Mastering is the final process in a long chain of decisions before the finished album is sent off to be manufactured. After all the careful rehearsals, recording, editing and mixing, mastering is the last opportunity to influence the sound of the CD. The mastering engineer listens to all the material on incredibly accurate (and therefore extremely expensive) loudspeakers, making subtle adjustments to the EQ and overall volume of each piece.
A fun – and actually quite creative – part of the process is deciding on how long the gap between each track should last. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? After all, it’s only a second or two between pieces on a CD… isn’t it? Get it right and nobody listening to the album from start to finish will give the duration of the gaps a second thought – but get it wrong and it will be glaringly obvious if a louder piece comes in too quickly after the end of the previous quiet track. Leave too long a gap and listeners will be reaching for the volume control or checking to see if their CD player is still working!
Other tasks involve embedding each track with information such as the titles that will come on the screens of suitably equipped CD players or making sure each piece has the correct ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) – a standard digital code that means that the pieces can be tracked and the correct royalties paid whenever the CD is broadcast.
Thanks to the patient input of Dave Aston at The Digital Audio Co. up in Skipton, North Yorkshire, we’ve just about completed the mastering process and I’m reviewing test copies of the CD. This usually involves driving around listening to the album on the car’s CD player!
When all is finalised, the whole album is bundled up into a file known as a DDP and uploaded to the factory ready for manufacture. Not long now…