» Mastering 101

Please visit the FAQ to learn the basics of mastering first. Once you’re ready for more information, continue your education here.

I’m ready to have my project mastered. What should I do first?

Please read about our mastering process.

How do I book a mastering session? Is a deposit required?

Email or call us to discuss your project and request a mastering date. We typically do not require a deposit on the average project, but reserve the right to do so.

What is your cancellation / delay policy?

Ideally, you should wait to book your mastering date until after your mixes are all completed. Realistically, and especially with scholastic groups, this doesn’t always happen, and as a result mastering needs to be pushed back. Things happen, and we try to be as flexible as we can and to accommodate all deadlines as we are able. Often we can move things around and still meet all deadlines. Sometimes we can’t. In these cases, should you cancel or miss a mastering date with us without adequate notification, or should your project be delayed / lengthened due to circumstances beyond our control (such as you or your engineer uploading an incomplete or damaged file, or your mixing engineer missing their deadline), we reserve the right to charge a fee equal to 1-4 hours of our time. Usually these fees can be avoided with early, open communication, and through proper planning. Please see our pricing page for a complete breakdown of costs and fees.

We need our project mastered IMMEDIATELY!!! Is there any way to squeeze on to your calendar?

From time to time we do get a last-minute cancellation, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you MUST have your project “rushed” you will be charged a premium. Pending availability, 48-hour turnaround is available for an additional $130; 24-hour turnaround for an additional $260.

We do ask that if we are able to move something for you and accommodate your last-minute notice that you be likewise prepared to pay for the work we do just as quickly. Sound fair? Good talk.

Will you release our mastered product without payment in full?

We work hard to try to meet every deadline, and we ask that you be prepared to pay for your project, in full, upon completion of our work. If paperwork needs to be filed first with your school or organization, please let us know well in advance so that we may have the opportunity to file it prior to your mastering date.

Do I need to attend the mastering session?

Because we work with clients from around the world and because bookings can sometimes shift by a day or three, most mastering sessions are unattended, with most or all of the process occurring over the internet. However should you desire, you are more than welcome to attend your mastering session. We have lots of great food available nearby, and should you need to stay overnight there are several hotels within a few miles of the studio.

One caveat for the budget-conscious:

Due to the nature of the back and forth that occurs when more than one person is present in the room (if only for the inevitable trading of stories), attended sessions take an average of one hour longer than do unattended sessions. That said, we welcome your in-person feedback and company. Be sure to let us know in advance if you plan to attend your mastering session.

Should I compress / limit my mixes before mastering?

Please do everything you can to make sure the mixes you send to us to be mastered are as close to what you want them to sound like as possible. Assuming that, the only “hard” rules here are these:

A) Do not squash your mixes to death through overly aggressive compression and limiting. Leave enough headroom for us to work with, and please let us take care of getting your levels competitive.

B) If you are purposely mixing with effects (compression, limiting, etc.) inserted on the 2-bus / master fader, do not remove them and expect us to be able to recreate the sound you were going for, unless you plan to send us your “fake masters” as a reference.

I’m unsure which version of a given mix is “best”, or I have alternate versions of the same song. Should I send both of them to be mastered?

Yes. If you’d like our opinion we are happy to give it. We’re also happy to master a “clean” and “explicit” version of the same track, or a version with the lead vocal +1dB louder, etc.

I think I know just how I want the mastered mixes to sound. Should I sent you my “fake masters”?

Though it is not mandatory and we are more than capable of using our judgment to get the best out of each track (that’s why you’re hiring us!), please feel free to send us your fake masters / final mixes if you’d like for us to use them as a reference while we master your project.

Some of our tracks are “noisy” because of less than ideal equipment / recording environment. Can you help mitigate these issues?

Usually, yes. We understand that not everyone has the budget to work in a “perfect” environment while recording or mixing. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that we stay so busy! We can often help repair or mitigate unwanted noise and sometimes even distortion that went unnoticed during recording.

What file formats are accepted for mastering? What is the “ideal” format?

This is an important one! Please send your mixes in their highest native resolution – if you mixed at 44Hz, 16bit don’t up-sample to 48Hz or 88Hz, 24bit before sending to us; we’ll take care of the sample rate conversion using high-fidelity conversion techniques. If you mixed at 192Hz, 24bit, by all means send us your mixes in at the same resolution and bit rate. If you have any questions about your file formats or settings, please contact us prior to your mastering date.

Please do not send MP3s or any lossy file format, unless that is the only copy you have. If this is the case, please understand that MP3 is a lossy format, and we may not be able to address every issue with these tracks. In some cases, the tracks may be degraded during the mastering process.

