What an age we live in! Audio recording and mixing capabilities that only a decade or two ago were limited to multi-million dollar studios are now available as mobile apps. So why does that awesome track you recorded at your last band rehearsal sound so meh on your brother’s laptop?
The answer is mastering. Audio mastering puts the finishing touch on a recording, ensuring that it will sound as good in your headphones as it does in your car or booming out of a PA system on stage.
What is Mastering? Can I Do It Myself?
Mastering is an art that requires years of training and study to, well, master. The three complex mastering tools of the audio engineer—compression, limiting, and EQ (equalization)—require finely tuned ears, as well as deep understandings of how they might interface with all the varieties audio playback technology.
Professional mastering can be pricey. Pros each have their own style and forte, which may or may not be in harmony with your own. Shopping around for a mastering engineer that really fits your project can be frustrating and time-consuming. On top of that, once you turn your tracks over you may have little say in what the final product will sound like.
Gary Levitt and the Future Moments team are changing all that.
After years of high-end recording studio work both as an engineer and a musician, he has become the driving force behind a small bouquet of apps that give your home recordings that studio polish. We previously covered the launch of their exciting app MicSwap and we recently caught up with him to learn about their latest app, AudioMaster.
I’ve been a musician and audio engineer for a long time and have been fortunate to have worked in studios with some of the best. My own band Setting Sun has put out five records and an EP. I’ve always been intrigued by future trends and frustrated by the luddite (anti-new technology) nature of the music and audio industry.
I started to get ideas of how we can make it easier, more fluid and portable for people to create music in this new mobile world. I knew I had to work with a developer that was also a musician and understands audio. It wasn’t easy, but I found him. Our first apps were MicSwap and MicSwap Pro, then AudioFix: For Videos and now AudioMaster: For Podcasts and Music.
We did actually. Mainly for podcasters and home recordists who were releasing audio that was too low in volume and lacked that final polish which sets it apart from sounding like a demo. AudioMaster isn’t meant to replace a professional mastering engineer but more to be a quick, easy, affordable way for people to push their mixes up a few notches and make sure they’re loud enough to hear on computer speakers and mobile devices.
MicSwap is first in the chain. With MicSwap, you create the song or podcast and swap mics to get different sounds. Though it does have a gain adjustment, it won’t give your audio that final polish that AudioMaster gives it. The combination of the two is really the full process: production with MicSwap and then post production with AudioMaster.
When you mix a song, podcast, or audio for film, you’re combining all the elements or layers into a single track whether it’s stereo, mono or surround sound. Mixing is tinkering with each sound by adjusting its level, adding effects, EQ’ing etc. Once you have each element sounding good in relation to the other, you mix down all the pieces together into a final track. That is your completed puzzle. All the pieces are now together.
Now it’s time to master that puzzle by finishing it with a polyurethane glaze and framing it for professional presentation. That’s mastering, and that’s where AudioMaster makes it simple for you. The final mix gets compressed and boosted in volume to make it easier on the listener’s ears.
These are merely suggestions based on the genre. Each preset has its own algorithm so I would urge users to try a few and listen for what fits their goal the best. If it’s a pop song, maybe the pop genre isn’t the one that works best for this particular song. Maybe try the Hip Hop genre if you like the added bass and thump it gives your mix.
There is no wrong choice. If it sounds good to you then it’s probably good for you.
Every genre preset in the app is slightly different and we also offer a flat EQ setting that will only limit and compress. The app mainly uses what most mastering engineers would use, which is compression, limiting and EQ.
Whew! Well the ear is a muscle. It takes time and work to get it strong. When I first started audio engineering I couldn’t hear the subtleties of compression but it’s amazing how we subconsciously feel them. I attended a three hour seminar at an AES convention that was all about compression. Three hours solely about compression and it still could’ve gone longer.
They played examples of how compression can make a performance sound tighter and how it can make it sloppier. It was subtle but you felt it. They even slowed it down so you can literally hear how the bass was no longer quite hitting with the kick drum.
My ears have developed over time and use. I wouldn’t recommend people master their own music at first. Wait until you’re sure your ears are developed and ready.