Digital music now makes up $5.8 billion of the global recording industry’s $19.1 billion in revenue. 14.6 million songs are uploaded each year to Spotify alone.
This allows anyone to create their own tracks from home but has also raised listeners’ expectations.
Mastering a track is the final step in the music production process. It provides the final touches, adding on to all other steps to ensure there aren’t any audio issues.
Read our song mastering guide to find out how to prepare a track to be mastered and make it the best it can be.
Preparing a Mix for Mastering
Mixing involves regulating the levels of each instrument and/or track to make sure that everything sounds well together. It’s the most effective way of preparing a mix for mastering.
First, make sure to choose the right mixdown format. There are several options, but whichever one you choose, try to use the highest bit and sample rate you can. This way, the sweet mix you create won’t change significantly when you reach the mastering stage.
Tonal balance refers to how energy, i.e. tones, move across the audio spectrum. It determines how all the different frequencies in a track relate to each other.
When mixing, check for any tracks or instruments whose levels are too high or too low. Regulate them by maintaining your EQ balance on all channels and cutting and/or adding frequencies.
Leave plenty of headroom and make sure your transients aren’t too high while mixing. Otherwise, your track may suffer from clipping and other audio issues.
Use reference tracks throughout the mixing process. The best way is to save several versions as you work and compare them to what you have now to see what you can improve.
Creating a proper mix should always come before mastering a track. Being able to distinguish between the two steps will help you do both effectively. Learn the difference between mixing and mastering here.
Mastering a Track
Song mastering helps you meet broadcasting standards, creating a professional and consistent quality across all your tracks. That’s why it’s so important to know how to master a song properly.
You can check tonal balance while mastering a song by comparing it to a similar song and/or using a spectral analyzer.
Compressors are tools that reduce dynamic range, i.e. the difference between the softest and loudest sounds. This determines how loud you can make the track and affects factors like fullness and detail.
Compressors aren’t always needed, but sometimes they help regulate the sound and make it crisp. If you do use one, try to stay within a ratio of 1.25:1-1.5:1 and no more than 2.1
Always use the highest quality possible when mastering a track. If you must change quality levels, be careful to avoid degradation.
Mastering a track is an essential part of the music production process. It makes your final product sound the best it can.
Mixing is the process of preparing a track for mastering. Regulate all the levels, check the tonal balance, and make sure the sounds blend well. Always create a proper mix first before mastering a track.
Sound mastering at home is possible, but hiring a professional mastering engineer usually gives you a better final product.
In the world of amateur music production – people often interchange mixing and mastering, as if they are the same thing.
However, this could not be further from the truth. Albeit, they are both critically important and help balance out the process of the other.
In a few words, mixing – balances out individual sounds/instruments in unison. And mastering – makes a song or track fit in with the rest of the music on the market.
Keep reading to get a better sense of the differences between mixing vs mastering.
What Is Mixing?
As mentioned earlier, mixing helps take all of the instruments and tracks, combining them in a single working arrangement.
A mixing engineer will take the instruments and tracks, balancing out the spatial placement, dynamics, frequencies, and volume.
On paper, it sounds simple and it can be. Basically, you want to avoid overtly-loud and overtly-quiet instruments. They mustn’t overlap each other in the frequency spectrum while depleting the transients from peaking.
In general, mixing can be broken down into two steps:
Balance is the process of creating a good mix. Presenting the song with its best features.
And emotion is the process of creating a great mix. One would use tools to make the song sound better than it would in a live arrangement, pulling on strings of emotion.
To make a song great, one must make thousands of minuscule adjustments. Using tools like automation, saturation, phasers, chorus, stereo wideners, and others.
The end result of a song comes from about 80% of the mixing process.
However, the final 20% to complete the song is as important, if not more important in the music production process. That’s where mastering comes in.
Mixing is the customization of the sound and is a way to make the song all your own.
What Is Mastering?
Mastering cannot begin until the mixing has been put to an end. Nonetheless, mixing can last forever, so it is important to determine when it is ideal, but not perfect.
