Mastering Your Recordings
Mastering is the process of polishing your raw recording into a dynamic, loud and high quality professionally sounding audio product. One of the main benefits of mastering is allowing your recording to sound good on a wide array of speakers, not just your personal setup.
Your initial recording might sound great on your home setup, but when you play it elsewhere it may sound too quiet, muddy, bass heavy or harsh. It is worth taking your raw recording and listening to this on other speaker setups before doing anything further and making notes on how it sounds compared to other music you feel is of a high standard (such as professional albums).
This process is perhaps one of the hardest areas to get right in the audio engineering world, and is always wise to leave to professionals or friends who may have done this before. However, there are a few basics that will help get your mix sounding good and the more you do, the better you will get.
Mastering Recorded Vinyl, Edits & Tracks
If you have recorded individual tracks rather than an entire mix but feel that the overall 'loudness' of your recordings is quieter than purchased digital music, you may need to master these tracks.
You will have to do this process one track at a time if you want to do it well. If you are recording vinyl records, it can be worth while setting up your recording program with a mastering chain that corrects the recording as you go, rather than afterwards.
TIP: You can also set up a basic Mastering preset in your audio software, as most of the time you may only need to tweak small changes between different recordings.
Mastering DJ Mixes
One thing that tends to let down aspiring DJs is the overall sound quality of their mix rather than their actual skills. You will need to pay close attention to how each track sits in the overall mix, how the tracks flow into each other and how the entire mix feel sounds. Sometimes you may need to change the volume of the mix.
NOTE: If you have pushed all of your tracks into the red when recording and there is considerable distortion it is best to re-record this rather than try to fix it with mastering. This is also true of recordings with low quality audio files. You are unable to clean up or fix a badly recorded mix. Rather, mastering allows you to enhance a good recording and tidy up any small errors.
It is a good idea to keep your recording at the highest recorded bit depth and frequency rate you can. You can always convert down later when you are ready. If you have recorded as a .WAV or .AIFF 24bit, keep the recorded audio like this for as long as possible. Do not render or convert down until the last step.
You should also make sure that at no stage of the mastering chain you redline or clip the audio signal. The point of mastering is to get things sounding full and loud without causing digital distortion.