Digital Mastering is suitable for digital releases only. Digital media doesn’t have restrictions in frequency response as vinyl has. So digital mastering is not suitable for vinyl releases.
Mastering is not black magic which can make any track sound great. Mastering is at most 10% of the total quality a track can sound. So the end result depends on the quality of the mix. Same for loudness. High loudness levels with acceptable distortion can only be taken care of in the mix. The louder you want the master, the less room there is for low-end. Taming high transients sounds better (less distorted) when applied on group tracks or even individual tracks. Phase issues between individual tracks can’t be fixed in mastering, but primary cause for loudness issues. So check your mix in mono before sending it off.
Digital mastering options
Saturation make tracks sounding warmer, more analog and provide ‘glue’. Saturation is best done in the mix. Take this option when you think your tracks lacks saturation. Don’t take this option if you want the master to be transparent (as it is).
Dynamic vs Loudness
In mastering loudness is achieved with compression and limiting at the cost of dynamics. Dynamic tracks sound more pleasing and easy for the ears. Compressed audio with minimal dynamics will sounds tiring and flat. When answered with yes we will master for dynamics. No will focus on loudness at the cost of dynamics.
Streaming services apply a loudness penalty so listeners can (optionaly) normalize the level. This means that loud mastered tracks will be turned down. How much a track will be turned down can be checked at https://www.loudnesspenalty.com/ On the other hand, when listeners don’t use normalization (default off!) your track will sound a lot quitter as for loudness mastered tracks. Using different masters for streaming and platforms like Beatport and iTunes isn’t preferable, because they will sound different. So only use this option when you fully understand what mastering for streaming media means and applicable for your needs.
Before sending your audio file please also note:
- There must be at least -3dBFS (full scale) peak level of headroom, but -6dB of headroom would be ideal.
- No limiter! There must be some dynamics to work with, so there can’t be a limiter or clipper already applied.
- Preferable don’t use dynamic processors like (multi-band) compressors on your master bus. If dynamic processing is essential for your sound, then again take into account that the mastering needs some dynamics left to process.
- For best results insert some silence before and after your track.
- The file must be of a lossless/uncompressed format, preferable WAV or AIFF.
- The file must be at least 44Khz/16bit, preferable 48Khz/24bit.
- Preferable: Mention the BPM of the track.