While mastering has been somewhat of an expanded service over the years, there seems to a lot of confusion over some topics surrounding this important stage of the production process. Being a mastering engineer allows me to explain such misconceptions. Here’s a list of 9 Common Myths About Audio Mastering – Explained.
1. The Louder The Better
This is simply not true! Loudness is not desirable if it means sacrificing sonic integrity. This means pushing your track so loud that it eliminates all your dynamics in the track.
This can be fatiguing to the ear and have a negative effect on listening when doing so for an extended period of time. Use your volume knob. That’s what it’s there for, after-all.
2. Mastering Will Make A Bad Mix Into a Good Mix
Sadly, a poorly mixed track will almost always remain so. In mastering it is very difficult to isolate specific frequencies without affecting all the instruments.
For this reason, it is vital that a mix-down be mixed as best as possible before going into the mastering stage. That means getting the right tone and instruments balanced 110% before sending out for mastering.
3. Mastering Is The “Dark Art” of Making Music
Mastering is considered by most to be mysterious and therefore nobody wants to approach it. However, with experience, reaching sonic accuracy is just knowing what needs to be done to produce the best results.
This doesn’t mean start mastering your tracks by yourself. Which leads me to the next point.
4. I Can Master My Music Myself
It can be difficult to be objective toward your own music! Especially if you master your track in the same listening environment that it was produced in.
For those reasons, it’s better to leave it up to someone with fresh ears, who can be objective, and has the experience mastering tracks. Even top-end mixing studios will have their music sent out for mastering.
5. All the Mastering Engineer Does Is Add A Limiter
Making a track loud is just one part of mastering. An experienced engineer will do his best to ensure the best listening experience.
This can include, but not limited to: Editing & Fades, Track to Track Spacing, Hum & Hiss removal, Stereo Width, Surgical EQ, Tonal EQ, Compression/Parallel Compression, Adjusting the volumes of tracks to match so the whole project feels like a smooth listening experience, ISRC Codes and CD Text just to name a few!
6. Mastering Costs Too Much
Some mastering engineers can be insanely expensive, and rightfully so. They have decades of experience recording the best bands with the most expensive gear. There are also ones with wide varying ranges of experience, equipment, prices, and quality of work.
It is best that you find one that matches your budget and one you’re happy with!
7. Mastering Needs At Least -3db Headroom
I hear this all the time. The truth is, a good engineer will correct any volume issues before it goes into the mastering chain.
I prefer to work with as much signal as possible. Meaning that I like the audio to be as loud as possible before clipping (At 24bits). Then, during the mastering process I will turn the volume down to a preferable level before it goes into my chain.
Anything below -10db in volume I’m afraid might be losing signal and you should aim to submit mixes louder than -10db, but not reaching or exceeding 0db.
8. Mastering Isn’t Required For All Tracks
Actually this one is probably the most true, depending on how satisfied you are with your mix-down. Sometimes mixes come in that are near perfect, and in that case, doing adjustments like EQ, Compression can actually harm the audio.
It’s worth remembering that you should never underestimate a fresh perspective from an objective and experienced set of ears.
9. You Need Top Of The Line Gear
This is false. You need the correct gear and correct ears to make a quality master. In addition, with the options available today in digital music, it is entirely possible to make quality masters on a budget.
Instead, invest in listening, and new techniques, and understanding of good sounding recordings.
Hopefully this list helps to dispel any myths about audio mastering, and serves to clear up any confusion you might have.
What other myths do you guys hear about? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Heya. About the headroom myth, I just read today in the Computer Music Mastering special that if you have a 24-bit file, it’s possible to have a wide amount of headroom (26db or more) with negligible impact. That would clearly bust your myth… what do you guys think?
As a signal for single channels and elements this is true. But if you’re final master output levels are -26db, that means your individual instruments/channels are playing even quieter if you leave your volume knob at 0db! That surely would lose signal from your individual channels/instruments. Best to play it safe and go for a strong full signal going into the mastering chain.
The MAIN takaway is to not go over 0db.
It was an all in all sound article. I have been taught about mastering in the past and you covered it really well and in simple steps. I totally agree it is an important part of the music making process and a few tips from anyone is never a bad thing.
Compression and limiters and similar would be a good idea because those techniques can really affect the quality of sonics within the record and are, to me, some of the most critical factors to understand.