"The Four Most Important Aspects of Audio Production"
WRITTEN BY: KYLE OBLIVION
JULY 9, 2015
Ever wondered how an audio track sounds so good on a cd that you buy compared to your friend or family member's audio recording they whipped together on their phone, in their garage or closet? I'm sure most people can tell the difference between Dad's iPhone audio recording and a Grammy Award winning track, and the difference is ... (wait for it...) Professional Acoustics & Audio Engineering!
In the universe of audio engineering and production (and especially music), there are four basic stages involved from the time the talent records to the finished and prepped quality track! Audio recording, editing, mixing and mastering (which is what I mainly do!) are the four basic stages of audio engineering. Each job is imperative to the overall quality of the piece but if the first three are done right, audio mastering can be the "cherry on top of the milkshake", so to speak. But let's go ahead and check out the whole process to recording a track to completion.
Here are the four basic stages in audio recording
1) THE FIRST STAGE in audio production involves the recording engineer who's job it is to oversee the placement of microphones and musical elements in the room to be recorded and then record the session. They must have know-how with the DAW audio interface as well as what an even-toned sound is. If there are airplanes overhead, pops and clicks or external sounds that will ruin the flow of the track, they need to know how to keep from recording that. They record the artist which is in the ADR room which is treated for deadening the sound within the space. Deadening dissolves all frequency responses and allows for a cleaner initial recording.
2) THE SECOND STAGE in audio production is mixing this usually begins with editing the recording, which includes tuning vocals, clearing up any noise (pops, background sound, clicks and other un-wanted audio sounds), trimming the tracks and prepping the recording session for the mix.
3) THE THIRD STAGE in audio production involves the mixing/sound engineer mixing the track. They can add all the various sounds recorded and layer voices on top of each other and create the final flow of the recording.
4) And last but not least, THE FOURTH AND FINAL STAGE of an audio recording is mastering which is the most important aspect of the project. After the mix engineer has finalized his mix and approves it with the client/partner/ (or get feedback), they can then begin the process of mastering. Often times this is the most over looked stage in audio recording (for the reason that...) A mastering engineer has the ability to enhance the quality of the recording giving off an amazing clean and finished quality unparalleled by raw recordings without a final touch.
"WHY IS MASTERING ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF AUDIO PRODUCTION?"
The sole job of an audio mastering engineer is to enhance the sound of the track, provide quality control beyond the mixers capability and ensure the final recording is free from error. Think of audio like a salad. Do you just want lettuce, dressing and a tomato on your salad (recording & mixing) or would you rather have a mix of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, broccoli, dressing and a pinch of ground pepper? (mastering) What tastes better? (I.E. What sounds better? Raw and uncut or clean, smooth to the ear and entrancing?
A mastering engineer can tell a lot about the production and engineering of a track/recording just from the sound and appearance (on a DAW timeline) of the recording and can often times relay invaluable techniques and suggestions that will ensure that the track meets industry technical standards.
One very important element of mastering is "translation". This is the term that describes how the track sounds on multiple systems from a phone, club, single or EP album. The finalized track should always have the same presence and feel wherever it's played.
In order to achieve this, it is important to have a qualified mastering engineer working in a proper workspace which has been acoustically treated for diffusion of the sound waves (not deadening -- which is for a recording vocal booth). The engineer room should be normal and natural sounding with a flat frequency response. Diffusion is used as little as possible, that way the engineer can tune the recordings so the anomalies in the mix are revealed and can be tread as accurately as possible.
A Diverse Selection of Audio Samples
Mastered by Kyle Oblivion
While much of the mastering engineers job lay in acoustic sciences there is still an artistic aspect when it comes to designing the final audio for your recording. This is the transformative stage where the track is fitted with all the trimmings of a pro sound and the mastering engineer must select a sound that transmits the correct vibe to their targeted audience. The sound will be trimmed and compacted to sound its best no matter what listening environment the track is played.
After the actual master copy is complete and it's time to export the track for usage, CD text, hashtags, and jpegs are embedded into the finalized tracks that the audio engineer should provide the proper forms for to credit the team involved in the recording. This is important because once the track is live, the embedded information will allow people to find the track online a lot easier by searching the information that was embedded in the track.
In conclusion: It is extremely important that each audio technician does their job with the upmost quality because whatever quality passes down the line can be hard to "clean up" to a presentable and professional final product. An audio recorder must always have a specific ear trained for inconsistent sounds and noises that should not be involved in the track. The audio editor must completely understand the flow of the final recording so they know how to piece all the recordings together and then bring all the audio levels to a consistent format. The audio mixer pulls all the sounds to an equalized sound and controls the flow of the piece. A mastering engineer can bring organization to the final project and if the release is a compilation, mastering can bring a uniformity of the music on the final recording. They are the "wizards" that allow for a cleaner sound, which adds more appeal to the average listener. The most commercially successful recordings in the world are all mastered and industry professionals mainly deal only with a fine-tuned, high-quality sounds as the finest quality has the best chance at attracting new audiences and a larger fan base means the artist can likely fill up their fridge daily AND go on amazing vacations more frequently (among other things). It is also known that some audio engineers sometimes do multiple or all of these jobs but is not specifically necessary to do so (unless you're a workhorse, trying to save money, or just love what you do)!
These are some of the basic points that hopefully can help in the understanding of the importance of the important aspects of audio production. If you have ANY questions about mastering, please place them in the comments below and I'll either edit this blog to answer your questions or write a new blog if it's a different subject matter than this topic.
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Kyle Oblivion is an audio mastering specialist working as a partner with cREAtive Castle Studios. He can master just about any track you put in front of him with a delicate ear & technique transferred from his vast knowledge of Ableton Live, which has earned him the highest tier rank of "Evangelist" by the creators themselves. Visit his portfolio here (and then book him)!