I've mastered a number of albums, EPs and singles for Mediaeval Baebes, Pythia, Ethan Ash, Daisy and The Dark amongst others. Mastering is the final creative process in the production of a record, but it also stands as one of the most technical process involved in the final quality control of your artefact. In mastering we can modify and equalise the spectral balance, tighten low or high frequency sounds and manipulate the stereo width and density of tracks. These all allow the music to be brought to a comparable contemporary standard to that of similar modern releases.
During mastering we also look at the sound and level of all the tracks on an album and ensure that the complete product is cohesive and representative of the artistic vision. This can be a challenge with songs that have been recorded over a number of years, in different studios or with compilation albums, but it's a very worthwhile step.
Also during mastering, it is necessary to deduce and implement the gaps between songs and suitable fade in and out profiles for each track. Noise removal during quiet sections might be necessary too. The ISRC data and CD Text can also be encoded into the master files at this stage. I will prepare final masters in the standard Disk Descrition Protool (DDP) format, which all manufacturers can duplicate from the highest guarantee of quality control. I can also provide audio CD, Wav and MP3 files too, for upload to digital distribution agents.
Over recent years there has been a tendancy for mastering engineers to make songs louder and louder by adding high levels of dynamic range compression or limiting to a track, commonly known as 'the loudness war'. I have conducted a number of research studies on the effects of applying heavy compression at the final mastering stage, which show that unpleasant, fatiguing and heavily distorted audio is the result - even though louder tracks might have a more immediate impact on first listen. I'm happy to raise and monitor the loudness of your tracks during mastering, but will use my best methods to do this whilst genrating the very least possible amount of distortion. I'll give my professional opinion at all times when I think this is becoming excessive and detremental to the music quality.
I've been lucky to work with some of the world's best mastering engineers on a number of commercial and academic research projects, including Mandy Parnell, Friedemann Tischmeyer, Barry Grint, Ray Staff, Michael Romonowski and Adreas 'LUPO' Lubich - hopefully some of their wisdom has rubbed off on me too!
PS - get the fantastic Tischmeyer Technology Dynamic Range Meter free here....