Facts & FAQs
Why bother with mastering?
Well, pretty much every piece of released music you have ever heard has been mastered. Why? To make it sound as good as it can. Its a cliché, but you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So whether you are releasing your first or your fourth album, or putting your first songs up on the web, mastering will help present your music in the best possible sonic light.
Remember too that a mastering studio is a critical listening environment. A chance to assess the mixes with a fresh perspective. As well as checking the tonal balance and dynamic range we’ll be able to identify and rectify problems that might have slipped through the net during a mix, like annoying digital clicks, or overly sibilant vocals.
What should I supply for mastering?
- Make the best mix you can, one that you are happy with. Supply files either as a stereo WAV or AIF. If you work with a DAW, don’t change the sample rate: leave it at the native rate of your session. 24 bit files are preferred.
- IMPORTANT: Someone once said it’s easy to make a good mix loud, but very hard to make a loud mix good. So do not use a limiter [Like L2 or a Finaliser etc] on the mix, or use any other plugin just to make your mix loud.
- Leave plenty of headroom in the mix, -6 to 8 dB from full scale is good.
- If you are experienced with mixing into a bus compressor, great. If not, don’t try just applying one right at the end of mixing. If you’re unsure, supply a compressed and an uncompressed version.
- Make sure you send any comments you have about the mixes, and your running order too.
- We’ll need ISRC codes before we burn the masters, if those are to be included in the PQ subcodes.
If you are sending files over the internet you need to ZIP or RAR them to protect them from corruption in transit.
What is mastering from stems?
Some mixes can be tricky. Maybe the monitoring in the mixing studio isn’t ideal and you just can't judge if the lead vocal is loud enough or if the bass is too flabby. Mixing from stems uses stereo groups from the mix so we can rebalance the main elements of a track. Typically the stems would consist of Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Lead vocal, and Background vocals. The stems are run off with all the effects and all the faders exactly as they would be in the actual mix. Bringing up all the stems at the same level should sound just like the stereo mix. Mastering from stems takes longer so we charge an hourly rate, but it can be invaluable with one of those tough mixes. If you have questions about Mastering from stems, please get in touch through our contact page.
What will you do in mastering?
The first thing we do is listen. See if there’s any obvious areas that need attention. Maybe not enough bass, or not enough clarity. Sometimes we need to do very little, sometimes we need to do a lot. It’s all about making whatever adjustments are needed to make the track sound as good as it can, and most importantly, making sure all the tracks on the album sound as though they belong together.
We can adjust the tonal balance with equalization, apply compression and limiting as needed, and even out the levels between tracks. In some cases we might use techniques like M/S processing to tackle a problem, sibilance for example, without disturbing the rest of the mix too much.
'Assembling a CD might mean topping and tailing the tracks, then adjusting fades and gaps in addition to the technical aspects, such as inserting PQ codes and ISRC codes before creating a reference disk for you to approve. Once approved, a master is made which is carefully checked before being sent either back to you, or direct to a CD manufacturing plant. We will supply you with a PQ print out which shows the ISRC codes, track times and other technical data about the CD. If your master format is a Red Book CD we will also supply a printout of the error checking program that checks the physical disk itself.
Can't you just do it with plugins?
Look at any serious mastering studio. The major part of the processing is done with specialist analogue equipment. Why? It sounds better, and that’s what it’s all about. Certainly there are some good digital tools, but most DAW plugins are not mastering grade.
What are ISRC codes?
ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. This is a unique number assigned to a recording to identify it for the purpose of tracking royalty payments and so on. It is embedded into the CD data. These codes are essential for tracking radio play royalties and iTunes and other digital distributions.
You can obtain your own ISRC codes if you own the rights to a recording. In the UK it is handled by the PPL - www.ppluk.com In the USA you can apply here: https://usisrc.org
What are PQ codes?
PQ codes are the data subcode part of a CD. They tell the CD player where one track ends and another starts. These subcodes also contain the ISRC for each track, along with a UPC/EAN or barcode number for the CD itself, if you supplied us with one
Do you do test samples?
We are happy to do an example for you to show what we can do. We may not be able to do it straight away, it depends on the sessions currently in progress. When we are working on client’s tracks, they deserve and get our concentration and focus 100 per cent, so we fit test samples around the ongoing mastering sessions.
What about changes and revisions to the mastering?
We are committed to making your tracks sound the very best they can and we want you to be happy with the results. So long as there isn’t a change in direction from the original brief you gave us, we will do one set of revisions without charge. However if you want to substitute a different mix or you’ve changed your mind about the direction you gave us, this may be billed as an extra cost.
Will the track names show up in iTunes?
In order for your CD to display track titles when it's put in a computer [for example in iTunes] the information needs to be submitted to an online database, [the most common is Gracenote CDDB] You can do this from your computer using iTunes. See Apple's help here: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=iTunesMac/9.2/en/15455.html Technologyworks can do this for you from a manufactured CD or from a production master.
What about CD text, isn't that the same thing?
No. CD text is extra subcode data encoded into a CD that allows text to be displayed on certain compatible CD players. CD text will not be added to your master unless we are specifically asked to do so. CD text can cause issues and so delay the manufacturing of CDs.