What is Mastering?
The mastering process aims to provide the finished recordings with a “polish” so that they sound as balanced and consistent as possible when played back on any sound system. It is the last step that’s done before playback, broadcast, replication and distribution.
Having an impartial set of ears on a recording also never hurts.
Here’s one way to think of mastering: When a farmer takes a fresh apple to the grocer, mastering can be seen as the process of cleaning that apple to a shine and wrapping it in vacuum packaging so that it remains fresh, leaving an attractive appearance to the shopper.
For those more familiar with film & video production, it is the audio equivalent of ‘grading’.
To find out more, take a look at our What is Mastering? blog post.
How do I book a Mastering session?
You can book quickly online by going to this link where you can upload your mixes and provide payment.
Masters File Formats
- The default delivery format is Standard Digital (DIG): Delivered as 16bit / 44.1kHz WAV files unless chosen otherwise.
- Suitable for radio and digital distribution such as Spotify and other streaming platforms.
- Required if you wish to have a CD Production Master made up.
- Apple Digital Masters: Delivered as 24bit WAV files. Sample rate same as supplied source file.
- If you supply mixes at any resolution between 24 bit / 44.1kHz to 24 bit / 96kHz, we’ll provide the master at the same resolution. Apple Digital Masters are optional, Apple Music and other digital distributors will accept Standard Digital Masters.
- Apple Digital Masters is an Apple initiative launched after the release of its new generation of AAC encoding tools that accept hi-resolution PCM sources. It includes a set of best practices for mastering specifically for Apple Music, and mastering houses/engineers need to be approved by Apple to provide them.
- Vinyl Masters (VYN): Delivered as 24bit WAV files. Sample rate same as supplied source file with audio optimised for the vinyl cutting process.
- CD Production Master (DDP): Delivered as a digital DDP file along with a 301 DDP Player. Created from 16bit / 44.1khz mastered WAV files.
- The CD Production Master (DDP) is the final sequenced EP or album master with gaps, fades and encoded metadata including CD text and ISRCs.
- DDP is a licensed standard for a Red Book Audio CD, and the format requested by a CD manufacturing plant.
- PreMaster CD (PMCD) available upon request.
- Custom WAV Masters: Audio can be mastered to a specified target loudness to suit your needs.
- Opt for 16bit / 24bit resolution
- Opt for 48kHz / 88.2kHz / 96kHz sample rate
- Suitable for specific hi-resolution and video sync requirements, broadcast, long-term archiving
- MP3: A file format that uses lossy file-compression. Suitable for uncritical listening and EPKs (Electronic Press Kits).
- Inferior sound quality to lossless formats (WAVS, AIFF etc) thus unsuitable for encoding into other formats.
How do I prepare my tracks/files for mastering?
- we prefer interleaved Stereo WAV files to work from. AIFF and/or dual mono LEFT and RIGHT files can also be accommodated
- MP3 format is unacceptable for mastering. 44.1KHz 24bit or higher is preferred.
- supply your mix at a sensible level: try and achieve a level close to 0dB but never allow the mix to go into the red (clipping).
- provide clear notes as to what you would like done in the mastering process (i.e. desired level and tonal balance)
- if you have a reference song then please supply details
- provide details regarding intended release platform (i.e. CD, Streaming, YouTube or Video)
- provide precise details of any special edits (i.e. remove count in at start of song, fade song at end or any other requirements)
- Bit Rate: 24Bit is preferred however 16Bit files are fine if a 24Bit source is unavailable. 32Bit Floating Point files offer no benefit but can also be used.
- Sample Rate: Please submit to us in whatever sample rate your track was recorded at. Leave any downsampling to us. If you require masters outside of the standard 44.1Khz sample rate, please let us know.
- Peak Level: There is a lot of advice around saying that -3 is a good target which is fine, however as long as the audio isn’t clipped (unless a deliberate effect), or very low level, then the mastering engineer can adjust the gain as needed.
- Master Buss Processing: This is often case-by-case, as it’s easy to overdo compression/saturation/limiting on the master buss. We don’t advise removing it completely however, as it may lose the intended vibe. If you are unsure, you can provide us with both a version with master buss processing on, and a version with it off.
What is the turnaround time for mastering?
It averages 2 business days, if you have something urgent please call us and we will try to deliver more quickly.
If you upload your project via the online bookings form and your chosen engineer is unable to meet the deadline, we will get in contact to advise of their next availability, or suggest an alternative engineer.
