The mastering process: some explanation


September 12, 2014

Last week, we received the masters from Shane The Cutter. Shane is a very talented sound engineer working at the renowned UK company Finyl Tweek. I know him for years. He did the master of my first release roughly 10 years ago! This day, I was in the studio with him. It was my first experience of this part of the record production process. As you can imagine, I was pretty stressed and excited but he was so cool and professional. I have very good memories of our first meeting and I always try to work with him when I can.

After I received the masters last week, I talked to some friends about how happy I was with the quality of his work when I realised that for a lot of people it is a relatively unknown part of the recording process.

First, mastering is the process of optimising sound translation of the track on all playback systems. The tune has to sound good on your computer, on a big sound system, in your car. This is the kind of standardisation the mastering aims at. It requires critical listening and even if some softwares exist for this purpose, I highly advice you to work with a professionnal. If the mixdown of your tune is correct, the mastering will make significant improvement, making it sounds larger and more solid.

Once you’re happy with the result, the sound engineer engraves the grooves into the master disc. At this stage, you can call the engineer a record cutter (hence the name “Shane The Cutter”). This cutting technique is usually done for every material you listen to: CDs, DVDs, and in our case the mighty vinyls.

Each side of the record is cut into a separate Master lacquer. The master lacquer is an acetate-coated aluminum disc measuring 14 inches in diameter (larger than the finished vinyl) that contains all of the grooves that represent the final mastered sound of your recording. The exact same grooves that will end up on each and every record you send to press. It’s coated with silver, which makes it conductive for the next process: electroplating with nickel. The nickel is then separated from the lacquer, giving a disc with ridges where the grooves would normally be – a ‘negative’ copy. Even though it is made of metal, it is too delicate to use to make pressings. This disc is known as the ‘master’ and there is only one. This master is sent to the pressing plant.

Shane did an amazing work on the audio treatment of our first release, bringing more space and definition to the sound. Thank you so much again! I cannot wait now wait for the test pressings!

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