Why Is Mastering So Important?
Mastering is the final part of the creative process, optimising your songs for the final consumer playback format, usually CD, digital download or vinyl. A sympathetic mastering job will make a good recording sound great, and can rescue a less-than-ideal mix; a bad job can completely destroy the music. It’s certainly NOT not just about making it ‘loud’: anyone with a peak limiter plug-in can do that. It IS all about the music: balancing the different frequencies to address problems, improve clarity, add excitement, and present your songs in a way that will grab the ear of the listener and draw them in to the listening experience. Put simply, correct mastering will make your songs sound great on any playback system.
The White House is proud to offer a high-quality mastering service and our experience is clearly audible in the final product. Our very affordable rates – from just £15 per hour – allowing the luxury of enough time to properly evaluate and craft your songs for the best possible sound. You are encouraged to attend the session and bring a commercial CD that best represents your ideal sound as a reference. We use a combination of plug-ins plus dedicated hardware processors to best match to your reference CD, and then improve even further if possible. Each song is individually assessed and adjustments made to suit – there are no ‘presets’ used, ever. Track starts and fades are then trimmed and adjusted as necessary and the transitions between songs auditioned to set the spacing. ISRC codes can also be added (see below for an explanation) before slow-burning the final Production Master disc using master-grade CDRs for lowest block-error rate, together with playing copies for approval as necessary. We have NEVER had a production master disc rejected by a pressing plant! Alternatively, DDP file sets can also be supplied for replicators that prefer this method of delivery.
If attending in person is not possible, you can send or upload your mix files together with a reference CD track, and a test CD can be posted back for approval.
For best results you should mix your song files at 24-bit resolution and at the original sample rate of the recording session – we can sample-rate convert if required. Please DO NOT peak-limit your mixes in an attempt to make them louder: it is a destructive process that adds distortion and should only be done after ALL other adjustments have been optimised. Likewise, please do not ‘normalise’ files as this can also cause distortion. Headroom of around 6 – 10dB in a 24-bit file is ideal. If in doubt about any of these requirements, or you have a different mix format, then please contact us for advice.
Once mastered for CD, you’ll probably also need MP3s for download sales or website samples. The biggest problem here is distortion added in the encoding process due to inter-sample peaks, an issue usually ignored by most encoders. We use the Sonnox Pro Codec which features precise level analysis to avoid this distortion and which allows real-time audition of the various encoding options, so you can hear the impact of lower bit-rates on your music, ensuring the best possible sound.
For MP3 files the ID3 metadata can also be edited to include such details as song title, artist, copyright, web site and ISRC codes.
International Standard Recording Codes identify the ownership of your recording worldwide and can be embedded into the master CD or MP3 file metadata. This is not the same as copyright for the song, but having ISRCs for songs you have written and recorded will clearly help in any copyright dispute, since the code registration is officially dated. Each different recording of a song, or any variation of the same recording (such as a ‘radio’ edit, extended, instrumental or dance mix, or even a re-master) needs a unique ISRC. You can register at PPL-UK to enable generation of codes, and best of all their service is free – see the ‘Links’ page. You might even get some royalties paid to you in the event of broadcast or public performance of your tracks.
Yes, vinyl – it’s a great format for special collectors editions! It’s more or less the same process as for CD, but with special attention paid to bass and high-frequency content. A stereo vector scope is used to check stereo width and mono compatibility as part of the mastering process, and if necessary the stereo width of deep bass frequencies can be narrowed without significantly affecting the overall stereo sound, to ensure a successful cut. Most pressing plants specify a CD cutting master, and this needs to be burnt with adequate gaps between tracks and the A and B sides to allow for the lead-in, scrolling and lead-out grooves. WAV files can also be supplied if required.