Even the most talented and experienced musicians cannot do without the help of specialists when preparing a track for release. One of the most important stages in creating a masterpiece is the processing of the track through music mixing and mastering service under the guidance of a professional engineer. And today we`ll analyze the main aspects of this specialist`s work, including the required equipment and the specifics of finding a reliable mastering engineer.
What is a mastering engineer?
In general, an audio mastering engineer is a music expert and audio specialist who deals with the final processing of mixed audio material in analog or digital form. As a rule, there are no official requirements for specialized education for such a profession, but specialists must:
- disassembly in sound engineering;
- understand the techniques for improving the sound;
- control sound recording;
- monitor the process of mixing the project.
As a rule, good skills are based on many years of practice. However, thanks to the mass of specialized courses and the rapid development of the music industry, there are now more and more excellent young experts with great potential. So, work experience isn`t the main indicator when choosing a specialist (but we’ll talk about choosing a mastering engineer later!).
When choosing a mixing and mastering engineer, you need to make sure that the specialist uses the top equipment for processing musical compositions — special sound processes that reduce the level of sound distortion and have the highest possible bandwidth. Additionally, professional equipment can include digital signal routers (synchronous or asynchronous) that connect digital devices in any combination and successfully pass the signal transmission test with bit-to-bit precision.
Some companies offer combo mastering consoles that allow an engineer to purchase one device for professional use rather than looking for equipment separately. For instance, some of the demanded mastering consoles:
- MMC1 from the Sound Performance Lab (SPL);
- Lurssen Mastering Console from the IK Multimedia.
Thanks to high-quality equipment, the engineer can freely process files of completely different bit rates, sampling rates, and formats.
Aspects of their work
Despite the obvious importance of quality equipment, the most crucial thing in professional mastering is the engineer`s skills. These specialists have trained ears and determine what exactly is wrong from a technical and aesthetic point of view, seeing all the ins and outs of the track. As a rule, a specialist may be faced with two options while working with a music masterpiece:
- If the track has previously passed a high-quality mixing, then the engineer conducts a sound correction and delicate elimination of possible project errors.
- If the mixing was carried out incorrectly (as in the case when musicians wanted to save money on processing, entrusting it to a low-skill specialist or did the processing themself), then the engineer can point out errors and refer them to a mixing professional.
As you can see, although mastering is the final track`s preparation, which affects the perception of sound by the audience, preliminary high-quality mixing is indispensable. This is why engineers who can do both stages of music preparation are valued more than others.
The best way to find a mastering engineer?
The main question that worries a novice musician who doesn`t collaborate with a recording studio is how to find the perfect mastering engineer for music preparation before the final release. Since mastering is up to 15% of the quality of the finished product — quite a huge indicator — you need to make sure of the conscientiousness, attentiveness, and diligence of a specialist by:
- reading reviews;
- get acquainted with the portfolio.
Additionally, you should ask for a price list for individual services. For example, whether the client needs to pay when corrections are needed, or is this included in the initial price (better option). Remember, a mastering engineer should ask lots of questions in order to offer the best solutions for their implementation later, and not just accept an order and promise to “do everything in the best possible way.”
Let’s summarize everything we figured out! A mastering engineer is a specialist without whom it`s impossible to get a track that is excellent in sound and perception because the expert`s work makes up a fairly large percentage of the overall quality of music. Generally, the engineer can use complex consoles and optional equipment to achieve excellent results. And, of course, if you want to find a splendid specialist, then you shouldn`t rely only on work experience or attractive advertising — be sure to evaluate the portfolio, customer reviews, and also check the price list positions.