What are your payment terms?
Strictly upfront payment. We cannot send any mastered files before payment has been processed.
What is GST?
GST stands for Goods and Services Tax, which is only charged to customers within Australia. If you are outside of Australia, GST will not be added to your mastering fees.
What are Apple Digital Masters?
Formerly called “Mastered For iTunes”, Apple’s new spec for delivering higher resolution masters.
Apple Digital Masters are optional – Apple Music and other digital distributors will accept standard 16Bit masters.
What is the difference between an unattended (charged per-song) and an attended (charged per-hour) session?
Most of our sessions are client unattended, which allows our engineers to work efficiently and to their own schedule – and we pass the saving onto you. However, we enjoy our clients attending sessions and your music has our undivided attention whilst you are here (hence the hourly rate).
Can you master instrumentals, radio versions, vocal tracks, etc?
Yes we can master alternate mixes which are charged at $50+GST each. It is best to supply these at the time of mastering the main mix so everything can be done together and more quickly.
Is my track good enough to master? Can you give me tips for improving my mix?
We are happy to listen to your song before booking in mastering, please contact us to discuss. Any way of improving the mix will enable us to improve the final master.
Can you master to/from tape?
Definitely! This is usually done on an hourly rate, please contact us to discuss.
Can you master from stems?
Currently our engineers offer only stereo mastering in an unattended session. We do have engineers available to stem mix so please get in touch to discuss.
What is a production master & why do I need it?
A production master is the “master” copy of the CD that all the manufactured versions are made from. You need a master when you want to have a run of CDs produced at a production plant.
What’s the difference between PMCD and DDPi Master? Which do you recommend?
The major difference between the two formats is that a PMCD master is the physical disc, where as a DDPi master is a file, that can be burnt onto a DVD, sent via the internet, or backed up onto a hard drive. We recommend the DDPi format because a DDPi can be backed up onto multiple hard drives, so with this format you will only ever need to pay for one master. With a PMCD master, the master is a physical item and if it is lost or damaged you will need another.
What is CD-Text?
CD-Text is information such as release and song name that be encoded on a PMCD or DDP master. Some, but not all, CD players (such as DJ and car systems) can read this text.
What is the DDP player software?
The DDP player software will play a DDP master, allowing you to audition it exactly as it will be as a commercially manufactured CD, including gaps, track names and ISRC’s. You can also burn your own reference CD’s using the DDP player. This is available to all clients for free – please contact email@example.com.
How do I use the DDP player software?
Please make sure you follow the instructions for installation carefully.
- Launch the DDP player software
- Drag and drop the entire (unzipped) DDP folder we have provided you into the yellow window of the DDP player software.
The DDP player is playing my DDP fast / high pitch / weird…
It is likely that the sample rate is set incorrectly. To fix this, go to the Tools Menu > Settings > Audio Settings and set the Sample Rate to 44100Hz.
I put my reference / master / manufactured CD in iTunes and it doesn’t show the song or artist names.
iTunes uses an online Database called Gracenote to display the info about an audio disc, and is not relevant to CD-text encoding.
How do I make iTunes display song names of my CD?
Simply enter the name, artist, and other relevant info into iTunes and then go to the Advanced menu > “Submit CD Track Names…”. This will update the Gracenote database (see above) which all iTunes users will be able to access.
What are ISRC’s?
ISRCs are a 12 digit code that identify a sound recording. iTunes and other digital distributors use them to track sales and radio stations use them to track the number of plays to calculate royalty payments.
What is a UPC?
UPC (sometimes also known as EAN) stands for Universal Product Code and is a 13 digit code that is a type of barcode. They can be encoded into CD Masters (either DDP’s or PMCD’s), although they are not required.
CD masters require the code to be 13 digits however some UPC’s are supplied as 12 digits. In that case we can ensure compliance by adding a 0 to the beginning of the code.
I have completed my mastering, now what?
Check out the following resources and services:
- For CD manufacturing, talk to Mad CD’s or Media Movers in Sydney, and Implant Media in Melbourne.
- For online distribution and promotion (including upload to the iTunes store), contact the team at DITTO Music.
- For other advice and ideas, peruse MusicNSW’s resources , APRA’s Music Industry Contacts and the Arts Law Centre of Australia website.
I have other questions, or need help using your site
We are happy to help, please contact us on +61 (0)2 9698 5888 or firstname.lastname@example.org