Even though mastering isn't a focus on this website, the process of mastering audio is something that's still worth covering to help round out your knowledge of the production of music.
Mastering is the final stage of a song's journey before it's released to the wider world. It can be both technical and creative in its application, and is generally seen as the last artistic touch to a song or album before the music is sent for digital distribution or mass reproduction.
There a few different aims when it comes to mastering. Some of the main ones are to:
One of the more recent examples of remastering has been the commercial release of DVD-audio albums. To achieve this, the master tapes from the original recording sessions are often needed.
Extreme care has to be taken with these tapes - they can often be in a very delicate condition after decades of storage. It takes highly skilled engineers and technicians to create successful remasters.
The main commercial method of mastering audio is usually to take the final studio mix, send it to the mastering studio, and create a final master version which can then be mass produced, marketed, and sold.
The final mix can be sent from the studio in a few different formats, the main ones being:
Nowadays, of course, digital formats are seen more and more often across all levels of the music production process.
The mastering techniques used by the engineer will depend on the destination format of the music - different techniques are used for different formats. For example, different methods are used when mastering for CD or vinyl. One size does not fit all.
While it's possible to use your own studio to master your own productions, the general advice is that if you want a professional job done then it's definitely worth employing a skilled mastering engineer to help create the final sound that you're after.
Mastering audio is an art form in itself, and using specialist, high-quality hardware equipment in a dedicated mastering studio is the final step towards creating great sounding music.