Whether you are producing CD's, vinyl records or
going with an Internet delivery medium, your music needs to be
mastered. Here are some answers to a few of the most
commonly asked questions regarding mastering.
I'll start with the two most obvious (updated 4/23/02).




Mastering is one of the most important links in the chain of music production. Yet, it is probably the least understood. And it is rapidly becoming the most abused. You can be assured that no music is released by a major label or competitive indi label that has not been mastered.

Before we explore what mastering is, let's look at what can result if a project is not mastered. An album that has not been mastered may exhibit one or all of the following telltale signs:
1. The CD is low in volume compared to others. Or, if on cassette, it is noisy and distant sounding.
2. The songs are uneven in volume. Some are too loud, some too soft.
3. The songs do not have a consistent sound. Some have more bass than others, some are brighter and thin sounding etc.
4. The album doesn't seem to flow properly.
5. There is noise between the songs.
6. There is no spaciousness to the sound. It sounds confined between the two speakers.
7. It sounds O.K. on big systems, but it doesn't sound good in the car or on boom boxes.
8. It can't be played at a loud volume without the stereo system distorting.
9. It doesn't sound like other albums. The EQ has to be adjusted for it to play back correctly.



Mastering is the final step of assembling and polishing your project so that it sounds as good as it possibly can before it goes to manufacturing. The mastering engineer will adjust the sound of each song so that they match in a cohesive manner, and will assemble the album so it sounds consistent and has a natural flow to it rather than just sounding like a bunch of songs stuck together,. It is the step in which the sound is tailored for the specific delivery format - CD, vinyl, online delivery- whatever the medium, each has its own special requirements for sound, and a specific way the master has to be formatted.

I used to think of mastering as the link between production and manufacturing, but actually Glenn Meadows of Masterfonics in Nashville had a better perspective when he stated that mastering is the link between the pro audio industry and the hi-fi industry. The idea is to take material that (hopefully) sounds great on big studio monitors and make it translate equally well to the home system.

The mastering session is the last chance for problems to be identified and fixed. It is also the last chance to screw things up. This is one of the main reasons why the mastering engineer must have the experience and the ear to find the problems and apply the fixes, and to not create problems himself.

A mastering session can include any or all of the following:
-- Editing the songs into proper order.
-- Adjusting the spacing between songs (called "spreads").
-- Crossfading between songs.
-- Chasing fade in's/out's to perfect digital silence.
-- Fading out songs earlier, or fading in songs that have weak starts.
-- Processing each song individually so that it matches the others in
    volume and eq.
-- Adjusting the volume of sections of a song - the solo guitar intro and
    acoustic bridge are too loud, for example.
-- Adding dynamic processing so that the CD plays back at the proper
    volume. Or, if on cassette, it is not noisy.
-- Adding dynamic processing so lower-powered playback systems don't
    distort at medium-loud levels.
-- Adjusting eq to make subtle changes in the mix - bringing the vocal up,
    high-hat back etc.
-- Adjusting eq so that it matches major label releases, and is therefore
    radio ready.
-- Adding ambience or other special processing to broaden and deepen
    the stereo field.
-- Removing clicks, pops & glitches that occur during the music.
-- Editing between two or more mixes of the same song to assemble
     the perfect mix (comping).
-- Editing parts out of a song to shorten it, or repeating sections to
     lengthen it.
-- Reversing or replacing objectionable words for a radio version of a song.
-- Mixing in (spotting) fx. Anything can be mixed into the program; from
    gunshots to finger snaps. (You must bring in the fx you want spotted.)




The mastering engineer should have several qualifications in order to do his job properly. First of all, he should have experience as a recording engineer. The most prominent and successful mastering engineers have years of experience behind the console, giving him the trained ears to make qualified judgments about your music, and to make the proper adjustments. It also gives him/her the knowledge to use the sophisticated mastering processing gear, which is somewhat similar to processors in a recording studio, but used in subtly different ways.

Secondly, he should have a good knowledge of music. Just as important as his experience in recording, his knowledge of music will help him point out problems or make suggestions about song order, spacing etc.

Thirdly, he must have good ears. This will be the last chance your music has for problems to be corrected and the sound to be enhanced. Without good, trained ears, the mastering engineer would have no way of pinpointing the problems, or finding and enhancing the sweet spots that make your music come alive.

Fourth, he should have the ability to work with any music genre. It is important that the mastering engineer be familiar with all types of music, and have an understanding of the differences in production sound between the different genres. A good mastering engineer can master any type of music properly.

Fifth, the mastering engineer has to understand the special requirements of the different production formats. This not only assures you that the sound will be correct for CD, vinyl or whatever you are producing, but that you will have no problems with your manufacturer because the master was not formatted correctly.

