A's For Your Q's
WHAT IS MASTERING?
Have you ever been blown away by how great a track sounds in the studio, only to be disappointed by how it sounds on a car stereo or earbuds? That track (hopefully) wasn’t yet mastered.
Mastering readies your music to sound the best it possibly can, anywhere it’s played. Not only do mastering engineers have special tools and techniques to bring your music up to commercial sonic quality and loudness, but we serve as a fresh set of ears to notice errors and correct mixing oversights.
DO I NEED MASTERING?
Are you creating a recording for sale to the public? Then yes, you need mastering! Mastering optimizes your music for playback in the real world. And it is a minefield out there right now!
In addition to the standards of yesterday like broadcast radio, home stereo systems, and car audio... your music has to withstand a lot of abuse at the hands of streaming and low quality listening devices. Mastering ensures that you'll sound as good as technologically possible on the very worst — as well as the very best — of mediums.
DO I NEED A SEPARATE MASTER FOR VINYL?
Yes. The commercial standard loudness for CD and digital streaming platforms does not translate well to vinyl.
While some vinyl duplication services will agree to just "turn the master down," this really isn't a good idea. Your recording will still lack the appropriate dynamic range for vinyl, and end up sounding squashed and muffled.
WHAT ABOUT LANDR?
The only instance that I can see LANDR being useful is a true "demo." By demo, I mean a recording that is not meant to be heard by the public. It's a rough sketch of a song to show other songwriters, your bandmates, or maybe a label. On the other hand, if I was pitching my music to Brad Paisley or his label, I'd sure as heck want it to sound its best.
ANALOGUE VS. DIGITAL MASTERING
This one is interesting. Some recordings really do sound better with purely digital mastering. I would argue that those recordings are rare, but it does happen. However, a professional mastering engineer will be equipped with the best in both digital and analog processing. If someone tries to sell you on "in-the-box mastering" because that's all they have, don't waste your money. Digital vs. Analog is not the aesthetic choice it may sound like, it's a matter of preserving and/or enhancing the fidelity of the audio, and it's a choice for your mastering engineer to make.
BUT MY MIX ENGINEER SAYS HE CAN MASTER IT...
Your mix engineer is a hippie. I am a scientist. Your call.