The Mastering Process

The Mastering Process

There are many myths and misconceptions that surround the mastering process – from its ability to turn even the most lackluster recording into a polished release-quality track, through to the fact that mastering can only be practiced by a few highly skilled individuals.

Just like tracking or mixing, mastering is just another piece of of the giant puzzle of the production process. DarkRoom Mastering will take your track and give it the body, color, warmth, and fullness you track needs, all while preserving the original feel and quality of your piece. Here’s the breakdown of our workflow, and what we can do to your track!

Step 1: Send Your Track(s)

Send us your track using a file uploading service like YouSendIt.com or SendSpace.com. You can also use our dropbox to upload tracks directly to our SoundCloud account. Please read the requirements in the Preparation section of our website.

Step 2: The Listening Process

There isn’t a whole lot to be said about this step. Once we receive your work we will immediately begin the mastering process. This always starts with the reviewing stage. Each track is different so we want to have a good listening experience on multiple speaker setups several times so we can get a true feel for how your track is supposed to sound and get a defining “artist” experience on what you’re trying to accomplish with your sound. During this process we also find the peak levels in your track and make adjustments to the volume to give us sufficient headroom to properly master your track.

Step 3: Equalization

Most mastering agencies online will master your music on a linear level, meaning that they will load your arrangement or track into into a single audio channel. We find the most common problem with audio is that there’s often too many frequencies overriding each other in the low end (200hz to 500hz region). We will often times split up the low end frequencies in your tracks (below 150hz) on to one track and the mid/high end on to another track. We do this so the bass doesn’t end up driving most of the compression we apply to the mid/high-end portion of the song. The result is a cleaner more consistent sound in the frequency spectrum. Also, that way we can treat the low end of a little differently and bring out much more punch if necessary. We also leave a channel open for your original track where we can easily do A/B split testing for comparison between your original and what we are doing.

Step 4: Compression

The next step is to apply compression. It is important to note that too much compression in a mix will distort the sound and it will lose it’s transient detail, or dynamics. Looking over the sound spectrum as your track plays will allow us to pick apart the different frequencies that need compression.

Again, your low end frequencies may need to be less compressed than your mid/high frequencies. For this we use multi-band compression where we can compress different frequency ranges in your track separately from the others. This will add dynamics to your tracks that are naturally pleasing to the ear (your tracks will have more movement). Your highs may need to be tightened up a bit where there’s a lot of loose frequencies keeping your mix from achieving it’s overall loudness. Sometimes the high frequencies are waaay too high keeping your low end from coming up, and vice versa. We strive to make a clear-cut even frequency line along the sound frequency spectrum.

Step 5: Stereo Widening

This is a fairly simple process. Adding width to your tracks will by itself make your track stand out a bit more by making your track sound a wider. This is perfect for larger rooms. Adding width to your tracks will clear up some space in the middle and will let your track breathe as your frequencies will have more space to move around in the stereo spectrum. We particularly notice this in the higher frequencies. Your snares and hats will sound more full and separate from your kicks and mid frequencies.

Step 6: Adding Loudness / Maximization

This is the last stage of the mastering process. Although a good dose of compression will make your master sound proportionately louder, there’s still another stage to the signal processing chain. Maximization. The principal is to add overall loudness to your mix without damaging the dynamics or volume of you track. This is why it is important export your tracks with at the very least -3db of “headroom” before you send your tracks to us. We recommend you export your work with at least -4db headroom.

This allows us to “squash” your levels so during playback and you will see no “headroom” and will create for a more consistent level reading at the top of your signal meter. This process will make the quieter parts of your tracks more consistent with the louder regions of your track. This also gets rid of loose frequencies that don’t belong. Our goal is to “squash” your frequencies as close to 0db without changing the overall dynamics of your track. This is a very important part of achieving the club quality sound.


 

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