Nowadays songs get mixed on headphones, music is consumed via cellphone speakers but also played on high-end audio equipment and the wide range of audio formats makes it hard for non-professionals to choose the right one – obviousely, the world of music is more complex than ever before. Modern mastering has set itself the goal to meet all these requirements and respond to the flexible wishes of musicians and the industry. But what is mastering and does a modern music production still need it?

The story of a record usually begins with the pre-production and leads over recording, editing and mixing towards the final production process: The mastering. Mastering actually consists of two steps. Firstly, the finalization of the audio material and secondly, the creation of a DDP- or CD-master and after that, the deployment of the files to the distributor in the requested audio format (wav, mp3, …).

The main focus in the finalization process lies on correcting minor mixing errors in all the recorded songs and then finding a song order that feels “right” for the particular album. Therefor, a little corrective equalization, a bit of compression and limiting and maybe some reverb is applied to match the overal sound of the individual songs. In other words, mastering is like proofreading a book: you don’t change the content, but only correct the mistakes that the mixing engineer failed to hear after hours and hours of mixing. A mastering engineer also makes sure that all songs sound good on a wide variety of playback devices like car-speakers, kitchen radios or headphones.

During the so-called PQ editing and the creation of the final master, work such as inserting pauses (length of silence between two tracks), indices (jump labels within a track) or ISRC codes (information about the owner/copyright owner) gets done. PQ editing, however, refers mainly to the creation of a Compact disc (CD) and is not that relevant anymore when mastering for a digital distribution only (Applemusic, Spotify, …). When mastering for vinyl things are a little different. If you intend to release your record on vinyl, it’s best to contact a mastering studio that has specialized in this kind of work. They will surely inform you about the production processes.

The benefits of (a professional) mastering are out of the question for me. But whether you master your own music, use a tool like LANDR, or hire a mastering engineer, depends entirely on your preferences and your budget. If you are undecided, just contact different mastering studios and ask for a testmaster for on of your songs.

Although it is possible to do the mastering all by yourself, it’s usually a good idea to let someone who has experience, proper equipment (speakers, room and gear) and a set of fresh ears do the mastering.

If you have other questions about homerecording feel free to browse through all my homerecording posts.

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