Frequently Asked Questions about Audio Mastering.
What is audio mastering?
There is lots to say about mastering. Basically, audio mastering is the process of preparing a mix for distribution. This entails bringing the mix to the right loudness, balancing the tonal and dynamic content of a mix; adding interest to the track, editing track lengths, adding fades and crossfades, and editing metadata.
Your mixes come to me as finished pieces of art. Almost. More than likely they are quiet compared to what you hear on the radio, CD, or streaming service like Spotify. Striking the right balance between the right loudness and maintaining dynamic range depends on what you want and what sounds good.
Balance is another consideration. A mix may sound good on its own, but compared to other tracks on your album may sound tonally different. I strike a balance from track to track using compression and EQ.
Beyond dynamics and tonality there is a lot that can be done to enhance a mix. There are ways to make the vocal stand out and shimmer. Itʼs completely possible to make the guitars sound meatier, and to make the drums punch harder. It all depends on what you want and what your mix sounds like to begin with. Want a vintage tape vibe? I can do that.
A finished master is a collaboration between the artist, the session engineer, and the mastering engineer. I use my own discernment to create a sound that makes the work of the artist and session engineer stand out. Then I dot the Iʼs and cross the Tʼs and make sure you walk away with everything you need to share your art with the world.
Why should I hire a mastering engineer?
It’s true that audio mastering has become more accessible to everyone over time. Today it is possible to learn how to master audio from videos on youtube or paid seminars. Anyone can download professional quality mastering plugins that can be used in any DAW. There are even AI services that will master your tracks for next to nothing. Doing it yourself can save you time and money.
And it can cost you in terms of quality.
It comes down to perception– what you hear, what you think you hear, and what you don’t hear. A mastering engineer provides a fresh take on your mix by knowing how to listen and what to listen for.
How should I prepare my mixes?
- Your tracks should have plenty of headroom and should definitely not be clipping. As a guide, look for your mixes be somewhere between -12 and -3 dBFS on average.
- Monitor your mixes in mono to ensure that there are no phase issues in your mix.
- Using high pass filters on tracks that don’t contain bass information cam prevent muddiness in your mix when making it louder.
- Remove any plugins fro your stereo bus before bouncing down your final mix.
- Add time before and after the start and end of your track to account for fades and reverb tales.
- Files should be interleaved WAV or AIFF with a sample rate of 48k or greater and bit depth of 16bit or greater.
What do you need from me to get started?
I will need you to fill out a simple form and send me your tracks. Just click HERE to get started.
I will get in touch within a few days to go over your info and schedule a session.
Get in touch at any point with questions or further information.
How long will it take to receive my finished masters?
It usually takes a few days to get your masters back to you after your session. Any revisions or edits will take more time.
Can I attend my session?
Due to COVID-19 I am not accepting in-person sessions at this time.
How do I get my album data to show up on my computer?
Services like iTunes access a music database called Gracenote to access track information and album art. You can upload this information yourself using iTunes or I can help you. It takes several days for Gracenote to recognize your track information after they have been uploaded.
What is a UPC/EAN code and why do I need one?
In this context a universal product code or European Article Number is used to uniquely identify an album. You need one if you plan to have your album available for resale. Let me know if you need help obtaining a UPC/EAN and I can add it to your track metadata.
What is an ISRC code?
From the RIAA:
“The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is the international identification system for sound recordings and music video recordings. Each ISRC is a unique and permanent identifier for a specific recording, independent of the format on which it appears (CD, audio file, etc) or the rights holders involved. Only one ISRC should be issued to a track, and an ISRC can never represent more than one unique recording.
ISRCs are widely used in digital commerce by download sites and collecting societies. An ISRC can also be permanently encoded into a product as its digital fingerprint. Encoded ISRC provide the means to automatically identify recordings for royalty payments.”
I provide ISRC codes as part of my service. If you would like me to provide these codes let me know. If you already have ISRC codes and would like me to add them to your track metadata I do that too.
What is your rate?
For my most up to date rates please see my Services and Rates page.
How will my session be billed?
I will send an electronic invoice when your session is complete. There are several ways to pay for you masters.
- Electronic payment via waveapps.com (credit card or bank account)
- Venmo (@lithiummastering)
- Check made payable to Lithium Mastering LLC.
Payment is due before delivery of your masters.
Please include me in your album/track credits as “Mastered by Joe Finstrom at Lithium Mastering”.