Mastering – The Process:
Before You Submit Tracks:
One thing that’s very useful is pre-process preparation. It saves everyone time and money later. Tell me what you’re looking for, talk about some references, let me know what you expect to accomplish, and I’ll let you know what we can accomplish.
This is also a good time to discuss what format your tracks are in, and in what format you want them finished.
Mastering is a surprisingly time-consuming process. It may appear to be a “EQ, limit, and done!” operation, but due to the vagaries of human physiology and psychoacoustics, it’s not something that’s best rushed. “Fresh ears” are vital to a good finished product, so mastering is not something easily done in one pass. Maybe for a short EP or a single, but usually it’s a process of revision and tweaking over time.
Plan 10 business days for a good mastering job. It won’t normally take that long, but that gives both the client (you) and the engineer (me) plenty of time to get things done right, instead of just done now.
After I have your Tracks In Hand (or, um, on the hard drive):
- I’ll run a rough test master of a track – I can either just pick one at random or you can specify one – and send you an mp3, so we both can get a feel for what you’re looking for and so forth. It probably won’t be a perfect test master, but it’s a quick pass just so you grok where I’m thinking to take things and so I can understand what sort of things you’re looking for before I do the whole disc and find out “oh, no, that’s not right at all.”
- I’ll then go through and master everything. I will provide reasonable quality mp3’s of everything when the first pass is done.
- You request any changes and revisions, and I make them.Yes, changes.
I realize music production doesn’t happen in a vaccuum. A lot of mixing and mastering operations are, essentially, black boxes – you put audio in, someone gives you a finished product and you hope like heck that what you get is what you want.
There’s enough of that in the process already that I don’t want to add to it. So in the interest of transparency, I allow the client to request changes. I’ve never had a client come back and say “start over”, although it isn’t outside the realm of possibility, so I’m confident it won’t become a sucking hole of time-sink for either of us. Of course, there are limits – nobody wants and endless cycle of revisions and changes, so eventually things will be time-boxed, but thus far, it’s never come up.
- OPTIONS!I can burn you two redbook-compliant CDs of the finished product. If you have anything like ISRC codes, UPC-EAN codes, CD-TEXT, crossfade instructions, specific track pause lengths, etc I will need to know before we get to this stage, otherwise I’ll go with defaults or best-guesses.
I send you all the digital files and you burn the discs yourself. This option can save a little time, and if you’re an indie artist who doesn’t bother with ISRC, UPC, etc then you can save yourself some headaches (did the CD get lost in the mail? It’s taking too long to get here! etc).
For shipping, standard USPS shipping is free. If it needs to be overnighted or second-day’ed or anything like that, that will be billed at the carrier’s rate.
NOTE: Vinyl and cassette mastering are separate issues, and while the process is mostly the same, there are some processing differences intrinsic to the format, and also I don’t own a cutting lathe so there’s no point in me providing an audio CD. Same with Cassette. Various production houses have different pre-production requirements, so we should work those out in advance)
As mentioned, standard turnaround time is approximately 10 business days, although I often get it done in less, I prefer to keep some extra time in case there are time consuming issues that need to be addressed. If you absolutely positively need it sooner, there’s a rush charge, and we may be forced to cut corners to get it done in time. This is best discussed beforehand.
After We’re All Done
I try to keep backups of all mastering projects for a reasonable amount of time. I don’t guarantee anything past 30 days, but if something goes wrong with your master disc or files, and you need new copies, contact me and I’ll see what I can do.
A client is allowed one additional file format conversion after initial delivery within 30 days. So if You got a CD or downloaded a bunch of WAV’s, if you decide you also need wav files or mp3’s, I will provide one set free of charge. After that, additional digital formats are $5 each. If you need different bit depths or sample rates, that will also cost extra, since it requires additional processing (it’s never come up thus far, though) and a few conversions simply may not be worth your time or money.
If you want additional copies of your master CD, they’re $5 each + shipping, (limit 10).