Prepare for the Master (CD Mastering)

Many artists are still confused as to what goes on during a mastering session. This article will try to shed some light on the last step before fame and riches (well, at least the last step before duplication), and help you with preparing your music before sending to a mastering studio.

Mastering is the last stage of production, right before the master CD is sent for duplication. It is extremely important for your product and can dramatically improve the quality and consistency of your recordings. Since many musicians have home studios, it is more important than ever to get your final CD mastered properly. It will bring your home-recordings closer to a "radio ready" professional level.

Some of the work done at the mastering stage include:

-> Equalization and harmonic balancing for consistent sound throughout your entire album.

-> Adjusting micro/macro-dynamics (volume changes) of your songs for consistency and loudness.

-> Checking inter-channel phase and polarity for mono compatibility.

-> Final CD layout with proper song spaces, segues, fades and crossfades snapped to CD frame boundaries.

-> Sample and bit rate conversion with dither to Red Book CD Standard.

It's amazing how a good mastering job can bring out the width, depth and dimension of a song. You'll hear sounds that used to be buried in the mix, the vocals will shine through, the reverb and effects will be heard, and the whole CD will be more enjoyable over a varying range of playback systems. At Digital Sound Magic Studios, we have a one-free song policy. Send us a song (usually through www.yousendit.com) and we master it for free. No catch, no obligation.

But don't assume all the work lies on our shoulders! You have to do some legwork too by giving us the best source audio and as much information as possible. This will make the final mastering process run more smoothly and ensure that you get the absolute best master.

Here is a list of things for you to check before you send out your songs for mastering:

-> If your final product is an audio CD, most mastering engineers prefer to receive 44.1 kHz (24bit) data files on CD-ROM (wav, aiff). This gives us the best source material to work with.

-> Include all ISRC codes along with your songs, we need these before we burn the final master disc.

-> DO NOT add any processing to your main mix bus (ie: compression etc). Keep it natural and clean.

-> Do not clip your files, keep your peaks somewhere around -6dB and you'll be safe. It's nearly impossible to remove distortion.

-> Leave space before and after your music (ie: 2-3 sec at head and tail of each song)

-> If you have one, include the UPC number of the disc.

-> Make sure ALL your song names are in full. No abbreviations please! We need full names to add as CD-TEXT (which some CD players use to show your band name and song name).

-> Include your CD album title.

-> Give us a track list of the order you would like your songs to appear on the final CD.

-> Include your FULL contact information (Band Name, Album Name, Contact Person, address, tel, fax, web, email etc). We use this information to print onto your duplication master disc.

-> Send along a few of your favorite songs as reference. Rip a couple of songs from your favorite CD and add these in with your original files. This can do wonders in helping the mastering engineer understand the 'sound' you are striving for. It's always easier to 'hear' an example than it is for you to explain it!

The absolute bottom-line in mastering is COMMUNICATION. Speak up if you have a concern. It's important that you get what you are paying for, and at Digital Sound Magic, we don't mind taking a little longer for a better product.

©2005 Richard Dolmat (Digital Sound Magic)

About The Author
Richard Dolmat is owner, engineer and producer for the Vancouver based recording and mastering studio Digital Sound Magic. Visit his site at: http://www.digitalsoundmagic.com

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