MASTERING is the final stage of recording before the manufacturing process. Viewed as an arcane practice for decades, today the goal of a mastering engineer varies as much as the musical genres that utilize our processes. While the practice of "mastering" is complex, my philosophy is simple. I aim to optimize the project that i am given, to unleash its full potential using a custom approach that is tailor made for your music. No two mastering jobs are alike and I am not one to use cookie-cutter style approaches and processes. While a recording may leave the studio sounding dull, unexciting, and lacking the polished sound of a final product, it does not mean that ultimately this is what the listener will hear. With a holistic approach, we focus not only on sound quality (equalization, volume levels, etc.), but on ensuring that things like sequencing are proper and do not inhibit the flow of the record. To contact us about mastering your recording, email brad@audiosiege.com or schedule here

MASTERING FOR VINYL

Vinyl is a fantastic medium for many reasons. The joy of listening to a vinyl record on a properly set-up turntable and stereo system while staring at the cover is an experienced matched only by the process of recording and releasing one. Because of several inherent limitiations, care must be taken when pre-mastering for vinyl to ensure proper translation and allow for a transparent and efficient cutting process. Vinyl loudness isn't as much affected by brickwall limiting as it is proper premastering and side length (see "vinyl side lengths" below). Vinyl masters are usually delivered as one high resolution WAV file per side, with a cue sheet for the cutting engineer/pressing plant.

MASTERING FOR DIGITAL AND CD

Claiming the strength of portability and ease of access, digital formats, including the CD, are affected a bit less by physics (like vinyl) and a bit more by technology and data limitiations. With digital mediums, loudness comes at the expense of dynamics and can introduce clipping on playback or after conversion to a lossy format, such as mp3. However, when mastered properly, CD and digital formats can offer exceptional sound quality and are obviously a great way to publish music with minimal expense. After an extremely clean process of dithering, bit truncation, and sample rate conversion, digital masters are dleivered as individual 16 bit, 44.1 kHz WAV files, labelled and embedded with ISRCs (if applicable). High resolution digital masters can be provided at no extra charge. With CDs, masters are assembled into a DDP (Disc Description Protocol) filset, with CD text and ISRCs embedded. The CD masters are checked for seamless playback in the case of crossfades, and are delivered with a PQ sheet for the plant.

MASTERING FOR iTUNES (MFIT)

Apple recently launched their "Mastered for iTunes" program and we can proudly offer certified MFiT masters, delivered at 24 bit, 96 kHz WAVs. The great thing about MFiT is that it allows you to proactively master with Apple's AAC encoding in mind, and immediately audition the final masters (almost like you would a vinyl test presing). MFiT is a really neat step forward that has taught us a lot about how encoding to a lossy format affects sound quality, and while MFiT badging in the iTunes store is only offered to a small selection of artists and labels, anyone selling music through iTunes can submit MFiT masters, provided the mastering engineer is certified.

PREPARING YOUR MIXES FOR MASTERING
When finalizing mixes, listen and make decisions on accurate monitors in a room with minimal acoustic impact. It's important to get a balanced mix that you'e happy with in different listening environments. 

Try not to add excessive stereo processing, and avoid heavy brickwall limiting or clipping. If using buss compression, it's usually best to "mix into it", rather than apply it as an effect after the mix is done. 

While peak headroom is important, Dynamics are critical in the mastering stage. Peak headroom levels are typically best kept between -3 and -6 dB, and please avoid limiting and clipping. A heavily limited mix can negatively impact what we are able to do at the mastering stage, and, in the case of vinyl, can result a quieter cut. 

Send the mixes in a zipped archive, and do not downsample, truncate or dither. The mixes should be delivered for mastering at whatever sample rate and bit depth they were recorded or mixed. Stereo interleaved and dual mono WAVs or AIFs are fine. Mp3s, FLACs, and other formats are not. Alternatively, you can mail your mixes on a data CD or DVD (please do not send an audio CD unless there is no other option), 1/4" 2 track tape reels, or DAT.

Sequence references are welcome in the form of mp3 or WAV files, as are detailed sequencing requests.

VINYL SIDE LENGTHS
The following are the maximum recommended times for vinyl, courtesy of Pirates Press. Maximum side lengths vary depending on pressing plant, cutting lathe, source material, and more. Keep in mind that shorter sides can result in louder records and an increase in fidelity. In the case of vinyl sequencing, opting for quality over quantity will reap rewards so don't try to squeeze too much music onto a record. Less is more!

33 RPM 12" : 18 to 20 minutes maximum
45 RPM 12" : 14 to 15.5 minutes maximum

33 RPM 7": 6 to 7 minutes maximum
45 RPM 7": 5 to 6 minutes maximum

33 RPM 10": 14 to 15.5 minutes maximum
45 RPM 10" 10.5 to 11.5 minutes maximum