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The Real Deal About Audio Mastering

We hear how important audio mastering is, but why? By Nathan Allen - Last Drop Mastering

For any artist or label looking to make a career out of music, mastering is essential. In short, it's the final (and in many ways most crucial) step of music production...the stage where dull, lifeless tracks are transformed into polished masterpieces.

In this article Nathan Allen of Last Drop Mastering  talks about the why and how of [rpfessional audio mastering.

 Being a mastering engineer requires a special ear-one that can carefully analyze a recording and make delicate adjustments to bring it to its full potential. A skilled mastering engineer is the key to creating commercially successful recordings. On the other hand, a poor mastering engineer can be responsible for diminishing the work of a quality artist-for this reason working with a seasoned mastering specialist is a necessity.  Think of mastering like cutting diamonds. Until a diamond is cut into shape, all it has is potential, and lots of it.  The same is true for your music; until the right engineer polishes and finalizes your project, it's only a fraction of what it could be.

Last Drop Mastering client "Stick Figure"

Click PLAY to play Stick Figure music clip or press spacebar to start or stop

If your song's not mastered, your song's not finished.  Period.

These days, a lot of times either the recording studio bumps up the signal and does a quick "hot master" for artists, or the artists take care of the mastering themselves.  While it is possible to achieve great results outside of a mastering facility, for the sake of your project reaching its full potential, only the truly qualified 10% of you should even consider this option.  Perhaps that's for another post.  The good news is that for the other 90% of you, there are more super-affordable pro mastering options than ever.  The proliferation of "do-it-yourself" mastering software and "budget facilities" has actually forced the old-school mastering houses to either cut their rates way back or call it quits altogether.  Gone are the days of spending $2,000-$10,000 on a stellar mastering job.  Now you can get it done for a fraction of that.  Not only are there plenty more options, but many places will get you a free test song done.  You can't beat a "try before you buy" offer.

Last Drop Mastering client " Jennifer Hayward


When preparing your song for mastering, make sure you or your engineer know to leave any limiting or compression off the master track when bouncing out...basically anything that would boost the volume.  What you need to provide the mastering engineer is a rough natural-dynamic mix, preferably in WAV or AIF format.  3 or 4dbs of headroom is ideal.  When selecting places to send a sample song to, try not to get too hung up on gear lists and even credits.  While these things are definitely important, what really matters is the sample you get back.  All the gear in the world doesn't mean a thing if you don't know what to do with it.  Hopefully their site has an upload form for easy song submission.  If not, you can always safely deliver your song via

Last Drop Mastering client "Elisa Schwartz"

Click PLAY or Press spacebar to start or stop Elisa Schwartz audio

When you receive your sample song back, compare it carefully to the original, and in a few different listening environments.  Once you have made a decision on a facility, look for customer references and talk to people you know who may have worked with them previously.  Pay close attention to customer service and turnaround times, as these aspects of the process should not be overlooked.  Find out their policy on revisions - it's always good to make sure you have at least 2 included, so that you can get your project dialed in just right.  Know that even with seemingly low rates, there is always room for negotiation.  If you have a large project, or more on the way if all goes well, bring that to their attention during the negotiation process.  Then put together a list of notes for your project.  Fade timings, song order, reference songs with a particular sound that you're shooting for...etc.  Also let them know if you need an actual red book master disc, as many bands these days just use digital downloads.  If you have a specific deadline let the facility know beforehand.  Find out the best way to deliver your project to them.  Many places allow you to zip up the whole thing and upload it directly to their server.  Be prepared for a wait as it uploads...though hopefully it will be nothing compared to using the mail!


Finally, it's always nice to credit the engineer and facility in your release notes.  A link back to their site is always much appreciated as well.

Good luck!

-Nathan Allen

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Nathan Allen is the head engineer at Last Drop Mastering in San Francisco.? Last Drop is an online facility with clients around the world - most recently American idol star Jennifer Fuentes Hayward, Ex Cobra Starship member Elisa Schwartz, and #1 itunes Reggae star Stick Figure.? (website) (clients) (free sample song link)

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Related Keywords:audio mastering, music production, last drop production, commercial music,nathan allen, audio production

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