THE D.E.S. DIFFERENCE - As of 2011, our mastering engineer, George Geurin, brings 36 years experience in music production: 16 years as a recording engineer, 20 years as a mastering engineer, and 47 years experience as a musician. Since DES began in 1991, George has mastered over 3000 albums covering virtually every music genre. Click Here for a bio.




The equipment that is used to master your music, and the room in which this is done, are critical. In order for your project to be enhanced and improved, and not harmed, the equipment has to be of the highest caliber. The processing gear found in a good mastering room is at least as good as, and most often better, than that found in the very best recording studio. If the gear is not of the very highest standard, the sound quality of your music will be harmed.

The monitoring system is equally important. The mastering engineer has to be able to trust his monitor system, even more so than the recording engineer, because they will be used to make the very last adjustments and corrections to the sound before manufacturing. Of course the monitors, amplifiers, and wiring have to be of the very best quality, and equally important is the D/A (Digital-to-Analog) converter.

The mastering suite itself goes hand-in-glove with the monitoring system. It should be spacious enough to allow low bass frequencies to fully develop, and the acoustical design should be tight & accurate, like a good control room.

THE D.E.S. DIFFERENCE - DES is proud to be the first mastering facility in the North-Texas/Oklahoma region to offer high-density mastering, featuring the new Sonic Solutions SSHD and soundBlade High-Density Mastering Systems. These system are the audio mastering standards. They offer 88.2k or 96k mastering at 48 bit resolution. Even when mastering from 16 bit, 44.1 or 48khz sources, this yields a noticeable improvement in sound.

The DES mastering rack features some of the finest digital and analog processing gear available, including the TC Electronic S6000 mkII 48 bit digital mainframe with TC's world-renowned MD-3 and MD-4 mastering software and the George Massenburg Labs quad-precision digital eq.

Our ever-expanding analog processing gear currently includes the Manley Massive Passive tube eq, Manley Mastering SLAM!, Legendary Audio Masterpiece Thermionic Culture Phoenix Master Compressor and Mastering Culture Vulture, the TubeTech SMC-2B tube compressor, and 96Khz/24 bit AD/DA conversion by Metric Halo, Mytek and TC Electronic.

Our monitoring system features Lipinski L-707's powered by Bryson with dual Velodyne DD-12 subwoofers , all fed by the United Audio 2192 96Khz/24 bit D-to-A converter. Of course all processing and monitoring is switched digitally, through our Crookwood mastering console.




Possibly, but maybe not as well as a mastering suite. Here are some reasons. First of all, you probably donŐt want the same person mastering your project as tracked it and mixed it, and the reason is simple: they are too close to the music. They have heard it too many times already, and are unable to make any real objective decisions about the sound. One of the advantages of turning your project over to a mastering suite is that the mastering engineer has not heard the project, and therefore has no preconceptions about it. He will be able to deal with it as it truly is, and match it up to other sources in order to bring it around to a broadcast standard quality.

Secondly, mastering is a much different job from engineering, and really requires a different thought process. It is not the kind of thing that someone can just switch gears from engineering, put on a different hat, and suddenly be a mastering engineer. The difference is, a mastering engineer approaches the mix from a perspective which focuses on the balance of the entire frequency spectrum rather than the balance of individual instruments or voices. Usually, the best mastering engineers are dedicated to mastering only.

Thirdly, you definitely do not want your music mastered in the same room on the same monitors with which it was mixed. If you research the recording process of most major albums, you will find they were most often tracked by one engineer, mixed by another in a different studio, and mastered by a third in yet a different location. This way, the project does not get myopic in that one person is not dictating the sound, and it is being listened to in different acoustic environments, and a different board and eq are affecting the sound in the mixdown than was used during tracking. If the first room is not accurate in one frequency range during tracking, then that is not being compounded by mixing in the same environment. The tracking engineer did his best job in getting the tracks recorded, the mixing engineer had a totally fresh start in a different room on different monitors, and the mastering engineer gives it the final sweetening necessary to put it over the edge from a good sounding album to a great one. Of course, most grassroots projects canŐt afford the luxury of multiple engineers and studios during the recording process, but at least the final step of mastering is reachable. It is surprisingly affordable to have your project professionally mastered. Click Here for the DES rate page.

The worst situation is when the studio has a little side room set up for "mastering". Often these are not properly designed rooms at all, and usually are not large enough for bass frequencies to develop properly in order to make critical bass eq decisions. And to compound the problem, they will often use budget-priced workstations with shoddy plug-ins for the mastering, editing and assembly, which will destroy the sonic integrity of your project.

Now that you have a better basic understanding of the mastering process, you need to prepare your original masters properly during the mixdown sessions and avoid the many pitfalls that can plague you. Go to Tips & Tricks



This is a common misunderstanding. The CD plant will cut a "glass master", which is an identical digital clone of the production master that you send them. Nothing is altered during this process, it is only a transfer.

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