Welcome to Chi-Squared Mastering
Mastering makes the most of your music or other audio. In its simplest form it includes the following:
- Load the recorded tracks into the mastering workstation.
- Process the audio (see below).
- Sequence the individual tracks or songs in the order they will appear on the final product.
- Transfer the audio to the proper final master format.
Step 2 is what turns a raw mix into a retail-ready or radio-ready song, and is obviously the most complicated step. Processing the audio may include any or all of the following:
- Use noise reduction to eliminate ground hum, pops, clicks, static hiss, etc.
- Correct any volume, panning, or phase issues.
- Apply corrective EQ to fix spectral balance problems.
- Very gently compress the mix to provide "audio glue".
- Apply additional compression and/or limiting to achieve optimal volume.
- Fade in or out at the beginning or end of each song, as necessary.
- Maintain consistency among different songs on the same album.
- When mastering to CD, dither the output for maximum resolution.
What you end up with is a song or album that sounds like it's supposed to sound. For classical and acoustic recordings, you may want a full, dynamic, clean, spacious, or warm master. Rock, rap, or trance artists may be looking for something more punchy, thick, hot, bright, or aggressive. Still others may require anything in between. Chi-Squared will take your music where you want it to go, guaranteed.
CD Mastering / Audio Mastering
CD Mastering (also called "premastering") is the last step before a CD is sent to a duplicator/replicator. It is also the last creative and technical step prior to pressing an album, much like the editor of a book reviews its contents and prepares the text for printing. Contact me to get your audio mastered.
Who Needs It?
Musicians are obviously among the most common mastering studio clients, whether these musicians are independent or signed. Music is not the only audio that can be mastered. Spoken word (such as voiceovers or poetry), radio commercials, and cheerleading competition tracks can all benefit from finalization. In fact, radio commercials often require more a more aggressive approach than the typical music CD in order to garner attention, and cheerleading demands some of the loudest tracks imaginable — every team gets the same volume setting during a cheerleading competition, and a weak or quiet song can be a disaster.
The Age of DIY (Do-It-Yourself)
Now more than ever, musicians are working from home. Technology has not only made home recording less expensive, but the quality of tools available to indie artists is incredible. However, recording is different from mixing, and mixing is different from mastering. Take a look at the liner notes for your favorite bands' albums. You usually find different studios listed for recording, mixing, and mastering. Even though more and more independent artists are choosing to perform their own mixing, a long-established maxim among musicians has been "never master your own mixes." The audio mastering engineer is a specialist who has trained for the job he or she does. The task requires a dedicated mastering studio and full-range monitors. Popular stories mention mixing engineers who loved (or still love) to mix on Yamaha NS-10s, despite the relatively low technical quality of those speakers. Not so with mastering. Accuracy is key, and the engineer must be able to listen to every aspect of the audio spectrum to make the right decisions.
CD Mastering Online
Online mastering options are becoming more common among mastering studios. With high-speed internet access, a band can upload their whole album in a fraction of the time it would take to send via mail, with absolutely no shipping cost. For artists who do not live near a mastering engineer, mastering online or via FTP is a welcome resource compared to "snail mail"; even though they cannot attend the actual session in the mastering studio, they can send and receive many clips during the process and make sure they have plenty of input. Even some of the major industry players now offer an online mastering alternative. Chi-Squared is glad to offer mastering services through both online and USPS mail methods. You can even upload your high-resolution tracks to our own secure server and get a professional master CD shipped to you within days.
Projects are billed at a flat rate per master. Each project includes all audio cleanup, editing/splices, fades in and out, all additional processing, one error-checked reference CD (for you to listen to whenever you like), and one error-checked master CD with PQ sheet. If you intend to send the master CD to a replication plant, it's advised that you do not use that particular disc for any other purpose, to avoid damaging the disc. Additional identical error-checked master or reference CDs are available for $5 apiece (shipping included).
Enjoy flexibility in payment by using any of the following methods: Google Checkout, Paypal, personal or business check, or credit card. Choose whichever is most convenient for you.
Stems and Separations
Rather than sending a single stereo mix to the mastering studio, many artists now prefer what are called stems or separations. Generally speaking, this provides more flexibility when creating the final master, and in some cases can drastically improve your sound while preserving the integrity of your original mix. If you've heard of "vocal up" or "vocal down" mixes, then the concept of separations should be easy to absorb. Note: If you prefer not to send stems, or are already generally happy with your mixes, then simply sending the stereo mix will suffice. Stems are only used when there is a specific problem that can't be fixed in the mix.
- Here's how you do it:
- Record your normal stereo mix, with all levels and effects set exactly how you want them. This will be referenced as the overall sound you prefer. Save this inside a new folder or directory on your computer.
- Without changing anything about the mix (track volume, enabled effects, etc.), mute every track except drums and other percussion. This is your drums only stem. Record this and save it in the same folder as your stereo mix.
- Mute all of the tracks again, and now only unmute the bass track(s). Record this bass only stem and save it in the same place as the other stems.
- Mute all of the tracks again, and now only unmute the vocal track(s). Record this vocals only stem and save it in the same place as the other stems. If you wish, you can even create "main vocals" and "backing vocals" stems.
- Mute all of the tracks again, and now unmute any remaining instruments. Make sure that you do not unmute anything that was already included in the above separations. Record this final piece and save it in the same place as the other stems.
Now you can burn the whole folder and send it to the mastering studio (or upload them for mastering online). Depending on the particular song, you may not need all of the above stems, or you may even want to make more; it's up to you. Contact Chi-Squared Mastering first if you have any questions about this process.
More About the Mastering Engineer
Chief Engineer H.B. Stone personally works on every project that comes to Chi-Squared. Exposed to many forms of music during childhood, he was also taught to appreciate music, art and life with an open mind. An avid interest in music as well as in a variety of instruments led him to learn to play the guitar, clarinet, and piano. H.B. began his professional music career in 1996 as disc jockey and engineer at Viper Radio in the San Fernando Valley. Broadcasting in both terrestrial and online formats, he remained with Viper Radio until the station's close in February of 2006. When that company regrouped as an indie label, he began providing its artists (primarily rock, rap, trance) with CD mastering services. Briefly, he reviewed songs for Gods of Music, a major promotion tool for independent musicians.
In 1999, H.B. Stone began work as an indie trance producer and mixing engineer in the trance, rap, and rock genres. With 19 mixes reaching top-40 status (16 of which placing in the top 20 of their respective charts), he enjoyed success on the original MP3.com and Ampcast online music distributor websites. By 2001, after having focused more on engineering than producing, he ultimately decided that his passion lie in audio mastering. He greatly enjoys both the technical and creative aspects involved in music mastering.
I value open communication and exchange of ideas during the mastering process. Artists who wish to remain hands-off can do so, but your input is always welcome. It's your music — it should sound exactly how you want it to sound. The more information you give me about your goals, the better. What do you think your mix needs? Is it too thin? Too muddy? How loud do you want it? Are there artists or songs you want to be compared to? The more you tell me, the better the result.
If you are a Chi-Squared CD Mastering client, mastering credit on your website or liner notes should read as either of the following:
- Mastered by: H.B. Stone at Chi-Squared Mastering
- Mastering by H.B. Stone at Chi-Squared Mastering