I always asked myself what do the different steps of creating an album mean? What’s mastering etc.? Nice to read such an entry, very informative…
We are in the parking lot of the Nugget nd I have a little time, so here goes:
Mastering is the final step in the production of music. It usually means creating an overall EQ for the recording, choosing compression, dithering the bit-rate from 24 bits to the 16 bits a CD can handle, and changing the sampling rate to 44.1 kHz.
Note: I usually record the band at 24/44.1 and use compression but for One Guitar, to capture the full dynamic and fragile beauty of the guitar, I recorded at 24/96 kHz and used no compression.
During the mastering process one might also embed the ISRC codes, a unique mark for each song which identifies the record label, country, year of registration and individual song. From 1993 through 1999 I used The Mastering Lab in Los Angeles. In 1997 Oscar Castro-Neves had a different mastering house in mind and we agreed on a shoot-out. Both engineers received the same track and returned their masters. We all agreed. Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab won, and not because he threw a few pieces of candy into the package with the mastered CD :) . The last time I saw Doug Sax, who is a legend in the business and has mastered all of the Pink Floyd albums, he asked me why do you come here, your mixes sound great – not much I have to do… From then on I mastered albums at my studio in Santa Fe. I think either christmas + santa fe or Little Wing was the first album we mastered ourselves.
Once I have applied a final EQ, added compression if applicable, and changed the format to 16/44.1 I take the song files to my laptop and open them in Peak Pro. There I can make last adjustments like “tucking in” a song that appears louder than the rest – a very subjective judgement and not something that can be measured or computed. In fact the best way I have found to do this is to simply listen to an album in the background while doing something around the house. When I don’t pay full attention to the music a song that appears louder will stick out. I use the words appears louder because it can be so very subtle and subjective. In Peak I also define the pauses between the tracks, add ISRC and burn the final master.