Overview of the Mastering Process
For every good mastering engineer, meticulousness and attention to detail is the norm, not the exception.
What is Mastering?
• Mastering is the last creative step in the audio production process, the bridge between mixing and replication – your last chance to enhance sound or repair problems in an acoustically – designed room – an audio microscope.
What is a Mastering Engineer?
• A Mastering Engineer requires the same ear training as a recording and mixing engineer, except that the mastering engineer becomes expert in the techniques for improving completed mixes, while the mixing engineer specializes in methods for improving the mix by altering the sound of individual instruments within it.
What is the Mastering Process?
• Mixing is the art of blending individually recorded sounds through a console or on a DAW, controlling the level, and pan of each sound to create a final “mix” of your musical selection. Mixes may either be recorded to tape or stored on the hard drive of a DAW. • Master assembly means editing a collection of individual song mixes into a complete “Master” that flows from start to finish in the desired order and with the desired amount of space between selections. A final master may be assembled by transferring between two digital recorders, or by physically editing mixes on analog tape. • Premastering/mastering is the link between the production process and the manufacturing facility where copies will be made. Overall program level is set, as well as song-to-song or “relative” levels. EQ and/or compression may also be used to make the material sound as good as possible when it is played in the listening environment of the customers who buy the end product. Once optimized, the resulting program is transferred to an appropriate “Production Master” for the plant that will make the actual copies.
CDs From Conception to Manufacturing
Editing and Premastering
• After the initial editing & mixing process, it is followed by premastering, which is the official name of our profession, to distinguish it from the technical mastering that takes place at the plant (though everyone calls us “mastering engineers” for short). • Naturally, the output medium of premastering is officially called the premaster, but we usually label it master.
What is the Manufacturer’s Role?
• Manufacturing is when the actual copies are made and packaged for distribution and sale: • For CDs, the master tape is transferred to a “glass master” from which molds are made for replication, a multi-step process involving injection molding. • For Cassettes, the production master is transferred into a “digital bin,” a storage device that converts the program from digital to analog at high speed and sends it to “slave” machines that record on cassette tape, which is then bulk loaded into cassette shells. • For vinyl records, the master lacquer is used to make molds which are used to press the records.
At the Plant
• At the plant, the premaster is used to create the ‘glass master’ – an ephemeral product that actually gets destroyed during the production process! • Lets take a look at the manufacturing process at the plant…
Class “10” Clean Room
At, many plants, glass mastering is performed in a class “10” clean room by engineers wearing white “space suits.” Multi-million dollar Laser Beam Recorders take the digital information for the master, and then encodes it to the proper format and then sends an encoded laser beam onto a light sensitive emulsion applied to the surface of a 9.5” glass disc.
The definition of what is the Master has become even more vague, since multimedia projects may be finished at the audio mastering studio, or authoring added at some studio down the road. Audio – only projects may arrive in multiple forms, from DATs to Pro Tools Hard discs to CD ROMs to analog tapes. Projects may be two channel or multi-channel...
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