Mastering Audio

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  • Topic: Audio mastering, Mastering engineer, Audio engineering
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  • Published : December 5, 2013
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BAP250.1 Mastering Essay

Unit - BAP250 Mastering
Assignment - BAP250.1 Mastering Essay
Student name - Tejas Nair
Student Number - 106552
Unit Coordinator - Alex

Tejas Nair - 106552 - 205.1

BAP250.1 Mastering Essay

The History of “Mastering”
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Music, in most of its styles and forms that is targeting commercial distribution now undergoes a final process of transformation and quality verification known as Mastering. For those working within the audio industry, this process is an unavoidable step to pass through. The role of the mastering engineer is almost unknown and often unheard of. This status of the mastering process has over the years gathered itself an almost mythical status in the industry. The art itself is quite often misunderstood and in certain cases considered unimportant. Through this essay I hope to explore further into the role of the mastering process and the position it has held over decades with changes in styles, technology and mediums of media distribution.

"Mastering is the set of activities in the audio chain between the final production of the music on an intermediary format and its transfer to a distribution format." (Dominique Bassal, 2005)
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During the early days, the process of mastering was not a separate discipline that was followed by a different engineer. A recording engineer’s profile would involve recording onto a disc cutting lather. Before the year 1925, the tools used to cut records was unsophisticated and worked in a fairly mechanical manner without the use of electricity. By the 1930’s the advent of electricity in the audio industry like many other markets changed the way media was recorded, processed and finally distributed. The rise of the radio stations, microphones and the amplification of the stylus that was previously driven just by a diaphragm into an acoustical horn has changed the way mastering works. The discs cut onto wax were used as stampers to press 78rpm discs using shellac-composite. This was the method of cutting/producing records before the advent of tape.

Mastering/cutting Engineer
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Post the second world war, the recording of tape and micro groove LP were first introduced. The introduction of tape recording changed the norm of master recordings almost always being cut direct to disc. This was the beginning of a separate engineer being in charge of using the session tapes to cut master discs. This person was not initially known as a mastering engineer but a “dubbing engineer” or rather “transfer engineer”. “mastering was a black art practiced by technical curmudgeons who mysteriously made the transfer from the electronic medium of magnetic audio tape to the physical medium of vinyl.” - (Owsnski, 2007)

Tejas Nair - 106552 - 205.1

BAP250.1 Mastering Essay

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This change brought about the industrial belief that the process of cutting the master discs from recording session tapes was not a very different technical skill than the vinyl pressing operation.

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The biggest problem as such with vinyl has been to safeguard the largest possible part of the audio fidelity of the master tape, by troubleshooting and working around the numerous downfalls and obstacles brought about by the medium itself. The technology of cutting vinyl from tape came with its own set of limitations to a huge degree. To explain the groove on the record, the thickness of the hair carries pitch and tonal information laterally and the amplitude information vertically.

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The problems brought about by this system was that the bass frequencies would drastically affect the total width of the groove. This in turn would affect the determined length of the information being cut onto the vinyl. the thickness of the vinyl similarly affected the dynamic range available for each cut. The recording onto analog tape helped with these flaws to a certain extent through having a tendency to roll off the distinctly sharp high intensity transients. This tendency was due to the saturation that...
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