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How to Master Audio Production

How to Master Audio Production

Here are some suggestions for your mastering process, which we utilize here. It may not be the most exciting reading, but it’s worth your while to read up on the technical aspects of what quality digital sign content with a side of audio entails:

Warning: This may get a little technical!

My name is Scott Mead, and I am the Multimedia Engineer over here at LobbyPOP. I an going to share my passion with you right here, right now: Audio engineering! For the sake of proper sound envelopes on a compilation, some pieces may need major sonic surgery, and this may require multiband cuts and boosts of 3 to 4 dB or more once everything is in the computer.

I like to deal with corrective EQ in real time during the transfer stage. I listen to a few passes of each individual piece at a moderate volume level and formulate an EQ curve to compensate for deficiencies in the recording medium, the mixing environment, or the acoustical space where the audio was recorded. For example, stereo-miked live recordings often have at least one band of pronounced, boxy room tone between 250 and 400 Hz, which can be easily detected by boosting the gain and sweeping the frequency of a medium-bandwidth filter within this range. When the EQ boost centers on this acoustical resonance mode, you will notice an audible increase of mushy midrange reverberation; gently attenuate the resonance while adjusting the frequency bandwidth as needed.

You can determine the proper amount of attenuation by comparing the EQ in its active and bypassed positions. You can also fine-tune the EQ parameters so that an acceptable increase in midrange clarity occurs with only a minimal decrease of overall warmth, instrumental tone, and other desirable low-end qualities. If you plan to EQ in the computer, keep your input levels a little lower during the transfer to allow for potential signal boosting and the subsequent increase in gain it may produce. Any overall gain changes, normalization, or compression should be done after all EQ decisions have been made. If you need to equalize a normalized region, avoid digital overloads by dropping the overall gain of the track by 2 or 3 dB before adding EQ. You can use EQ and gain “spot” changes-whether on an intro, a single note or phrase, or an entire section of a piece-to correct mixing or performance flaws, remove clicks and hum, clean up quiet sections, and even smooth over a troublesome edit. There is often a lot of this detail work involved in cleaning up semiprofessional and live recordings; how much you want to do depends on your time and workload, processing power, skill, and, most of all, patience. Dithering to 16 bits is a standard last step for any files, regions, or playlists that have undergone gain changes, equalization, compression, fades, or other digital signal processing that generates requantized (say, greater than 16-bit) digital word lengths. If you’re dealing with a client or outside ad agency exec, make sure he or she gets a reference copy (clearly marked as “not for production”), and be prepared to back up the project or leave it on your hard drive for a few days until you get approval from all interested parties. When everyone’s happy with the final version, send to the client, and we save a duplicate disc in case the master gets lost or damaged. If there is any doubt in your mind that you haven’t heard the last of this project, do a complete data backup; save all playlist and editing information, if possible.