The Basics of Audio Mastering
There are many stages to audio recording. The recording studio must be prepared,
the correct mics selected, and various tracks recorded - usually 1 per
instrument. Finally there is the mixing stage where the tracks are combined to
create a pleasing and professionally sounding result. The final mixing is also
called audio mastering and involves balancing the frequencies of the various
tracks and controlling the overall sound to reach commercial quality.
Many things can be done during audio mastering. Equalization can be applied to
individual tracks so that each instrument or vocal track occupies its own
“place” in the overall harmonic spread. This is important to keep the music from
sounding “muddy” - if the frequencies overlap it will be hard to distinguish one
instrument from another.
Equalizing - in a nutshell - involves selecting a portion of the frequency
spectrum and cutting those frequencies below or above that frequency range. This
can be done for each instrument in the mix so that the overall sound is
balanced. A well-developed ear is necessary for equalizing and for all aspects
of audio mastering.
Effects can also be added to each track and to the overall mix during audio
mastering. Effects include reverb, compression, and audio processing to change
the quality of the sound. Modern digital studios have the ability to emulate all
kinds of different sounds. For example, guitar tracks can be processed to change
the sound of the amplifier used.
Digital Studios may use analog equipment in some stages of the audio mastering.
Analog tape can provide warmth to digital recordings that might otherwise sound
harsh. If actual analog equipment is not used, digital emulations of analog
sound can provide a fuller sound.
The final stage of audio mastering may involve compression to even out varying
loudness levels and boost the overall mix. Compression is very common in
commercial pop music but may be less desirable in classical or jazz music where
dynamic differences are often an integral part of the music.
Audio mastering ensures that the recording has reached professional or
commercial standards. It is a necessary step before sending the recording to a
duplication plant for manufacturing CDs. Any commercially released CD must go
through the process of audio mastering to meet industry standards.
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