Mastering, what's that thing? (Pt. 2)
This "In the studio" series is about any news from the studio, what’s up, what’s going on there, what’s on my mind :)
OK, so last time (see there) I wrote that mastering is about what's not meant to be heard in a song, but that must be there anyway. And I was mentioning that here in the studio I had been very busy deciding upon various mastering alternatives for my next album, Fools of Us, that will be released next fall.
Well, I'm not in the studio at the moment since I'm travelling, but as there's some quiet time here right now, it's a good time to go one step further.
So, mastering, what's that mysterious thing? Fully explaining it would take volumes, because it's actually a science and, as a matter of fact, one so complex that it is an art in its own right. But here's some of the little I know about it.
When you've produced the final mix of a song, in the best way you can mix it, if you listen to it next to commercially released stuff, the like you listen to on platforms such as iTunes, Spotify or the like, or on a CD, or over the radio, you'll instantly notice that no matter how hard you try, your mix both sounds way quieter, and way duller, than these great commercial released tracks you would like it to compare to. Quite frustrating. And fairly inevitable, actually, if you don't go through the mastering step.
So mastering is about making you song louder, beyond what you can achieve in the mix itself (but not hurting the sound, which is very difficult to achieve). It's also about some final touch EQing (which actually is also another way to make you sound "feel" louder than it actually is, again hopefully without hurting it). It's about finding the right balance between bass, medium and trebles of the overall sound in a way which is both broader (you treat the whole mix at once, not a specific element in it), but actually even more minute and subtle than what you do in the mix itself. It's also about getting final control over some elements of your sound (removing a little something there, so that something else suddenly becomes clearer, for instance). Lots of minute things. The overall goal is to enhance sound rather than simply make it loud. You want it louder, possibly, but more importantly you want it clearer, smoother, richer, maybe deeper, more shiny (or just as deep and shiny as it should before becoming boomy or agressive), in a specific and hopefully right balance.
You have specific tools for that (describing them would be highly technical, thus boring), and you have lots of tricks as well (that's why it's kind of magic).
It's way easier to overdo it than to get it right, and thus this is very dangerous stuff, to be handled with extreme caution. You do have highly proficient people - mastering engineers - who specialize only in that very specific aspect of this final steps before a song is professionally released.
So all in all, for anyone who's not a specialist of music production - and doesn't even really care, possibly - let's just say that mastering is part of what differentiates tracks that sound great, from those that just sound good.
And then, for an indie artist like me, it's also a lot about making decisions: Do you want to attempt mastering you stuff yourself (so as to retain full and absolute control over you own sound), or do you want to commission a pro mastering house to do this for you (which will mean you lose some control, while still having to make decisions about the alternative options they may propose to you regarding a given song). Personally, I took the risk to keep full control. So if there's anyone to blame with the result, there's only me, and I fully accept that. But I have full freedom in exchange, and that's not so bad a deal, after all...
EverNoize - 2017