For the professional mastering engineers at Universal Mastering Studios in Hollywood, making award-winning records requires more than just technical know-how. Engineers rely on creative thinking, problem-solving, and bringing fresh ears to each and every project.
We met up with the pros at Universal Mastering Studios to learn about their team, their collaborative process, and their day-to-day—and how they incorporate Ozone into their workflow for both surgical fixups and broader changes.
Universal Mastering is a full-service facility. Along with traditional mixing and mastering services, they also provide niche offerings like watermarking and duplication as well as ringtone editing. The notion of a "typical workday" doesn't really exist for Universal's team of award-winning engineers.
Regardless of the project, it's common for them to work nonstop for up to ten hours a day. Some projects, such as reality TV, demand an especially intense schedule because of the short turnaround time. You may even find the team pulling 24-hour shifts to accommodate the deadlines.
This dedication to the craft has given them experience in rock, country, indie, electronic, and many other genres of music. The benefit to such a heavy workload is that they can never be pigeonholed. The steady stream of diverse projects coming through the door gives them experience in just about every genre.
The goals of mastering have certainly changed since records were cut exclusively on vinyl. For better or worse, accessible home recording technology has allowed just about everyone to see their music all the way through the recording, mixing, and mastering process.
And yet, the fundamentals of mastering remain unchanged. Regardless of the audio format, the end goal is to produce a recording that sounds contemporary and competitive. That can mean walking a fine line between a record that's loud enough to be noticed, and one that is over-compressed.
Objectivity is a great asset for a successful engineer. It's important to be able to step back and be aware of the overall sound of the recording without getting lost in individual clips. Being able to assess subtle differences and make sure everything sounds cohesive is key to the success of a mastering engineer. To do this, a mastering engineer first has to learn what the client is looking for, so they can make musical decisions appropriate for the material and the genre.
There are other built-in expectations; for example, making sure each instrument can be spatially identified in the mix. Beyond the technical aspects, mastering also requires being an advocate for both the artist and the fan. "Our job is to steward [the music] all the way through," says Senior Mastering/Mixing Engineer Peter Doell, "and make sure that every ounce of musicality can be savored by the listener."
You don't work on hundreds of albums without learning a few tricks along the way. Making the bass pump from the center by filtering out the sides, for example, or cutting 25 Hz to make the kick drum pump in the center.
Ozone’s Exciter lets you dial in the right amount of analog warmth, and can add harmonic enhancement to make a recording bloom. Using the Exciter to excite certain frequencies can allow individual instruments to shine within the mix, making them more sonically prominent.
Using the Mid/Side capabilities of Ozone’s multiband compressor is another time-saving way to fix a track. The Maximizer module can also give you an extra touch of dB at the very end of your workflow.
No matter how a record is mastered, the important thing is to use all of the available technical capabilities to translate the emotion of the songwriter into a polished and professional final product. "Music is medicine," adds Peter. "It should make you feel good."
Elevate a good-sounding mix to a professional-sounding master with Ozone.