The Recording Process, Part 5: Mastering
It's a very exciting moment when you step out of the studio with your songs tracked, edited and mixed - ready for the final stage of the recording process: Mastering! And thanks to your support, Year of the Nightingale is being mastered by Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer Mandy Parnell, who welcomed us into her world-class studio with a hug and a free lunch. Thanks Mandy!
Mastering has something of a mystery to it so I'd like to share with you a few key points about its role in the making of an album.
From a purely practical point of view, mastering is the transfer of recordings from one medium to another, that is, from the original studio 'tapes' to the medium which the listener will use (for example, CDs, vinyl or digital files).
But mastering involves far more than a mere transfer of information from one medium to another. Throughout the stages of tracking, editing and mixing, Kelly and I have listened to the songs literally thousands of times and it’s a challenge for our ears to remain consistently objective. As a mastering engineer, Mandy brings a fresh pair of ears into the recording process and helps us to refine the details of the album. Mandy describes her role as ‘an objective set of ears' and 'an audio midwife' delivering the album from the womb of the studio into the world of the listeners. Mastering brings the album from a bud to a blossom.
Some other important aspects of Mastering are:
- Consistency: Having been recorded in many different locations over a long period of time, the songs may end up at different volumes, which would mean that the listener would have to adjust the volume for every song. Mandy ensures that all the songs are brought to a consistent level while maintaining their natural individual dynamics of loud and soft.
- Tracklist: Mastering is also the stage where we finalize the tracklist - the sequence in which the songs will appear on the final album. It's important to create a tracklist in which each song flows well into the next, different enough to be interesting but not so different as to be jarring. Through experimenting with different sequences, we've come to a tracklist that feels great to us, both musically and in the sequence of words. The album opens with two prayers, followed by several verses from The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh touching on themes such as the heart, love, tests and trials, personal responsibility and human nature.
As we sat in the mastering suite hearing the songs through Mandy's state-of-the-art sound system, I thought a lot about all of you, and how the contributions each of you has made have enabled me, Kelly and all the musicians involved, to bring this project forward.
With the songs tracked, edited, mixed and mastered, we can safely say that the album is complete - and we can't wait to give it to you!
There's still plenty of work ahead and I'll be in touch soon with more updates as we move towards the album release.
Happy New Year to all of you!!
PS. If you're interested in understanding more about mastering, below is an in-depth interview with Mandy Parnell: