CD/eCD Mastering Services

Why master your music?

  The process of mastering (or more precisely premastering), is the last creative step in the recording process and the first step in CD or album replication (manufacturing). Music mastering is an art and a science and there are NO shortcuts for years of ear training and NO software application which can substitute for years of experience. For illustration, compare CD mastering to the editor’s job of taking a raw manuscript and turning it into a book. The book editor must understand syntax, grammar, organization and writing style, as well as know the arcane techniques of binding, color separation, printing presses and the like. Likewise, the CD mastering engineer marries the art of music with the science of sound.

  As an artist, producer, engineer or independent label you may ask yourself, “Why do I need to master?” Of course this is a valid question, particularly when you are on a tight budget and premastering represents spending more money! There are several reasons for mastering:

  1. To perfect the spacings and level changes between songs on your release.
  2. To perfect the overall tonal balance of each song which may not have been achieved in mixing.
  3. To perfect the dynamics of each song so that the record is at it’s optimum level.
  4. To gain consistency between songs on the release so that transitions between songs sound natural.
  5. To gain that competitive, world-class sound worthy of comparison to any major label release.
  6. To acquire a low-BLER master disc, suitable for mass replication, that retains every nuance of your original performance and is truly ready to be accepted by a manufacturing plant.

  In fact, many producers often have no idea in what order to arrange the tracks until after all mixes are completed. Track mixdown can take anywhere from 4 hours to 4 weeks, depending on the producer’s predilections, the artist’s whims and the budget. Normally each tune is mixed in isolation and rarely does one have the luxury to switch and compare the songs as mixing proceeds. Some mixes may be done at 2 am, when ears are fatigued or at 12 noon when ears are fresh. These things can even happen after weeks in the studio, and the problems sometimes don’t become apparent until the album is assembled in its intended order.

  Tending to all these factors will result in a release that is far superior in sound quality to one that has been poorly mastered or not mastered at all. Mastering requires an “accurate” listening environment, specific outboard gear and a mastering engineer with years of experience to do a good job. After all, you are relying upon this person to make final judgments about the sound of your music.

Why spend money on Mastering?

  Because it will sound better, of course! But seriously... we guarantee that you’ll prefer the sound of your recording after we’ve spent some time in the mastering room. Most importantly, don’t skimp on this stage! Let us provide the objective ear you need, with years of mastering experience, to give your music that “major label” sound to stand out of the crowd.

  We won’t change your master unless we have your explicit permission to do so. If you want your CDs to sound exactly the same as your digital master, then all we will do is make sure that the highest peak actually reaches -0.1dBfs, that each track starts and ends cleanly, and that there is digital silence between the tracks where appropriate. We do this on the computer by carefully monitoring the levels to within one-tenth of a dB, and adjusting the overall peak and the silence with digital faders; the time taken for mastering is consequently only about twice the program duration. These leave-it-alone jobs are very quick, very easy, and (at just $70 per hour) very economic.

  However, we know we can always make your music sound better than it does when it comes in. Using sophisticated digital techniques, at full 24-bit resolution, we can improve the clarity, definition, and depth of your recording. We can add equalization and limiting, we can remove hiss, hum, crackles and clicks; we can take care of timing problems, dropouts, glitches, and dropped notes. We can even get rid of unwanted words for radio play. We understand the music whether classical, jazz, dance, rock, house or reggae and can help you get the best possible sound from your original mix master.

How long does Mastering take?

  Until we know more about your project or your music it is hard to determine how much time is needed to premaster. We have spent as little as 10 minutes on a song and as long as 4 hours. On average, it takes between 30 and 45 minutes per song but since each project is different, no firm estimate can be given until we hear the material. There is a natural point of diminishing returns, and for the vast majority of CDs we master, premastering rarely takes more than 5 hours.

  We work with a lot of different clients from garage bands, making their first CD, to artists who have spent considerable amounts on the recording, tracking and mixdown and now want it mastered to the same high standard. We find that the absolute best results are achieved when the artist consults with us as he or she is doing the final mixes and we can hear the material before it is locked. But even for mail-in sessions where you cannot be present, our engineer Mark Calice always keeps in close touch with you during the mastering, making sure you know what’s happening, always discussing with you a given sonic approach to your music before proceeding with the time.

What is the difference between a CD-R and a Glass Master

  Mastering for CD should more accurately be called premastering since the true master for a Compact Disc is called the glass master, which is etched on a laser cutter at the pressing plant. There are two intermediate steps (father and mother) before creating the stampers that press your CDs.

  Ardenwood Sound & DVD premaster editing is done at the highest bit resolution possible given the originating recording format in order to preserve the original sound as much as possible. No further digital transfers are done prior to etching the glass master so your CD reference disc is WYHIWYG (What You Hear Is What You Get)

What is an Enhanced CD/DVD?

  In order to provide increased value to potential customers these days, many record companies, musicians, videographers and independent producers are opting to provide CD/DVD-ROM material on the same disc as their CD-Audio or DVD-Video material. For just a slight additional cost, we can edit and prepare assets such as video segments, still pictures, website pages and URL links, and write them to a CD or DVD for access from a personal computer. Be careful though if you have this done by someone else. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this.

