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Frequently Asked Questions

Audio Mastering

The art of mastering audio is taking a good mix of a well recorded song and putting the final polish on it prior to release on CD, streaming platforms (iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Soundcloud, etc.) or video streaming platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.).

Mastering involves balancing frequencies, corrective EQ, creating the correct stereo image, depth and vertical space. Additionally, each delivery format (CD, streaming platforms, iTunes, vinyl) require different loudness level targets as well as distinct Bit Rate and Sample Rate requirements. This requires specific training and tools and a firm understanding of how audio behaves in the digital domain.

Studio151 LLC Is a mastering facility which is equipped and prepared to deliver your music in any of the desired formats, including Apple Digital Masters which requires approval from Apple and strict adherence to their demanding standards.
The process of audio mastering entails, first and foremost, understanding the artists vision! Without this step, the rest is pointless. Then listen to the material, what is the song ‘saying’ to me? What areas need to be corrected, what are the problem areas, what areas need to be enhanced?

Once those are defined, I decide which tools (hardware or software) are best suited to make those corrections or enhancements. Using reference tracks from the same genre that are similar to the track I’m working on is another way to make sure I’m on the right track.

Once I have made corrections (taming overloaded frequencies, enhancing areas that need it and creating ‘space’, I’ll review the track with the customer to ensure that I have successfully captured their vision.
Having the right tools is crucial. The first tool is the education and expertise that only extensive study and certification in mastering can afford (see below). Gaining that mastering knowledge takes time, commitment and investment.

As far as analog tools are concerned, I employ gear (EQs, compressors, reverbs, etc.) from Steinberg, Drawmer, TK Audio, Yamaha, Lexicon, Black Lion Audio, Chameleon Labs (Revive Audio Modified), among others.

I may utilize plugins from Empirical Labs, Eventide, Fab Filter, Izotope, Leapwing Audio, MAAT Digital, Nugen, Plugin Alliance, Relab Development, SIR Audio, Softube, Sonible, Sonnox, Soundtoys, SSL, Tone Projects and Waves, among many others.
Knowing how to identify what a track needs and what analog and digital tools to use in order to get the most out your song takes a deep knowledge of both analog and digital audio realms and how they interact.

You must understand how your tools behave with different program material. And what tools to use, or not use in a certain situation.

I may employ a hybrid approach to mastering your song utilizing both outboard gear and ‘in-thebox’ digital tools to accomplish the goal, or I may stay completely analog or completely digital depending on what best suits your project.

I have made a significant investment in specialized mastering education to understand the significance of using the right bit rate and sample rate for recording, processing and final dithering in order to give you the best result possible.
Most reputable mastering engineers will offer prices commensurate with the job to be done (one song, EP, full length album, for vinyl, for streaming, CD, etc.).

Often there is an additional fee (and rightfully so) for creating a master for iTunes “Apple Digital Masters” in addition to the master used for most other streaming platforms. This is due to the additional work involved in order to meet different requirements from Apple.

I will consult with you to determine the depth of your project and come up with a price that fits the amount of work involved as well as your budget.
A certified professional mastering engineer is a highly trained, proficient audio expert and can identify ‘trouble spots’ in a recording’s specific frequency ranges and correct errors or problems and/or support the pleasing attributes of your song using high quality digital and analog tools.

Through the use of EQs, compressors, spatial tools, de-essers and mid/side processing I can ‘open up’ the perceived space, eliminate harsh elements and give crowded frequency bands some space and relief. All of this allows your music to stand out amongst the top recordings in your musical genre.
Once you have recorded all of the elements of your song you need to mix everything. Say for example you have bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and vocals… you’ll need to find a nice balance between all of these elements – panning or placing certain elements to left or right, leaving some in the center.

Additionally, the use of automation to temporarily increase or decrease the volume of an instrument, or to affect panning of an element, or to increase reverb at a certain point in the song.

In the mix process you may employ EQs, effects processors, reverbs, delays, etc to get a desired effect.

Utilizing reference tracks to see if your mix stacks up is also a great practice! This allows you to hear your mix compared to other similar professionally mixed and mastered recordings

Mastering is employed only when you have completed the mix and have a song that is 90-95% done. The mastering engineer is a very specialized individual that, through years of audio experience, can listen to your track and identify the areas that need help and the ones that need support in order to make your song stand out. The Mastering Engineer adds the final polish your song deserves!

Certified Apple Digital Masters

Apple requires certain criteria to be followed during the mastering process that ensures the audio uploaded as an Apple Digital Master will be at the correct Bit Rate and loudness target in order to be accepted by Apple.

“Up-sampling” or increasing the Bit Rate prior to upload is not permitted, so you need to get it right from the start. Being an accepted ‘Apple Digital Masters’ approved studio means that I am bound to uphold a higher standard for my clients.
Apple has a higher standard for releases on iTunes than most other streaming platforms. Only submissions by a Certified Apple Digital Masters engineer are accepted for release on iTunes.

Apple demands a higher bit rate (always record at 24 bit) and they prefer a sample rate of 96KHz, however they will accept lower sample rates. They also have a different loudness target (LUFS) and different ‘true peak’ limit than the other streaming services.

So the answer is “Yes, if you want to release on iTunes, you must have a specific master done for iTunes by a certified Apple Digital Master engineer!”

I can fulfill that requirement as an accepted Apple Digital Masters engineer.
Apple Digital Masters ‘have the potential’ to sound better. Having a higher bit rate and higher sample rate affords those tracks a higher resolution (similar to a TV’s comparison of 1080p vs 4K).

The strength of the recording, the mix, the tools used while mixing and mastering and the performance are all potential factors in “sounding better”. If the recording, mixing and mastering was all well done, then the answer is yes, your track will sound better at a higher resolution.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that recording at 192KHz or higher will sound better than 96KHz though. The human ear cannot distinguish the difference above a 96KHz sample rate, professional studies have been conducted….you’ll just waste space and CPU resources after 96KHz.

There are some hardware companies touting sample rates up to 768KHz – don’t waste your money, you’ll never distinguish the difference.

My own interface is capable of 384 KHz, but recording at that rate is a CPU and storage waste…

Always record at 24 bit and 88.2 KHz for CD or streaming and at 96 KHz for audio-for-video (2×48 KHz), those resolutions are high enough to sound fantastic without over taxing your CPU or unnecessarily filling up your hard drive. After all, your ears are only capable of 20 Hz to 20 KHz resolution!
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