Mastering

Mastering is the final stage of music production whereby a multi-track project, once mixed and consolidated into a single track, is fine-tuned aesthetically and prepared technically for public playback on various sound systems (sets of players and speakers), in various acoustic environments (at home, in a car, outdoors), through various means of signal transmission (the radio, television, Internet, etc.)

The tasks of mastering will depend on the quality of the mix and the intention of the artist. The technical procedures that are performed in every mastering session are the following:

  • the quality check of mixes through a wide-range monitoring system in a room acoustically balanced for critical listening;
  • If the object of mastering is an album and not just a single track, the mastering session will also involve assembling an audio montage of the album, finalizing the play-back sequence of the tracks, adding the requested meta-data, converting the audio files to the end format, and producing the digital image of the final medium ready to be sent over to the replication plant.
In daily practice, mastering may and often does comprise a longer list of technical procedures such as:
  • restoration: removing unwanted sounds, artefacts, and noises; resolving problems of signal polarity;

  • editing: cutting, moving, and rearranging track parts; fading in and fading out track beginnings and endings;

  • equalization: affecting the amount of signal energy in a given frequancy band for a proper spectral balance of the recording;

  • harmonic processing: applying euphonic distortion and harmonic enhancement to the texture of the signal;

  • dynamic processing: a) decreasing or increasing dynamic range between the quiet and loud parts of a recording (macro-compression); b) managing the transient and sustained amplitudes of the signal (micro-compression); c) determining the general peak level of a recording (normalization and limiting);

  • stereo field editing: processing the sum and difference components of the signal; modulating the inner phase relations of the signal;

  • meta-normalization: determining the loudness of two or more tracks in relation to one another;

  • audio format conversion: converting recordings to various audio data formats.

A mastered record will have a reliable and convincing sound when played back in public alongside other recordings, will manifest a consistent and even performance without losing any of its defining qualities when reproduced on various audio systems.

Two types of mastering are available as service:

  • When a recording is mastered in the digital domain, the afore-mentioned goals are realized by using professional audio software (see the list of equipment) and listening through a wide-range (26 Hz - 50 kHz) monitoring system. The rates for digital mastering are the following: 30 EUR* per single track up to 6 minutes of duration; 220 EUR* per album of up to 12 tracks (the duration of the individual tracks being up to 6 minutes), 22 EUR* for each additional track or extra duration;

  • When a recording is mastered in the analog domain (along with the digital), the afore-mentioned goals are realized by using high-end analog hardware (see the list of equipment) and listening through a wide-range (26 Hz - 50 kHz) monitoring system. The rates for analog mastering are the following: 60 EUR* per single track up to 6 minutes of duration; 440 EUR* per album of up to 12 tracks (the duration of the individual tracks being up to 6 minutes), 44 EUR* for each additional track or extra duration;

Both types of mastering sound professional although the analog type contributes to the recording a kind of softness, warmness, density - qualities that in the right combination make the sound even more pleasant, indulging, luxurious. It is important to understand that these are subtle and not crude differences which are clearly perceivable by listening to the mastered record in an acoustically benevolent room through a high-quality sound reproduction system (including headphones) yet which gradually escape the notice of the listener once played back in a noisy surrounding on low-quality consumer equipment such as narrow-range computer speakers.


* The rates specified on this page do not include the Lithuanian VAT which is 21%. All payments are expected upon the completion of the service and the delivery of the finished medium. Independent artists receive a discount of 20%.

Guidlines for Submitting Mixes

  • Before bouncing your multi-track mix to a single stereo file, please, make sure your signal path is free from peak overloads by checking all track, group, and bus or master channels in your mixer. In the digital domain, the peaks of the signal at no point should rise above the unity level which is 0 dBFS. If the peaks of the summed (bus) signal are below 0 dBFS, say, -3 dBFS or -6 dBFS, there is no need to normalize it by raising the peak level to 0 dBFS.
  • When bouncing your multi-track project, please, do not use dynamic processing such as compressing, limiting or maximizing on the summed (bus) signal if the main intention for doing so is increasing the loudness of the signal. We shall achieve the appropriate degree of loundness in your mix by applying specialized equipment and proper expertise during mastering. In the case your intention for processing the summed signal is not merely technical but also artistic, please, provide us with two versions of your mix, processed and unprocessed.

  • The resolution (or bandwidth) of the bounced mix file should be the same as that of the multi-track project: say, if the resolution of your multi-track project is 24 bit 48 kHz, then the bounced mix file should be 24 bit 48 kHz, as well.
  • When naming your files, please, specify the track number in the album (please, insert 0 before single-digit numbers, e.g., 01., 02., 03. etc. and a dot thereafter), the title of the composition, and the date (the two last digits of the year, month, and day), . Say, on June 23th of 2008 you submitted a track entitled Unspoken Words which was going to be no. 7 in your album. The file should have been named thus <07. Unspoken Words 080623.wav>.
  • If you wish us to compliment your tracks with additional meta-data such as CD-text or meta-tags readable and displayable by many hardware and software players, please, submit a textual document with the supplementary information about your tracks and album (artists, authors, labels, distributors, copyright holders, etc.).

A Note on the Role of Loudness in Comparing Records

In comparing two or more records to ascertain objectively their non-loudness (e.g., spectral, panoramic, or dynamic) properties, it is strongly advisable to match their loudnesses so that the quantitative differences of loudness are not mistaken for the qualitative differences of musicality. The human audible sense manifests a psychoacoustic inclination to perceive louder records as "better." This inclination tends to mask those audio differences that are not loudness per se.

There are two ways to ascertain the loudness of a record, objective and subjective (psychoacoustic). The calculation of objective loudness is based on the mathematical formula RMS (root mean square) which is held by sound engineers and technologists to be the best approximation to the human perception of loudness. The formula is used for the automatic determination of loudness without recourse to the human audible sense, therefore, it does not always reflect the true subjective human perception of loudness with satisfactory precision. It is a fact of life that from several records of the same objective loudness some will be perceived by listeners as louder than others. Such differences are of psycho-acoustic and not of electro-physical nature. They can be effectively managed during mastering by the engineer through a combination of trained ears, developed skills, and a specialized set of sound processing tools, digital as well as analog.