Mastering is the last stage of production. Produced according to the rules of the art. With good mastering, you can optimize your mixes and highlight your productions to the maximum.
The most common example is the misuse of a limiter to reduce dynamics in order to achieve the highest volume possible. This often results in a loss of relief with the major consequence of a lack of punch from the drums and percussion as well as an imbalance in the general balance of the mix.
Respect for the mix
Here, the ultimate goal is not to distort the production, quite the opposite! It’s about respecting the mixing work as much as possible and getting the most out of it. By entrusting your masters to a studio, you have the possibility of having a neutral listening, a new fresh perspective in an acoustic environment different from yours, allowing you to make corrections in order to re-balance the sound spectrum.
This is an important step not to be overlooked, it represents in a way the layer of varnish intended to make your productions shine.
A technical and artistic stage
In the past, mastering was a purely technical stage of preparation for pressing on vinyl or CD: indexing, homogenization of volumes from one title to another, setting up fades, etc. The artists then realized that some productions sounded better, louder, or had more cohesion than theirs.
It was then that mastering became an art form in its own right, part of the creative process of production. This is all the more true today with the famous “volume war”: everyone wants to get a master that sounds louder, clearer, wider, and punchier than the others. However, achieving this while preserving the integrity of the mix is indeed an art! It is therefore essential to understand the musical style well. Indeed, even if the technical part remains more or less similar, we probably won’t have the same aesthetic approach for a variety of tracks as for rock or metal.
Mastering is not a magic wand
It is also worth noting that mastering work has its limits. It does not in any way replace a quality mix. Certainly, He can make up for errors, but it is utopian to think that He can replace him, he completes him. On some mixes, the effect will be dramatic, on others more subtle. It all depends on the quality of the work done beforehand. When the production is excellent, the mastering will be finer.
In any case, the mastering step is essential and if you mix your music yourself in an environment that is not specially studied in terms of acoustics, avoid the mistake of mastering yourself because a second listening can optimize your productions more than you imagined!