When recording, you print each track with a dry signal. At the end of the session, you wind up with a bunch of "raw" tracks.
The "Mastering" part is when you add effects, EQ and levels to the project to create that "finished" sound that you hear on professional CD's that you buy in the store.
It's kinda like building a guitar with fancy wood. After you build it, you finish and polish the wood....
Mastering is mostly a volume/dynamics entity. Plus some EQ and frequency based compression. A song that is just a combination of the parts is only half the way there. In the recording process you make all your tracks, but when you put them together, everything is competing for the same space in your ear. The right amount of compression and multiband limiting makes it so that the actual audible volume of each component of your mix can punch through more clearly because when it comes out, the compressor dips the rest of the program down.
Like drums for example. You can set the drum volume slightly lower than perfect, knowing that the final mastering will bring down the rest of the program for the split second of each drum hit. The drums will be very audible but the melodic portion will be more of a "wall of sound". Or you can mix the drums hot so they peak the limiter, then the mix will seem more dynamic, even if its compressed heavily. Mastering also makes all your songs balanced with eachother, so the listener doesn't have to turn the volume up for certain songs and down for others.
Sometimes the role of EQ is to make each track "feel" similar aurally. Other times EQ is used to manipulate the compressor/limiter into giving more dynamic range to a certain frequency area, to focus on an instrument, or an overall "sound" to your mix. Like Adult Contemporary music often has weak bass, fizzy treble, and sibilant vocals. Hip Hop has thunderous bass and sometimes not much else. Metal has gone through a huge evolution in 30 years, from "transistor radio blasting midrange" to a wide, full frequency program. Most commercial artists have a continuity to their sound, even if the songs are very different sounding. Some of that is the mastering.
If you're trying to make a pro recording to sell or demo, it should be mastered. You won't believe the difference. So either learn a lot about it or hire it out. If it's a serious project then hire it out. If its just a fun practice band then have fun learning.
Frank -- I'm always impressed with the breadth of your knowledge. From luthier skills to Ibanez trivia to gear questions to recording strategies, you definitely cover a lot of ground. Thanks for all the informative posts!
Mastering shouldn't be confused with mixing either. Mixing is setting the tracks in the final mix then "mixing" down to 2 track stereo. Alot of the tracks that are being mixed will get their own effects during mixing, like the huge reverbs on the snare on Prince tracks. Mastering is the process that Frank described as done to the stereo mix where effects, mostly EQ and dynamics are added to affect the overall feel. This is also where tracks get their volume "normalized" so the tracks on the CD are all the same volume.
Reverb/Delay is very rarely added at mastering stage... in my experience anyway. Although reading what Frank was saying about using EQ to make sure that tracks have a similar feel gives me the impression that maybe occasionally reverb is also used to bring the tracks together in a way that makes them all sound as though they were recorded in a similar room etc.
Sometimes that's done with stereo imaging, which can have time based effects in the algorithm. But usually that kind of continuity comes from actually using the same room, gear, and techniques. An image enhancer can only enhance the variants that are present in the mixdown. I remember reading some liner notes of albums where they'd say "track x, xx, etc. recorded at xyz studio, tracks y, yy, etc recorded at abc studio" and they'd have a different feel to them. You could tell they were recorded in a different place even if the guys hauled around their own gear.
But I do that kind of stuff a lot if I'm adding overdubs to live recordings. You try to emulate what the vibe was of the session electronically. But that's on a track by track basis, not on the mixdown. Or like if everyone was singing regular but one background vocalist is eating their mic. Then you have to sort of mimic a more distant micing on their track so the background vocal mix is more uniform.
million thanks guys.
now i know what is mastering do.
actually... this question hang around in my head after i listen to Sentenced, The Cold White Light album. the sound feel very wide and all instrument not competing each other (err... u know what i mean right?).
one last question... can we put 'echo' or 'hall efx' or something like that to make our song more 'feel'. or this thing will make the song crap?
Frank, since you obviously know a lot about mastering, please help me out here.
My band has finished mixing our CD & our next step is to get it mastered. After listening to the mix for a week now, we discovered that the overall drum mix is a little lower than where we'd like them. The engineer is done with this project. Everything else is really high in the mix & sound awesome.
We now have 2 choices. Get the ProTools track from our engineer & take them elsewhere for more mixing, or we can keep it as it & move on to mastering.
Are you saying that mastering will boost the drums up to where they should be? PLEASE advise.
It can. I'd have to hear where everything's placed from a frequency standpoint. For example if the drums were "early Metallica" then mastering can't bring them out so well because they're all highs and lows. But if the guitar is scooped mids and the drums are open and uncompressed, then yes, they'll come out a bit. I guess what I'm saying is, I have to hear if there are frequency segments within the program where they are alone or prominent in the mix, or if they are in "competition" for a good bulk of the same frequency areas as the guitar and bass.
It's always nice to have the ProTools session in hand for any future changes. There's no reason not to, it's your music. So I'd say get that regardless. Then, if you'd like me to listen to some portions, or do some quick mastering to give you something to listen to, let me know.
I've often thought about taking on mastering jobs, just from you guys. I wouldn't want to do it for the general public. I'd get every loser with their crappy band, probably complaining that I couldn't make their Crate amp garage band demo sound like St. Anger.
Maybe send me a 30 second snippet of a common sounding segment from your program (or post it somewhere) and I can do more to help. That's all I can say sight unseen. (Oops I mean "sound unheard")