Two Sides Of Mastering Music

There is a huge volume of information to absorb before one could claim to be reasonably competent at the art of producing or performing music. For those approaching from the performance side, J. Pisano provides some links recommended by his students as being particularly useful. The list includes specialised sites focused on such topics as choral, drumming, audio search and sheet music.

Mastering the Art and the Science

For those who want to expand their production skills, this document written by Bob Katz is an interesting and infomative overview to using the TC Electronics Finalizer. Even if you don’t own the product, his insights are applicable to mastering in general, so it’s well worth a read. The area of mastering and EQ was broached in a recent article here, but I thought I’d throw in a few extra tips today. So, here they are…

Some Fundamental Frequency Tips

The frequency range around 250Hz is very important in a mix. For example, this is where the ‘punch’ of a male vocal presents itself, as well as much of the ‘body’ of the recording. In fact, the midrange frequencies contain the essence of a record – and, considering many sound systems have poor or no low-end or high-end response, this is all that a lot of listeners will be able to hear. This is not to say that you should ever master with anything less than top-quality flat response monitors – but if you get the midrange right, that’s at least half the battle.

It is always vital to remember that when you make a change to one frequency, it will affect another – sometimes for the better, sometimes for much worse. A dip at 250Hz (using a paragraphic EQ) is often equivalent to a boost in the ‘presence’ range of 5kHz. If you have some trumpets that sound a bit harsh, a boost at 250Hz or a cut at 6-8kHz might soften them up. However, a cut at 7kHz often results in a loss of ‘air’, which might be compensated for by boosting slightly in the 15-20kHz range.

Polishing Your Recordings

Aural exciters may add some sparkle to your track, but (particularly when combined with over-zealous compression) can be very tiresome to listen to for extended periods. Other common problems that a mastering engineer may have to deal with include sibilance and noise reduction. The general range for sibilance issues is 2.5-9kHz, so some judicious use of EQ on this area of the vocal track may help. We tend to be most sensitive to noise in the 3-5kHz region, so reducing the noise floor here by a few dB should work nicely.

With regard to determining the track order for an album, this article on mastering at LNL features an interesting quote about how Robert Fripp and King Crimson approached the matter:

“David & Robert would mix an album and put the songs in a particular order. Then they would burn a CD and take it home and listen to it over the course of many days or weeks. As they were listening to the CD, they would note the point where their minds would start to wander off. They would then note that particular song and replace it with something else. This exercise would continue over and over until they could listen to the entire CD without losing attention.”

Of course, there is no magic formula to mastering a record – each track has to be assessed individually, and any problems should be identified explicitly before jumping in with all compressors blazing. If the actual recordings and mix are good enough, then it might not be necessary to apply any pre-master processing at all.


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