What is Mastering?

 

Mastering is the last step in the process of an album’s creation.  This is crucial to ensure your album plays from start to end with a consistent tone, volume, and even vibe. As your album plays, you want to make sure the listener does not have to turn up or down the volume on their playback device in order to enjoy your songs.  Mastering also addresses the spacing between songs on a CD, where it is possible to have your album play without any silence between songs.  A great amount of quality control goes into the mastering process in order to make sure songs are maximized to their greatest potential.  

 

While mastering can be done anywhere in today’s world, mastering is truly an art and must include a good set of ears, speakers, and a room that accurately depicts changes made during the mastering process.  At Lucky Run Studio, we offer quality engineers working in an acoustically tuned control room to listen, adjust, and finalize your album. 

 

The Typical Mastering Session

 

During the mastering session, it is not required for you to be present.  You are welcome to attend, but keep in mind the session(s) will incorporate a great amount of critical listening and subtle adjustments to songs (do not plan to bring your rowdy friends and family to a mastering session).  A typical scenario is to have the artist present at the beginning and end of the session, allowing the mastering engineer to start the process with any initial input from the artist, time for the engineer to work on and finalize the mastering, and time at the end for the artist to listen and receive a Reference CD or files.

 

Key Terms to Know for Mastering

 

  • CD Text – Text information embedded with your album during the mastering process that will display the artist name, album name, and song titles.  Unfortunately, this is not supported on all playback devices.  

  • DDP (Disc Description Protocol) – A file version of your finalized mastered CD.  This file is the best and easiest option for sending your CD for replication (such as Disc Makers).  While a CD master may accidentally scratch or get lost in the mail, a DDP file includes error correction and can often be uploaded directly to the replication house’s website.  This file comes in the form of a .zip and should not be uncompressed or tampered with between mastering and replication. 

  • Duplication vs. Replication - Making (or burning) all of your own CDs is called duplication and encodes the digital information onto your discs.  This is an acceptable process, but be advised that the dyes used in CD-R discs can deteriorate over time due to age and environmental factors (think of Texas in the summer time!).  The alternative is to use a company for CD replication, where your discs are pressed from a CD master.  Replication is used on larger scale releases and often looked at as the more professional route for creating CDs.  

  • ISRC – Every song needs a unique “International Standard Recording Code.”  These codes are embedded with your album during the mastering process.  This allows for digital tracking of your songs via SoundScan.  Lucky Run Studio does not provide ISRC codes.  Codes may be assigned after a registration with the US ISRC Agency.  More information can be found at: http://www.usisrc.org/.

  • Master Archive CD – This is a CD you will receive after the final mastering has been approved and gone through quality control.  This CD is not to be played.  This CD is only for duplication/replication and archiving purposes.  We provide gold archive discs for Master Archive CDs.  *Other studios may call this CD by slightly different names.  

  • Master Listen CD – This is a CD you will receive after the final mastering has been approved.  This CD is for casual listening, unlike the Master Archive CD.  *Other studios may call this CD by slightly different names.  

  • Q.C. (Quality Control) – This process is done after the final Master Archive CD, DDP, and/or stereo WAV files are created to ensure no pops, clicks, or other errors have been introduced during the mastering process.

  • Reference CD – This is a CD you will receive after the mastering is complete.  This is used for approving the initial mastering and for listening to the final master.  *Other studios may call this CD by slightly different names.  

  • UPC (Universal Product Code) – If desired, this “bar code” information can be embedded with your album during the mastering process and should be purchased ahead of time.  Lucky Run Studio does not provide UPC bar codes.   

 

What Do I Need for Mastering?  What Will I Receive at the End of Mastering?

 

  • Going into the mastering process, you should have your completed mixes as stereo files and have a sheet with ISRC and UPC information (if applicable) as well as the correct names and spellings of all song titles in their correct order, the album name, and artist name.

  • Once the initial mastering is completed, you will receive a Reference CD to listen to and approve.  

  • After the Reference CD is approved by you, the mastering engineer will make a Master Archive CD, DDP file, or stereo files (depending on how you plan to distribute your album) and Q.C. the final product to ensure no pops, clicks, or other errors have been introduced.  

  • Once you receive the final Master Archive CD and/or DDP, you can then send this off for replication (such as Disc Makers).  You may also use the Master Archive CD for duplication (see information above on duplication vs. replication).  Other than sending off the Master Archive CD or using this to burn discs, it is highly suggested that you do not play this disc for casual listening.  You will receive a Master Listen CD for casual listening.   

 

Guidelines to Remember as You Prepare for Your Mastering Session 

 

  • Submit your final mixes as WAV or AIFF files at the sample rate and bit depth that the songs were recorded at.  Projects today are usually at least 24 bit and range from 44.1kHz and above (other usual sample rates are: 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 192kHz).  Please do not submit mp3s, mp2s, AAC, or other lossy formats (data compressed audio files meaning their quality is much lower than a WAV or AIFF file).  Do not apply dither on your final mixes, this will be handled during mastering.

  • Ensure your mixes sound great before mastering.  Mastering will not make a “D” mix into an “A+” mastering.  Consider mastering the time to make an “A” mix into an “A+” master.

  • Ensure your mixes are done and complete before going into mastering.  This saves you time and money!   If you have to go back and tweak a mix during the mastering process, your cost of mastering will increase.

  • Bring or send to the mastering engineer a sheet with the correct names and spellings of all song titles in their correct order (do not forget capitalizations!), the album name, and artist name.  This info will be embedded as CD Text.  

  • Bring or send to the mastering engineer a sheet with your ISRC and UPC information (see info on these topics above).

  • Include any other important information such as requests for certain songs to be slightly quieter or louder in context with the album.  While it is desired to have all songs in an album at similar volumes, you may want the album to flow following the natural dynamics between each song.  For example, you may want to keep “moody” songs slightly quieter than the louder aggressive songs.   

 

 

Please contact us using the form on the Contact page to talk more about your project.  We look forward to working with you on your album!

 

Mastering Information by Jeremy Dudman

© 2017 Lucky Run Studio

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4480 Blalock Rd. Houston, TX, 77041

281-232-8382

info@luckyrunstudio.com