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This blog post has been edited from its original format; some references have been changed to reflect Ozone 7.
While physical limitations of older playback mediums are no longer the primary reason to master audio, the mindset of a mastering engineer remains the same—to add the final touches to a recording so that it functions well in our world by finding a balance of dynamic range, frequency content, and stereo image. The mastering engineer ensures a recording will sound good on a wide variety of playback systems, withstand unforgiving lossy format encoding, and fit well within the context of an album.
It is important for a mastering engineer to understand the goals of the artist. Some artists want their recordings to be bright, some want to achieve a wide dynamic range to help the development of their piece, and some want a recording that is competitive when it comes to loudness. Asking the artist for a reference track of a master they like can be helpful, as it will demonstrate the mastering qualities they value, and it can be used for A/B comparison during mastering.
|PRO TIP: Ozone’s Matching EQ can analyze a reference track and extract EQ settings to be applied to another piece of music, achieving a similar frequency response and sound. Below, Ozone is applying an EQ curve taken from a rock track to a song that is being mastered.|
While there are certainly best practices when it comes to audio mastering, different genres of music can benefit from a variety of mastering techniques. While an electronic dance piece may contain entirely synthesized sounds, a rock piece may contain a vocal, guitars, bass, and drum set. This diversity of instrumentation is then coupled with contrasting composition and arrangement techniques to create music that impacts the listener in unique ways. As such, the mastering engineer also needs to approach different masters with a different sensibility.
In a high energy hip hop track with a huge booming bass, the energy needs to be maintained and the low end needs to drive. This will require some heavy-handed multiband compression. In the image below, the low band is compressed hard and then boosted in gain to maintain high energy throughout, while staying within reason.
On the other hand, in a classical recording, where dynamic range is the life blood of the genre, very light compression (if any at all) will be needed. Here, a very gentle compression ratio is being applied in order to slightly reduce the dynamic range.
In a heavy rock piece with distorted guitars, depth is key. The sense of space is important not only for creating a soundstage, but also to create a sense of pressure for the aggressive guitars. To help reinforce the sense of depth, a mastering engineer can apply Mid/Side EQ and boost the high shelf on the sides slightly. This will increase the sense of space without altering the most important centered sounds, such as the vocal.
Each genre of music has its own instrumental, compositional, and arrangement attributes which all require a different sensibility when mastering. Studying some of the genre-specific presets in Ozone can be a good way to learn about different mastering techniques and for auditioning different settings for mastering. Every song song is unique. Some songs may require more tweaking, and some may require none at all.