The goals of a mastering engineer are to make the song louder, make the song sound better, and make the song work on all sorts of audio players (speakers, headphones, etc).
As mentioned earlier, mastering is the process of making a song sound like any other professional song on the current market. When you hear this song in a list with others, it should not sound out of place.
Exemplifying the same levels of volume, frequency tendency and capacity for being heard on all multi-media players/outputs.
Around 40,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify every single day. That’s 14.6 million songs every year.
With so much music available, listeners have come to expect a certain level of quality. Not only must your music be mixed to a good standard, but it must also be mastered.
What is mastering music, exactly? Why is it important?
Read on to learn more.
What is Mastering Music?
Mastering is the final stage of music production.
You start by recording your track. You then mix it, balancing the levels of the different instruments to make it sound as good as possible. The final step is mastering, which gives a final polish to the entire song.
Mastering uses techniques such as compression and limiting to make the final version of the song the best it can be.
Why Should You Master Your Music?
If you’ve mixed your music as well as you can, or hired someone to do it for you, it should be perfect right? Is there any need to master it too?
Short answer: yes! Here are some reasons why mastering is so important.
Meet Broadcast Standards
If you’re planning on uploading your music for distribution, then it needs to be at a certain level of quality.
Spotify, for example, requires you to target the loudness level of your master to -14 LUFS with -1 db headroom. If you don’t use the correct levels, these sites will compress your music to meet them, which can make it sound much worse.
If you’re planning on releasing CDs or vinyl, your music should be professionally mastered before it goes to press.
Make Your Album Consistent
If you’re putting an album together, then proper mastering is vital.
If you don’t master the whole thing correctly, each song will sound different from the next. It could be louder, or feel muddier, making the process of listening to the album far less enjoyable. Listeners may keep having to change the volume to get the same level of sound for each song.
Good mastering will make your entire album sound consistent.
Proper mastering can turn a song that sounds a little amateur into one that sounds completely professional.
All major artists have their music professionally mastered, and even if you’ve never even heard of mastering, you’ll be able to hear the difference between a track that hasn’t been mastered properly, and one that has.
Without mastering, you’ll never achieve the professional quality of sound that listeners have become used to.
Are You Looking for Mastering for Your Music?
Now you know why mastering music is so important, you may be looking for someone to master your music. If so, you’re in the right place.
I offer quick, convenient and accessible online mastering services. Upload your tracks and I will master them using state of the art equipment, with a personalized customer experience that is second to none.
You’ve done it. You’ve crafted the perfect song, and it’s time to show it to the world. But something happens when you go to play the file.
The vocal recordings are terrible. There’s background noise, the volume slips in and out, and occasionally there’s a screech of static or patch of fuzz. This audio’s un-usable: you’re back to square one.
So how can you prevent this nightmare scenario from coming to pass?
All you have to do is listen up because we’re here to give you 5 pro tips for recording vocals perfectly every time! Are you ready? Then let’s get started.
1: Use The Right Tools For The Job
Would you use a wrench to hammer a nail in? No, because that’s not the right tool for the job. A similar idea applies to vocal recordings.
For example, adopting the “one mic solves all” approach is a bad idea: different mics will better handle different sounds. The two main types are condenser and dynamic microphones.
Condenser microphones are microphones with a small, lightweight diaphragm inside to capture sound. As a result, they record high-frequency instruments like the piano or acoustic guitar best. Dynamic mics have bigger diaphragms and are more equipped for lower frequency sounds.
Mic selection can be tricky, you’ll want to analyze the type of genre youre working with as well as the type of singer you’ll be working with if you’re recording someone else. If you’re going to bew working on pop or rock, a dynamic microphone like thge Shure SM7B might do just the trick, although that might not always be the case. In most styles of music, most producers will go for either a condenser or a tube microphone due to their polar patterns. In this scenario, some of the most sought after microphones are the Neumann U87 and the Telefunken u47, however there are more affordable options like the Rode NT1 that will give you a great result. So when picking a microphone, always consider the style of music you’ll be working with and remember to do your research!
