While sometimes referred to as a black art, in reality mastering is nothing but a process based on a combination of knowledge, technical and communication skills, a deep dedication to sound, and carefully selected equipment set up in a finely tuned listening environment.
Mastering is the last creative step before music is released on vinyl, CD, cassette, or as files for digital distribution and streaming platforms. During the mastering process, the sonic qualities of a production will receive a final check to ensure a balanced translation across a wide range of speakers and headphones. Volume relations and the spacing between tracks are optimized to give the work a perfect flow.
Your master will be used to run the copies – physical or digital – that your audience will listen to. Audio can also be mastered for a specific purpose, such as for presentation in a distinct space or playback through a bespoke sound system.
From a historical point of view , assembling a master mainly involved the sequencing of a playlist from the final selection of recordings scattered across various tape reels. Back then, recordings where made in professional studio facilities employing a whole crew of highly skilled and specialized technicians – selecting the space for a recording, correctly setting up the right selection of microphones, operating tape machines, mixing the tracks down with an appropriate amount of equalization and dynamic processing – to name but a few elements of the process. Those recordings where supposed to be transferred flat, without any further post production, so the master tape was often assembled by trainees. During decades of advancements in audio technology, mastering became an art form in its own right, carried out by experienced engineers working with dedicated mastering-grade tools in acoustically accurate listening environments.
Fast forward to 2021 , and a great deal of music is entirely made in home or small-project studios under less than ideal acoustic conditions, and mastering plays an essential role in creating a production intended to stand out sonically. Depending on the quality of the delivered mix, interventions necessary to achieve this goal can be either subtle or dramatic. Most professional or semi-professional productions made today will benefit greatly from effective mastering.
At Schwebung Mastering my objective is to make your mix sound detailed, deep, and transparent, while contemplating the dynamics and character that your music demands. In my mastering environment the strengths and possible weaknesses of your mix become evident immediately, and can be adjusted appropriately, allowing your sound to unlock its full potential.
My goal is to give you full confidence in your release before sending the music on its way to your listeners.
While system translation between various speakers and headphones is mentioned above, the translation of your work across different digital codecs for downloads and the wide range of specifics presented by streaming platforms plays a crucial role in today's mastering. Encouragingly, loud is not the default answer anymore, and while I have a strong admiration for music that has its natural dynamics fully preserved, I'm aware that some work has to be loud in order to sound as intended. I know how to get a track there while still sounding great in any possible scenario.
To me, great sound means that you can fully enjoy a piece of music at any playback level. Some tracks just can't be cranked up high enough, while others have to fully captivate the listener even with the softest playback settings. It's this quality I'm striving for.
I work with a brief range of state-of-the-art analog and digital tools, selected based on my experience working in outstanding studios around the world for over 25 years. My mastering rig is my instrument. While equipment is certainly a fascinating subject, what matters more is choosing the right tools for a specific task and possessing the skills to apply them effectively.
In the end, mastering is all about the finished product, rather than the way it got there.