Mastering, sometimes mistaken for mixing, is the audio step that comes just before releasing the final product, and is the critical, and final creative step in the process of making an audio recording. The mastering process is an art form that uses special, high-quality audio gear in conjunction with one or more sets of critical ears to help you attain the particular sound and “feel” that you want.
In addition to the concept of capturing the pure artistry of a production onto hard disk, CD or other medium, one of the many goals during the course of recording a project is the idea that the final product will have a certain sound. This sound might be “clean”, “punchy”, “gutsy”, or any other sonic adjective that you’re striving for.
Good mastering can help the project:
• Sound “right”. This is often accomplished through the careful use of EQ and overall EQ matching. This process takes not only the right set of processing gear, but also experienced audio engineers, that intuitively know how the project will sound under the a wide range of playing conditions.
• Play-back at the best level. Levels are set to the highest possible level that the medium will allow before distortion. Compression is often used to maximize this level, but over compression leads to audible artifacts that can affect the “sound” that you worked so hard for. In some cases, light compression or even no compression is a definite alternative.
Match in level & arranging tracks in final sequence. In addition to getting the best overall level; it’s often important that levels match from song – to – song.
The importance of mastering as a process is just as important as the experience level of the person who will be performing it. Professional and experienced mastering engineers can make the crucial difference between an outstanding sound recording project and a mediocre one.