Do you even need mastering? And why shouldn't you just send your track or album to an online automated mastering service, it's all mastering after all, isn't it? Think of it this way: if you were a winemaker who patiently grew grapevines, meticulously picked the tastiest grapes, used the best fermentation equipment to produce the best wine one can taste… would you serve your delicious wine in a party plastic cups?
If you've spent hour, days, and months writing, arranging, recording and mixing the best possible sounding record, why would you let a soulless algorithm put the finishing touches to your music? MAYBE USE THIS SOMEWHERE ELSE
We've all heard it: mastering is a dark art! No one really knows what goes on in the mastering room, but everyone knows that the mastering engineer is a magician who can hear way beyond human capability. They're superhumans! Well, not quite.
Mastering engineers are just very used to their equipment and rooms, so whenever someone comes in with a mix they can tell exactly what could be improved tonally or loudness-wise in a record. In order to better assess the possible shortcomings of a mix, mastering engineers will often reference their work against well-established, professionally released records. That comparison plus the engineer's familiarity with his or her studio, monitors, and gear, will help them decide what needs to be improved in the mastering process. And remember, mastering engineers can greatly improve the final sound of a record, but they can never fix bad song writing, recording, or mixing! So what exactly do mastering engineer use to improve a record?
Mastering involves similar types of tools one would use in the recording and mixing process, such as equalization, compression, limiting, etc. The only different is the way such tools are used. If we compare music production to painting, the recording/mixing stages would be analogous to a painter's broad strokes on a canvas with a large brush. On the other hand, mastering would be comparable to putting finishing touches to the painting with finer and more delicate brushes. A brush is always a brush, but it can be more or less precise, or it can be used in a broader or more detailed way. That's what mastering is: selecting specific tools that will affect the sound in a very controlled way, so that the final record sounds exciting, intimate, loud, dynamic, or whatever the desired final result may be!
Microphones come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. But what's with the endless mic options recording studios usually offer? How can a microphone affect the type of sound we record so much?
Many aspects of microphones influence what gets recorded. The most obvious aspect is positioning. If you're recording a vocalist and place a microphone 10 feet away from their mouth you'll definitely be getting way too much room reverberation along with the actual voice. But maybe that's what you want, there's no right or wrong!
Another important aspect is the type of transducer that is used inside the microphone. Transducer, simply put, is a physical part of the microphone that vibrates with disturbances in air molecules (sound traveling through air) and then translates the vibration into electrical signals that get recorded onto tape or a computer. Microphones can be classified in three main types according to their transducers: 1) dynamic, 2) condenser, and 3) ribbon.
Dynamic mics are usually made with coil transducers, which are spring-like structures that vibrate with sound. Dynamics are usually very sturdy mics but less sensitive to higher frequencies, which some people perceive as a "dull" or more "veiled" sound.
Condensers are made with two electrically charged plates, often called the diaphragm, that live right next to each other but don't touch. When sound hits the diaphragm, the variation of distance between the two plates is measured by the microphone's circuit and sent out as an electrical signal to be recorded. The transducers in condenser microphones are much more sensitive to higher frequencies than dynamics on average. Therefore, engineers tend to use condensers to record sounds that have a lot of detail in the higher frequency ranges such as string instruments, voices, etc.
Finally, ribbon microphones get their name from having transducers that are very thin sheets of metal, which we call the ribbon. Ribbons are very delicate structures and can capture a lot of detail in the low and mid range frequencies, but are usually less sensitive to higher frequencies. Ribbon technology actually precedes dynamic and condenser designs, which is why engineers will often use ribbon mics to achieve a more "vintage" sound. Ribbons are also handy when trying to tame harsh sounds, for example a very bright set of cymbals or string instruments that sound a bit harsh.