All the parts recorded by the musicians, mixed over and over again, adding electronics and taking them away (and adding them again), remixing, ah finally ready to master! Or so you think...
All the work mixing the project getting things to fit together just right and you send it off to be mastered. I thought about trying to do that myself and I am sure I could gotten it to work, but after hearing the music so much its great to have a fresh pair of ears listen to it. He actually thought the mixes sounded great and off he went to do his magic. Mastering is the art of finishing touches on the audio. Leveling and smoothing out frequencies so that when it is played on different systems and platforms it still holds up sonically. It also gets the sound to industry standards sonically. First gluing the sound together and evening it out then raising the over all perceived volume level to compete with other music in the industry (ever watch those loud commercials and think "wow those are sou loud!"). They are actually compressed to keep a consistent volume but never exceeding the loudest part of the TV program. So they get rid of the volume contrast found in the program and keep everything up to that peak volume so that when you go to the kitchen etc you can still hear the commercial! Luckily the music industry isn't quite that bad. Dynamic contrast can still exist if it's not pop music.
Now back to our project. The mastering engineer sends me back a version to listen too and wow it has more life! Perfect all done... well maybe not. As I listen closer I hear some great things, more width in the stereo field, snare drum has more life, all good stuff. And then it hits you, the piano is now the focal point, or one side sounds heavier than the other, or the cymbals became harsh, the list goes on. The mastering process is a very subtle one, using a few tools that should make small changes, but sometimes not small enough. Soooo, he tries a couple more things and although better, that piano still is too much, etc. Now I have to tweak the original mix that we thought sounded great. Luckily these are now minor changes, send it back, he masters it, sent it back and yes we have it! No, we don't. Again better but still not right, now something else is bothersome, like a game of wack-o-mole! Ten versions later and I can live with it!
For all of the time and energy the great thing is that every time I am involved in the recording process, I learn so much. This time as the person who mixed it, I learned a whole lot about how to get things to sound the way I want. In the mastering process I learned to hear recordings in a deeper way understanding more of the subtleties and nuances that exist in recorded music. And now the album is finished! Ok maybe not. Its close though, two more tunes to be mastered. With that here is the mastered version of South Sphere! Next time we will talk about releasing the album! Click Here to Listen