If you’re not sure what gear you might need, taking a look at equipment lists professional companies use may prove helpful.
2: Take Steps To Make Post-Production Easier
Eventually, you’ll get to mixing and mastering your track. So as much as it’s a headache now, take steps to make it easier on yourself in the long run.
Need an example? Track your vocals in mono, but route your effects, such as delay and reverb to a stereo track. While you should still check those mixes in mono, recording the effects in stereo will give your vocals a more vibrant and rich quality.
Another example is to study good mic technique: how far away should someone stand, how should they stand, etc. This way, you can coach your vocalists to avoid mistakes that you’d have to deal with in the editing process.
3: Don’t Have A Pop Filter? Get One
A pop filter is a special “guard” built to help disperse the intensity of air that comes when you say “hard” letters like B, T, P, etc. Without this guard, you run the risk of overloading your vocal recordings whenever these letters show up in your vocals.
Pop filters are pretty inexpensive too, so if you can spare the funds to get one, we recommend it.
4: Check The Acoustics
The place where you record your vocals is as important as the tools you use to record those vocals. Recording in a room with bad acoustics can make you sound hollow or weak. So make sure to treat the room you’re going to record in with techniques like placing foam panels on the walls to absorb sound waves or putting things in to diffuse the sound.
Running tests ahead of time is also a great idea. Nothing worse than recording only to find out that there’s a problem testing beforehand would have found.
5: Keep The Singer Comfortable
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean springing thousands of dollars to pamper their every need.
It’s as simple as applying a reverb effect through the singer’s headphones while they are performing. This helps to drown out some of the tiny imperfections singers can have in their normal voice so the singer can feel free to relax and give it all they’ve got.
Start Recording Vocals
Congrats! You are now equipped with 5 tips you need to help you with recording vocals as perfectly as possible!
If you’re interested in learning more about the process of recording and mixing music, check out the other posts on our blog! So until next time: break a leg and keep on singing.
You know when you’ve heard a good piece of music when it just works. You can’t put your finger on why, but every part works to enhance the others.
Chances are, you’ve hit on a song with good tonal balance.
Some ideas about how music should sound come from early nineteenth-century classical music. Back then, music was all about tonal balance and symmetrical phrasing.
While we’ve lost some of the focus on phrasing, we still appreciate good tonal balance today.
Why is that? Read on to learn more.
What is Tonal Balance?
The tonal balance is the way energy, or the tone, is distributed across the audio spectrum. In other words, how the frequencies you can hear relate to each other.
Lots of artists and audio engineers will talk about a mix being ‘balanced’. Trouble is, the definition of tonal balance can be subjective. Different people interpret it in different ways.
Musicians have a different conception of tone because it depends on what instrument and style they play.
Engineers have a different approach because they have more individual factors to play with.
They have to balance the instrument, the acoustics of the recording space, and the technology used. The way they achieve tonal balance depends on the sound that’s required.
Why Do I Need It?
It all comes down to the required sound we just talked about.
The engineers need to walk a fine line between what the performance sounds like both live and recorded. Let’s take a guitarist as an example.
The engineer needs to balance the tone so the guitar sounds amazing on its own and alongside the rest of the band. Hitting the right tonal balance involves managing all the instruments so they sound good together.
This becomes even more pronounced during mixing. Here, the mixing engineer needs to be sure everything works together. No instrument can dominate or fight another for attention.
Achieving this balance will vary from one genre to another. That’s because people expect different sounds from certain types of music. It can even vary between artists of the same genre, depending on how they use instruments and song dynamics.
Without that tonal balance, the song will sound “off”.
How Do I Get a Good Tonal Balance?
You need to know what you want the song to sound like. Go into the recording phase with this in mind so you have the right tracks available.
Move into the mixing phase and listen for any parts of the mix that sound too soft or loud. If the mix sounds muddy, cut low frequencies or add high ones.
Make sure you use the same EQ settings on both channels. You don’t want to upset the stereo balance.
When you reach the mastering phase, try checking your mix against an existing song. Choose one from the same genre that you’re working with.
