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Audio Mastering In Layman’s Terms

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    Monday, November 5, 2012

    What is audio mastering, and why do you need it for your music? For a moment, think about the last time you listened to music on the radio in your car, iTunes on your laptop, Spotify on your iPhone, or whatever your typical music source of choice is. Although the songs that play on the radio or stream online are recorded at different studios by different engineers with different equipment and different software in different countries all around the world, somehow all those recorded songs and albums are matched at the same volume level through the audio mastering process, and you don’t have to reach for the volume knob when the song changes from track-to-track, or from artist-to-artist. How can that be?

    This is where audio mastering comes into the picture. Many recording artists are under the impression that you simply record a song or an album, mix the individual instruments and vocal tracks together, and you’re done. The problem is that there’s no way to ensure all the final mixes are at the same level across the entire album, or more importantly, that the final mixes compete with other commercially produced recordings. Audio mastering not only will ensure your listener can listen from the first track to the last track of your album without having to ride the volume knob, it will also ensure your mixes are as loud as other musical material that’s mastered to an industry-standard amount of volume and compression. If you read this explanation carefully, you realize that the stakes for getting the master absolutely perfect for your project are very high, as it can quickly separate your mix as an amateur or professional recording.

    The audio mastering process takes a fine tooth comb to each track of your project to create consistency among your songs on the album. With our accurate speakers and flat listening environment in the Blue Room, an engineer can go into your mix like a surgeon and filter out a strange resonant frequency that is nearly imperceptible to the human ear, but is muddying the mix. He or she can add gentle enhancements to the mix’s width, tone, and level. It is the combination of these many different small changes that will make the difference between an amateur recording and a professional one when the audio mastering process is complete. Blue Room Productions’ studio features Lipinski L-707A Signature speakers, the same set of audio mastering speakers used by the world renowned Universal Mastering studio in Hollywood, CA. It’s likely that you’ve listened to several masters that went through Universal, including artists like Weezer,  Third Eye Blind, The Who, The Mars Volta, Jackson 5, T-Pain, System of a Down, Sublime. Universal is mastering their artists work using the identical high-end Lipinski speakers you’ll find in the Blue Room.

    A helpful analogy would be cleaning your car and then buffing it with a wax job. The mixing process would be analogous to the initial cleaning of the car. When you watch and listen to your sound engineer or producer mix your track, there is an enormous and very obvious difference: the instrument levels are adjusted, the vocal levels are balanced, reverb and other effects can be added. Once you have “washed” your track, it will be ready for the final polish to make sure your mixes are radio-ready, and will stand up against other professional recordings.

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