As a music artist or producer, understanding the mastering process is a vital part to getting the best possible sound from your music.

Because if you don’t know the ins and outs of it, then its often hard to choose the best mastering engineer for your money. However, when you do know how everything works together, then you are virtually guaranteed to get the hit sounding final record you envisioned.

With that said, let’s cover three important components of the mastering process to getting a great final master:

1. The listening process.

Before you know what to fix, you’ve got hear the music out.

The first time you hear it, you listen to see that there is no clipping (digital distortion). Then, you listen to hear if the file is at least 24bit (16bit is often to poor quality for mastering).

After the basics are established, it is time look for the big “errors,” such as too low-volume vocals, or heavily out-of-phase stereo-image/to mono stereo-image… or a too boomy bass, for example (plus, there are a number of other little things that a skilled mastering engineer knows to look for from experience).

2. Next, the mastering process begins. Every song usually requires something different. A good mastering engineer does not limit himself to certain techniques, but uses a wide variety, depending on what is needed. Bad engineers may only be proficient in a few techniques and use those repeatedly.

Through out the mastering process, the ears are given time to rest. If the ears become too used to the project, then the mastering is put aside for a while.

It´s amazing how used to music you can get even only in a few hours of fine-tuning / mastering. A few hours later, you can again hear things you haven´t noticed before.

Then, you continue that until one of those “fresh-listening-sessions” results in no more changes you want to do to the project. This is how you know you are done with your work.

It doesn’t stop after you get tired.

3. Finally, when the work is done, the client is given the approval master.

If the client wants any changes, then the mastering engineer will discuss the pros and cons of each.  Sometimes certain changes are not possible because the supplied mix doesn´t allow you to make these changes in a way that would not “damage” other important aspects. In this case, the client must decide if they want to redo the mix.

This is a reason why it’s so important to talk with the mastering engineer through the recording and mixng phases to make sure nothing is overlooked.

Eventually, through back and forth discussion with the client, a consensus is reached on a final sound.

Once the client gives the final approval (and the engineer is satisfied with everything from the technical and mastering-”experience”-perspective), the final master everyone is happy with is created.

The result is a much better record than could ever be achieved without the help of a skilled mastering engineer.

About the Author:
Lorenz Vauck is an Audio Mastering Engineer, Musician, and Internet Entrepreneur from Dresden, Saxony, Germany. He is the Managing Director and Chief Mastering Engineer of XARC Mastering, one of the world’s first online audio mastering studios established in 2003.