Run the existing song through a spectral analyzer. This lets you look at and understand its frequencies. Compare these to your own mix to see if you’ve achieved a similar tonal balance.
Nailing Tonal Balance
Now you know why tonal balance is so important when mixing and mastering audio. If a song is unbalanced, the listener won’t get the same enjoyment from the track.
Getting the tone balanced right will leave them with a pleasurable listening experience.
There are lots of elements involved in hitting the right balance. If you want expert help, get in touch and we’ll get you going.
The mastering process is extremely important in all aspects of audio recording. Whether you’re creating a musical magnum opus or recording an audiobook, the master plays a huge part in the audio’s quality and character. Regardless of the raw material that’s recorded, the mastering process is an artform in its own right. It’s not simply a matter of pressing a few keys and waiting for a piece of software to do all the work.
Mastering requires a skilled and practiced hand which is why it’s best left to a well trained and experienced professional. However, even the most seasoned mastering engineer can be encumbered by limitations. Issues with the raw audio data they’re working with can lead to problems that no amount of post-production trickery can resolve. With that in mind, recording artists do well to keep the following in mind when preparing their audio mix for mastering…
1. Lack of dynamic range
As musicians and advertisers alike compete for the attention of fickle listeners on the airwaves, this has led to the problem of loudness. Especially in an era where our sophisticated compressor technology has enabled studios to create “radio mixes” which are punchy, loud and confrontational.
While it’s understandable that all kinds of recording artists might want to create punchy, attention-grabbing tracks, they can create significant problems for mastering engineers. If you boost the apparent volume or normalise a track’s relative volume it will inevitably come at the expense of your dynamic range.
This means that the mastering engineer will have less resources to work with.
Ideally your tracks should have an average volume of -6 to -8dB with peaks at -3 dB to keep your dynamic range intact.
2. Too much on either end of the sound spectrum
One of the most problematic (and most common) issues reported by mastering engineers is that of excessive low-end. This is especially common in home studios and other environments where there are a number of bass traps and reflective surfaces. These result in an uneven response on the lower (bass) end of the audio spectrum with some notes being given too much emphasis and others too little. Make sure that your speakers are as far apart from one another as you are from them.
At the same time, an overemphasis on the high end (treble) can also cause problems of its own. Some recording artists can be a little over zealous when it comes to equalization and the result can be problematic. Use EQ sparingly and score brownie points with your mastering engineer.
3. Phase issues
Recording in stereo can lend individual tracks a richer and more characterful sound. But be sure to check stereo mixes in mono to keep track of any issues with phase cancellation- where frequencies can disappear when two tracks are merged into mono.
Even if you don’t intend for your music to ever be heard in mono it’s a good way to keep track of your balances.
4. Misaligning track stems
Make your engineer’s life easier by ensuring that all stems (guitar, bass, drums, vocals etc.) start at the same time. Misaligning tracks leaves your mastering engineer having to guess when each comes in which can be tedious and stressful for them and potentially compromise your overall track.
5. Poor vocal placement
Don’t you just hate it when the lyrics of a song are utterly incomprehensible. When we’re used to singing the same lyrics over and over again, it’s easy to forget that other people don’t know them. So try a number of variations with the vocals sitting just in front of and behind other stems. Your mastering engineer will appreciate having options.
6. Poor panning
Having a nice, wide stereo field gives tracks a nice sense of balance and definition. So don’t be afraid of those outer limits. All too often, recording artists don’t allow the sound to pan sufficiently, keeping everything at or close to the centre. But this can lead to a very cluttered and chaotic mix that a mastering engineer will struggle ton bring definition to.
Try experimenting with setting different elements off to the side. It helps to separate different audio elements and give them a little more room to breathe.
7. Not understanding the space
Finally, the better you know your space, the better you can pre-empt any issues you might have with your mix. Try listening to some familiar records in your space to gauge how the sound relates to the space around you.
The better prepared you are for the mastering process, the better results you can expect at the end of it. Mastering is equal parts art and science, but even the best engineers cannot make bricks without clay!