How do I get my mixes to you?

Often your mixing engineer can take care of that for you. Please put them in touch with us and we’ll take care of setting everything up.

Otherwise, please feel free to Upload Your Files to us directly.

Will mastering make my mixes louder?

Many artists request that their music is comparable level-wise with other major releases, and we do our best to achieve levels that are highly competitive. If you want your mixes “slammed”, we can certainly do that – and then some! But we strive to find each song’s “ideal” spot on the spectrum of musicality versus loudness, retaining dynamics, tone, and “air” as much as possible, while minimizing (or repairing) distortion.

Do you provide “Mastered for iTunes” Services?

Yes. We employ Apple’s state of the art tools to audition your mastered project just as it will sound when converted to iTunes format. For more information, please visit Apple’s website.

What about the sequence / spacing of tracks?

We will need to know the final sequence of the project before we can begin mastering. If you would like input from Vocal Mastering on the sequence, we can listen to your mixes prior to starting and offer an opinion. Note that this would need to happen *before* your scheduled mastering date.

If you have specific spacing requests, please inform us before we begin work. Otherwise, we will do the following:

- In the case of a DDP, we can add spacing for you, and you may approve it after listening using our supplied DDP Player.

- In the case of individual WAV files, we will add spacing for you, or you may elect to add it yourself vis your duplicators website.

- In the case of a physical CD, we will add spacing for you using our judgement.

- If you are creating a “seamless” or “gapless” album, please contact us to discuss your exact wishes, and we’ll make it happen.

How do I audition the mastered mixes before sending the project to be replicated/distributed?

We will provide you with a link to our customized DDP creator, so that you may hear the project exactly as it will sound once it has been finalized. Alternatively, we can upload WAV files to our server for you to download, audition, and approve them / comment on them.

What is “QCing”, and why do I need it?

All media require verification, also known as “QCing”, which is done in realtime, at cost. Essentially, it’s a separate engineer sitting and listening to the final product from start to finish, before sending off to you / the plant. Keep in mind that there is a slight chance for disk damage or shipping snafu, even after QCing. As such, we highly recommend using a DDP.

Who will send the mastered materials (whether DDP, CD, or WAV files) to the plant / label?

We can send your mastered project to the location of your choice, via electronic transfer (for DDP or WAV files) or FedEx (for physical media). Please let us know any necessary information related to upload / shipping of your project before we get started.

I plan to sell CDs. What replicator / duplicator do you recommend?

Discmakers does a quality job, quickly and reliably: http://www.discmakers.com

I plan to sell digital tracks. What label / service do you recommend?

We have partnered with A Cappella Records (ACR) on numerous projects, and recommend them highly: http://www.acappellarecords.com

A viable alternative is CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com

Both ACR and CD Baby charge a per-track-sold fee for their services. In our experience, ACR can get music online at times in a matter of days, versus weeks for other services. Also, ACR tracks and handles payment of all digital licenses on a monthly basis, something that many (especially scholastic) clients find useful.

How can I obtain the proper licenses for releasing physically / digitally?

Good places to start:

Mechanical Licenses (CD / DVD): http://www.songfile.com or http://www.songclearance.com or http://www.acappellarecords.com
Mechanical and Digital Licenses (iTunes / Amazon, etc.): http://www.acappellarecords.com

Will my song titles appear when I put my CD into a computer?

When song or album information is displayed on a computer, it’s a result of your music having been registered with Gracenote (aka CDDB). You can do this yourself with iTunes or similar. For instructions, please visit http://www.gracenote.com/about/FAQs/#upload.

If you’d like, we can register your song or album with CDDB for you, for an additional charge.

What about CD-Text?

CD-Text shows song / album information that is encoded on your mastered disc. When you request a DDP or CD (but not individual WAV files), we can encode CD-Text for you at no added cost, using the information you provide (please make certain you enter track information correctly!). Note that CD-Text will only display on players that support it; most commonly, car stereos. Also note that if you are using duplication for your CDs (instead of replication), CD-Text is not supported.

Do I need ISRC codes?

An ISRC code is a unique “digital fingerprint” that remains permanently associated with a song / album, and is used to track sales, royalties, and prevent digital piracy. If you are working with a label, they will provide the codes for you, usually. If you are an independent artist, you can obtain your own codes here: http://usisrc.org

Not all clients need or want ISRC codes. Please let us know in advance if you’d like us to add them to your project.

Still have questions? Contact us! Or get to know us.