Digital caveats to consider

  Analog to Digital (A/D) conversion is the weakest link in the recording chain. Repeated copying via A/D/A can result in a subtle (or not so subtle) haze or harshness in the sound. That is why, if you mix to a DAT machine, you should obtain and substitute the best-quality external ad_converter available, one that is properly dithered to 16-bits. A good 20 or 24-bit A/D is sonically far superior to any converter built into a DAT machine.

  Source tapes can come with truncated or distorted fades (where the audio sounds like it dropped off a cliff!), music with poor low-level resolution, music whose stereo width and depth have collapsed or recordings that have an indescribable “haze” over the sound compared with their sources. If you must compile one DAT tape from various others, do all transfers digitally.

  Now that you have a digital tape, never return to the analog domain unless absolutely necessary. Your digits shouldn’t hit a D/A converter again until they hit the consumer’s CD player. That means if you want to use a Pultec, LA-2, or other “analog processor”, use it during the mixdown. Ardenwood utilizes digital equalizers that do a very good job of simulating the sound of analog processors.

  The digital bits on your tape can undergo a hazardous journey through some of the digital processors and editors on the market. If there’s a DSP (Digital Signal Processor) inside, suspect the worst until you know otherwise. In other words, while you may be tempted to save time or money by doing preliminary editing with a digital audio editor, be very careful. A digital editor, after all, is just one big computer program. All computer algorithms have bugs (or just sub-standard DSP programming) and one of those bugs could be guilty of distorting your digits, in drastic or very subtle ways. Unless you can afford the sophisticated digital mastering systems like those used at Ardenwood Sound & DVD, let the mastering engineer do the manipulation.

  With few exceptions, (and I must emphasize this again), be sure to keep your sound in the digital domain once it is there. Ardenwood recommends that digital copying, editing, level changing, fading, equalizion and other processing be left to our premastering expert.

  For an in-depth online technical discussion of digital audio, [click here].

How will using Ardenwood benefit me more than say... Disc Makers?

  Having all details of your project handled with a personalized approach by a single experienced industry professional is an advantage not easily conveyed to first time artists. The bottom line is that we truly care how your project turns out and will go to extreme lengths to make sure you get the superior results you expect and deserve... guaranteed!

  Most professional mastering systems generally process their bits internally using no deeper than 24-bit (fixed) or 32-bit (float) math, leaving no digital headroom for complicated processing and EQ. Our systems go beyond the norm and use 48-bit (fixed) calculations. This level of precision allows more processing to take place with less damage to your delicate masters. Sure, you could work with less precision, but your expectations must be lowered accordingly. Ardenwood offers this sonic precision at a bargain when compared with the best world class facilities.

  Additionally, all processors at Ardenwood Sound & DVD produce 24-bit output words whenever possible. If we apply digital signal processing (DSP) to your tape, we endeavor to keep your tape in the 24-bit domain until the final CD-R master. When properly applied, 24-bit processes maintain a degree of warmth and space that is hard to believe. The end result is exceptional sounding, ear-friendly recordings!

  Last but not least is something discussed elsewhere on this page. The experience of the mastering engineer is THE most important ingredient in making your decision. Read on in the following “What to look for in a Mastering Engineer” section for information on our chief engineer’s qualifications.

What to look for in a Mastering Engineer

  The mastering engineer must have a musical as well as technical background, good ears, an excellent sense of pitch, sophisticated digital processing tools and the knowledge to use them correctly. He is sensitive to the needs of the producer and the artist and treats each project or CD with individual attention. He must also understand what will happen to the CD when it hits the radio, car or home stereo system. Just because the engineer who recorded your music did a good job, does not mean he can master it equally as well.

The engineer should be willing to explain what it is he will do in the mastering process.

  There are many mastering studios that claim they have some “magic” technology that is not available anywhere else. Although it would be nice if there was some “black magic” box that would make your music sound incredible, this is simply not true. The quality of mastering is determined by only two things: the quality of the mastering studio and the experience and expertise of the mastering engineer.

  Founded in 1997 by producer/engineer Mark Calice, a Grammy-nominated industry veteran with over 25 years of audio and video experience, Ardenwood Sound & DVD leverages Mark’s extensive background to transform your music into the best it can sound... satisfaction guaranteed (without additional charges)!

What media types do you accept?

  Currently, we can accept various forms of music, video and data on disc, tape and cartridge formats. To see the complete list of media types and audio/video formats we accept, [click here].

Let’s sum up

  1. Mastering is a creative process, both the last step in the making of an album and the first step in the manufacturing process. Its purpose is to maximize the musicality inherent in your mix. Once that has been done to the artist’s, label’s and/or mastering engineer’s satisfaction, we take off our creative hats, put on our manufacturing hats, and use our knowledge, skill and craft to make the best low-BLER transfer possible for CD or cassette manufacturing.
  2. Mastering finishes your mix in terms of its sonic quality and balance. Part of that is simple assembly, leveling, and turning a group of songs into an album. Part of it is more subtle. The question we ask is: Can this mix be improved at all in terms of excitement, clarity, unity, emotion or whatever?
  3. Mastering should bring things together and provide the final focus for the project. It should maintain the integrity of what the artist has done, while striving to make sure every song sounds its best and attempt to make the entire album sound unified. For example, track one may be a little brighter and have more low-end than track two, making the second track sound weak in comparison. The mastering engineer’s task is to even everything out so it flows better. So, if your mix master needs help, it’s not necessarily because there’s anything wrong with the recording, it may just mean that it’s ready for the next step in the recording/manufacturing process.
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