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Secrets of the Mastering Engineer

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by Bob Katz

Mastering requires an entirely different “head” than mixing. I once had an assistant who was a great mix engineer and who wanted to get into mastering. So I left her alone to equalize a rock album. After three hours, she was still working on the snare drum, which didn’t have enough “crack”! But as soon as I walked into the room, I could hear something was wrong with the vocal. Which brings us to the first principle of mastering: Every action effects everything. Even touching the low bass affects the perception of the extreme highs.

Mastering is the art of compromise; knowing what’s possible and impossible, and making decisions about what’s most import and in the music. When you work on the bass drum, you’ll affect the bass for sure, sometimes for the better, sometimes worse. If the bass drum is light, you may be able to fix it by “getting under the bass” at somewhere under 60 Hz, with careful, selective equalization. You may be able to counteract a problem in the bass instrument by dipping around 80, 90, 100; but this can affect the low end of the vocal or the piano or the guitar – be on the lookout for such interactions. Sometimes you can’t tell if a problem can be fixed until you try; don’t promise your client miracles. Experience is the best teacher.

Think Holistically

Before mastering, listen carefully to the performance, the message of the music. In many music genres, the vocal message is the most important. In other styles, it’s the rhythm, in some it’s intended distortion, and so on. With rhythmic music, ask yourself, “what can I do to make this music more exciting?” With ballads, ask “is this music about intimacy, space, depth emotion, charisma, or all of the above”? Ask, “How can I help this music to communicate better to the audience?” Always start by learning the emotion and the message of the client’s music/ After that, you can break it down into details such as the high frequencies, or the low frequencies, but relate your decisions to the intended message of the music. Some clients send a “pseudo-mastered” demonstration CD illustrating their goals. Evin if you don’t like the sound on their reference, or you think you can do better, carefully study the virtues of what they’ve been listening to. During your mastering, refer back to the original mix; make sure you haven’t “fixed” what wasn’t broken in the first place. There is no “one-size-fits-all” setting, and each song should be approached from scratch. In other words, when switching to a new song, bypass all processors, and listen to the new song in its naked glory to confirm it needs to be taken in the same or different direction than the previous number. Likewise, as you gain experience, you may want to “tweak” the “presets” in your equipment. Presets are designed to make suggestions and provide good starting points, but they are not one-size-fits-all and should be adjusted according to the program material and your personal taste.

To continue reading, download the PDF for Secret of the Mastering Engineer



11 Responses to “Secrets of the Mastering Engineer”

  1. Das Geheimnis des Masterings says:


    […] Download Link Dieser Beitrag wurde von carlos am 07. Feb 2008 um 11:02 gepostet. Tags: bob katz, Mastering, […]

  2. BlueMaze says:


    Great post.

  3. dgraham says:


    i find mastering a really hard thing to get right know matter how many time’s i try it, but i also find that if you get the balance of your mix right just by EQing single tracks then it may be more easier to master the main master output.

  4. Starr says:


    Bob Katz is definitely the man when it comes to mastering. I wonder if he has ever used T-RackS plug-ins in mastering audio. Now IK is coming out with version 3 T-rackS

  5. amateri says:


    I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in publishing this article. I am trusting the same best work from you in the future as well

  6. Free Recording Software says:


    The key to mastering is developing and understanding of your ear, tools and work flow. Every song is different and the trick is to take a collection of song and make them relate to one another using your ears, tools and work flow.

  7. Moshe Shabah says:


    Mastering is about diving into the spectrum and placing the right filters in the right spots in order to let the main heart of the musical message to fit the very center of your ear , to do it you will need first to believe in the unbelievable, you need to be able to listen with your body before you listen with your ears, the signal that creates the atmospheric pressures in the room is your energy clay that you will need to sculpt with in order to achieve the right energy field which will be projected in almost every environment in the future.
    there are many ways to get there and the best way is to teach yourself how to zoom into the center point of the sound and grow from there , and when tweaking stuff do not listen to the one you are just tweaking , listen to the overall picture and imagine it like a 1000 mile playa surface with a lot of room to do the impossible.

  8. online mastering says:


    I have so much respect for Bob Katz as a mastering engineer, anyone who is interested in mastering (and mix engineers can learn a lot to) should check out the book he wrote.

  9. Online Mastering Studio says:


    Bob Katz is truly a legend in the mastering community. I don’t think there is one person who could better explain the process and theory behind a mastering. He is correct in saying that mastering should be looked at from a hollistic viewpoint!

  10. digital mastering says:


    digital mastering…

    […]Secrets of the Mastering Engineer | EMusicTips[…]…

  11. Phat Mastering says:


    Not many people know their stuff like Bob does. We hold him in the highest respect here at our song mastering studio.


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