By Andy Rogulich
High Fidelity Mastering
Albuquerque, NM

I frequently get asked what is mastering and why is it important in making an album. Simply, Mastering is the process whereby the mastering engineer prepares and transfers recorded audio from the original source material onto a master CD or DVD. This master is the source from which all copies are produced. It’s crucial, therefore, that the master is made properly for the best transfer to occur at the production facility. This allows mass production of your recording at the best possible level of quality. You want to have a mastering facility for your recording, capable of providing you the highest quality reproduction of sound that improves the original recording. By using a collection of specialized mastering equipment, the mastering engineer can create the sensation of being in the presence of the actual performance. This is accomplished by a variety of means, such as eliminating noise, adding depth, widening the soundstage, and increasing dynamic range of the recording. You also want to have your recording improved through various means such as equalization, compression, and expansion. Additional tasks, such as editing, pre-gapping, leveling, fading in and out, noise reduction, and other signal restoration and enhancement processes, are applied as necessary during the mastering stage. Program material is then put in whatever order you request. In the end, you receive a CD or DVD master that’s ready for a production facility to produce as many copies you request. A mastering engineer listens to essentially everything in the recording to improve your original recording, such as :

Proper tonal balance, depth and width of the soundstage
Noise, distortion, sibilance in the vocal, and out-of-phase sound caused by improper microphone placement during the original recording
Proper imaging of the vocal and placement of instruments to recreate the feeling of being at the original performance
All songs at the same volume level from one song to the next
Mastering engineers take out the bad, accentuate the good, and make your talent shine through!

All professional musicians use a mastering facility. If you look on any CD or DVD made within the last ten years, you’ll find in the list of credits two very distinct recognitions: “Recorded by…” and “Mastered by…” Yes, all professional musicians use a mastering facility.

You want to have a separate facility master the recording you made in the recording studio. The reason is you want to have someone that is listening to your music for the first time give your recording an unbiased listening evaluation of what needs to be improved for it to be ready for mass production. You also may find that after you have listened to what you recorded in the studio that you want to make some changes. Perhaps you find that you’d prefer that the vocals be more forward of the instruments. Or you may hear a buzz or hum you hadn’t noticed before. Or you’d like to have a wider soundstage or a greater depth to the music. Or you may like more reverberation, or perhaps more punch to the kick drum. You could return to the recording studio, but their studio time is more expensive than mastering time — and they may not have the equipment and skills needed to make the necessary changes, such as removing clicks, pops, buzz, hum, tape hiss, unwanted transients, and distortion. You also may decide you want to convert your two-channel stereo recording you made in the studio, to a 5.1 surround sound recording. A state-of-the-art mastering facility can do this for you.

You may also have an old recording you made on vinyl, reel-to-reel, or cassette that you would like to resurrect for your next album. A good mastering facility will have the capability to take your original recording, in whatever format it is in, and enhance and restore new life into the recording, and finally transfer it to a CD or DVD for you.

For the mastering engineer, it takes more than equipment to do a good job of mastering. It takes years of experience in all forms of audio reproduction and the proper educational training in mastering. Only then, can you know what to listen for and how to improve it. You labored long on your song, make it sound it’s very best by having it mastered.