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FAQ

What is mastering?

Mastering is the final process of audio production, to prepare music/audio for mass distribution. In it's most basic sense, it is quality control to ensure audio meets the critera for the intended formats and sounds consistent across all playback systems. Depending on many factors, the engineer may make adjustments to the mix to help it translate better, or to enhance its impact. A modern mastering engineer will use their tools and experience to ensure a production stands up to the competition and has the best chance of success upon release.

Why does music need mastering?

Initially, mastering was the process of transferring a final mixdown from the recording medium onto the distribution medium, AKA reel-to-reel tape to vinyl records. This was more of an exact process, ensuring the fidelity of the audio was preserved with minimum degradation during the transfer process. But as the music industry has developed, so has the needs of the mastering engineer. For one, there are many more mediums today. But also more ways to listen to music. Therefore, compatibility and translation are some of the biggest concerns of the modern mastering engineer. A modern mastering engineer is also a specialist in finishing music productions, both in a technical sense - preparing it for different formats, but also a creative one - ensuring the music has impact and fits into the desired contexts. All mixes/releases benefit from the mastering process, because the mastering process is quality control by an independent, experienced perspective. Sometimes, a mastering engineer won't need to do much to a mix to get it finished, but either way the artist/client will feel confident their music is ready for release, does translate, and sound its best.

When is my mix ready?

When the mix is finished and the artist/label is generally happy with the overall sound and style of the production. Ideally the mix will be well-balanced, with appropriately dialed in compression, eq and effects. Alternatively the mix may have a few issues that need resolving. These can be commuicated to us at the start of the mastering process, where we'll be able to advise on the best course of action for the production, either to be fixed during mastering, or sent back to the mix phase with notes.

How should I present my mix for mastering?

It should be exported at 24-bit minimum resolution (32-bit is good too) and at the native sample rate it was mixed in. There is no need to upsample your mix! Generally, mixbus processing that adds to the sound you're going for is good, but any additional compression or limiting used for the purpose of making the mix louder will likely hinder the mastering process, so best to take it off before exporting. You can always send a demo version alongside your mix if you feel this is important. Most crucially, it's important the mix has adequate headroom to avoid any audio that clips over 0dB. Any clipping will jeapordise the quality of the master, so please ensure this detail is not overlooked, as it can cause delays to the project while we rectify it. Finally, the mix should be exported in a lossless format, preferably WAV or AIFF.

Can't the artist/producer just master it? What about AI?

While it might seem convenient, it's much better for the mastering to be done by an independent specialist. Mixing and mastering involve very different skillsets, different tools, listening environments and even a different way of listening. Most importantly, for mastering to be effective, it needs an objective ear from hearing the production for the first time. Keeping them separate is always recommended. AI mastering is a hot topic right now, but it isn't really mastering. There is no real quality control, and often times it doesn't tell you what it has done to your audio. You may think it sounds bigger, brighter or louder upon first listen, but it may not translate as well or still fall flat when compared to other productions mastered by a real engineer. Because mastering music requires creative decisions to be made, AI mastering could be a risky avenue. If producing music wasn't a creative persuit, then AI mastering might be an adequate solution.

What is Remastering, and how does it differ to mastering?

Remastering is essentially repeating the mastering process for a project that has previously been mastered. The reasons for doing this are usually to improve upon or update the original release to modern standards, but can also include wanting different mastered versions for different contexts. Remastering is very common for older releases, where the loudness levels and EQ curve may end up feeling out of date compared to modern standards. Remastering also allows the engineer to potentially 'clean up' the release, removing any hum, hiss or unwanted noises that were undetected at the time. Traditionally, it involved getting access to the original tapes, however if you have access to the original mix files, that makes the process a lot easier. In some extreme cases, the only files available are the already-mastered files. We can still work with this but it's a bit more of a delicate process, and may not yield the best results.

What is Restoration?

Restoration is simply the cleaning up of audio to remove any extraneous noises, hum, hiss or other unwanted artefacts. This is always a delicate process when working with full mixes, as the engineer must always ensure minimal disruption to the source material. Restoration is included in our mastering service but can also be booked as a seperate, standalone service.

How does payment and that side of things work?

If a project is more than 3 tracks, we take a small deposit of £10 per track, deducted from the overall invoice when completed. If a project is 3 tracks or less (a single, or 3 singles), there is no deposit needed. This deposit is only payable after we've listened to the mix, and had a further dialogue about the project. We will not begin mastering until the deposit is paid. On the other end, once mastering is complete and has been signed off by the client (meaning they are fully happy upon auditioning), full payment is then due via invoice. Mastered files will only be available to download after full payment has cleared. Payment methods include bank transfer, PayPay and Stripe. Please note PayPal and Stripe include a 3% processing fee. For some clients who have a lower budget, we can offer payment plans (or pay-per-track plans), but this must be agreed beforehand. Please get in touch.

What if I don't like my master?

Unlimited revisions are a feature of our mastering service, which means you can request changes to the master version until you are happy. If there seems to be an issue with the mastering that is unresolvable, you will not be forced to pay the remaining amount of the fee. However, this is extremely unlikely to happen. Ultimately, we want our clients to be fully happy with the service and end result, and therefore do our absolute best to ensure we understand the direction and requirements for each specific project from the outset. It is important we get it right first time, every time.

How do we send/receive files?

We use Samply.app for file auditioning and delivery. This app allows you to easily stream your prospective masters in high-fidelity audio, so you'll hear them as they're meant to sound. It requires no download nor sign up and works on a desktop or mobile browser, so you can listen wherever you have access to an internet connection. It has a simple, straightforward interface, which also allows for timecoded comments to be added to each file, and multiple versions to be stacked and easily compared. The secure audio player is accessed via a link, and it can be password-protected for additional security. It also has the added benefit of being able to streamline the project approval process, via a paywall for Stripe payments. This means you can audition the masters, pay for them and receive the downloadable files in one go, without having to wait for them to be released manually. For sending files in for mastering, we accept most file transfer services such as WeTransfer, DropBox or Google Drive. If it's easier, we also offer our own secure, dedicated client upload portal via Samply.

What if I need alternate versions?

Some projects require a simultaneously mastered instrumental or acapella version. Up to 2 alternate versions are included in the standard service, with more being possible for a small additional charge.

Should I upscale my sample rate for better quality?

Simply, no. Whatever sample rate you have recorded/mixed in will be the best option. Even if you require different sample rates for the release, it's better if we handle the conversion on our end.

My project needs mixing too, can you do this?

As mastering is the phase that comes after mixing, we don't offer this as a standard service. However, if we have time in the schedule and gel with the project it could be possible, but please let us know if you are in need of mixing and we'll be happy to explore the options. If it's not something we can help with personally, we can put you in touch with some trusted mix engineers instead.

I'm not sure about my mix, can you help?

We're more than happy to give some feedback on a mix, for free and with no obligation. Send us a message (link on homepage or via email) and we'll get back to you.

Can you master my stems?

We can! Tick the 'stem mastering' box on the enquiries form and we'll work out the next steps. Please bear in mind, stem mastering takes more time and therefore costs more.

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