When it comes to making an album, the artist is, naturally, the center of attention – whose performance will ultimately sell the song, and who will be most proud if the record hits. And when the producers work behind the scenes (or rather, behind the glass), the best – let it be George Martin Or Timbaland– They can become almost as famous and iconic as the artists they record. Mastering engineers, however, rarely enjoy the same prestige, their names known only to the most dedicated liner-note readers. (Intelligently, as of this writing, the term “superstar mastering engineer” produces a rather thin Google result.) But as the ultimate way of a song’s long journey from the artist’s head to the public ear, mastering plays an important role in determining how music will be adopted.
If the main job of the producer is to capture recordings that sound good to the artist, the mastering engineer is tasked with making those recordings better for the audience, wherever they can hear it. But since the process is obviously more technical than creative, many music fans and novice artists have limited ideas about what mastering is and why it is so important. To help shed some light on this essential part of the record-making puzzle, we spoke with Noah Mintz, a 21-year veteran of the trade. He is currently a senior engineer in Toronto Lacquer channel mastering, Has mastered the release for Mintz National, Feast, And Wolf Parade, Among many others. Here, he decodes the mysteries of mastering, while providing his perspective on how the job is changing with the rest of the music industry.
Mastering is not just about making music louder.
There is a general idea that a mastering engineer simply takes the tracks and gives them a volume boost, so that the music in the Hermetic recording studio will sound more lively and lively when it explodes safely through your car stereo. But in reality, mastering is less about a sonic steroid injection and more about achieving a subtle balance between the isolated recordings that make up an album. “Mastering is about taking individual songs from an album and making them into a consistent part – setting the melody and volume and working it all together,” says Mintz. “And in terms of a single song, it’s setting the volume to a level that is consistent with other songs in its genre. It’s about rearranging the audio to make the song better for all intents and purposes.
Mastering is much more complicated than before.
A big part of a master engineer’s job is guessing where and how a listener will listen to music. Before the 1980s, it was safe to assume that most of the listening would be done at home-stereo turntables. But as technology has evolved, so has it. With the advent of compact discs, engineers were able to raise volume levels far beyond what old analog formats like vinyl and cassette could handle, which will become known. Fight hardYes, the pressure to make the CD as loud as possible to maximize the sound effect. However, as Mintz notes, in the twenty-first century, “there are more playback sources than at any other time in history,” from traditional thematic home stereos to desktop computer speakers to phones with wireless earbuds. “A mastering engineer needs to know how each song plays on every type of device,” Mintz said.
Has also introduced another set of streaming variables. Employs services like Spotify called Loudness Normalization, a default filter that ensures every song you play – be it 1950s original-master recordings or modern pop tracks – can be heard at the same volume without having to manually adjust it yourself. (The feature is especially helpful in combining old and new tracks to flatten wild variations of sound levels in curated playlists.) However, since users have the option to turn off the feature in their personal settings, “you can’t really master it aloud,” Mintz said. “And since all different streaming services have different height-normalization protocols, you need to find a level that works for everything.”
Do you get paid for you.
Computers have enabled artists to record and promote their music at the click of a button (or trackpad), and in recent years, mastering has similarly become a clickable, drag ‘n’ drop task. There are several DIY algorithmic services (e.g. Tuncore, Lander, Cloudbounce, And Bandlab) Which allows users to upload their tracks and receive instant masters at rates as low as $ 5 per track (about one-tenth of an indie artist’s charge per pro).
But Mintz is still not worried about the robots coming for his job. “It’s like coffee,” he says. “I use Nespresso when I’m at work and it’s okay for that. But when I go to my local coffee shop, it’s perfect, because it’s done manually. I have no problem with Nespresso, but every time you feed it, it’s going to be exactly the same. He points out that similarly, an algorithm will not give you thoughtful results, and probably not the absolute best results. “If you put your song into the algorithm, sometimes, it sounds good – but sometimes a monkey playing a piano sounds good,” says Mintz. “Since most people don’t understand what mastering is, they are satisfied with it, even though they don’t understand what their songs might be like.
“And,” he adds, “if they don’t like what it looks like, they can’t tell the algorithm how they want it to be different.”
– Stuart Berman