‘s, 80‘s.  But in the last decade, mastering engineers have tried to slow that trend down because past a certain point, musicality starts to be sacrificed. We make an arrogant assumption that musicians don't wake up one day and say they want to make the loudest record ever.  Rather, most musicians we work with want to make the best sounding record ever.  And while loudness is very much a part of that, it's far from the only thing.

Who is your audience

Another example refers to your audience.  Who are you, and who is your audience?  Is your audience listening to your record on a home stereo, streaming through the internet, listening on their iPod, or ALL OF THEM? 

Depending on who your audience is and how they will be listening very much determines how the record will be mastered, and to what format. Should a small amount of musicality be sacrificed in favor of streaming speed for web listening? Maybe. Or should we prepare a separate master file for web streaming?  Should we be aware that Apple Ear Buds may lack considerable Bass?  Probably.  Here's one, what about track IDs and the space between tracks?  If a song from your record is in an iTunes Playlist, the spacing wont work... or will it??  So who are you and who is your audience?

From the days of cutting Vinyl to the days of the iPhone, many many many things have changed in the world of Mastering.  But many many many things have not.  Start by asking yourself who you are before you ask who they are.