Mastering 101: Preparation

Every Monday, we will be looking at one of these mastering topics. If you’ve missed one, click on the topic below to catch up:

  1. What is mastering?
  2. Signal Flow & Metering
  3. EQ
  4. Compression
  5. Limiting
  6. Preparation

This week, we look at Preparation.

Part of a mastering engineer’s job is to successfully deliver your masters as stated by your client’s requested deliverable format. Depending on where and how the music is going to be consumed, there are several methods of delivery and file-formats that you would need to take note. We will go through some of the common formats and how you can assemble them for your client.


1. Standard File Format for Music Streaming & Online Stores (Spotify, iTunes Music)


File Format: WAV
Bit Depth: 16-bit
Sample Rate: 44.1Khz

Preparing files for online music stores and music streaming companies are pretty straightforward. All you would need to do is to make sure your files meet the specified format. Here’s the steps I would recommend to follow:

  1. Trim the start and ends of each song so that when you press play, it starts right where it supposes to start and ends where it supposes to end.
  2. If you are running a higher sample rate and bit depth than what is specified (you should be definitely running at least at a higher bit-depth), you would need to sample convert / dither them accordingly. Most DAWs have in-built converters to handle this for you but if you would like to take it further, I recommend using a dedicated program such as Myriad to do it for you.
  3. Another crucial piece of info you’ll need to take note is to make sure that there are no bit-stream overs on your master. Most, if not all, streaming stores convert your music to either AAC or mp3 format and you would want to make sure your master does not clip after it goes through the encoding. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you can use tools such as Sonnox Codec Toolbox to check for overs.
  4. Lastly, as a mastering engineer, you may be required to submit ISRC Codes / Metadata (Artists information, Album titles, Track titles) to an aggregator. There’s no easy way to do this but to type it out and double check to make sure that there are no mistakes.
  5. If you are helping an indie artist or yourself, aggregators such as Tunecore, CD Baby often offer you the ability to get ISRC codes for your tracks.


2. Mastered for iTunes(MFiT)

File Format: WAV
Bit Depth: 24-bit
Sample Rate: 441.Khz – 192Khz (Project Dependent) 

You can read all about the Mastered for iTunes format here. But rather than making you read a 10-page document on a file delivery format, we are just going to summarize what it is and what you need to do to meet the specifications.

  1. MFiT requires that you submit the highest possible resolution master if possible. That said, if you are running a 44.1Khz / 24bit project, do not up-sample your masters to a higher sample rate as it does not make any difference in any way.
  2. An important step in MFiT is that there are no bit-stream overs using Apple’s AAC encoder. Apple will reject your master if there are overs. Thus, it will be good to use a tool to help you check with the overs.
  3. MFiT also recommends about 1dBFS of headroom on your masters. Therefore, when you are submitting files for iTunes under MFiT, you might want to re-bounce your masters to accommodate this specification.


3. Audio CD (DDP Image)


File Format: WAV
Bit Depth: 16-bit
Sample Rate: 44.1Khz

If you are submitting the masters to replicate on an audio CD, the pressing plant would most likely want a DDP Image (Disc Description Protocol).

A DDP image consist of data that holds all your audio tracks, metadata, CD-Text and ISRC Codes. In order to make a DDP Image, you would an DDP authoring software. One of the best ones I know is by HOFA called the HOFA CD-Burn & DDP. It is a simple and straightforward to use DDP maker that allows you to easily make DDP images within minutes. All you have to do is line up your tracks, make sure you trim the start and ends, and enter all the necessary metadata for your track and you are done!

The preparation process is a meticulous one. Make sure you double, triple check your masters before you submit them to an aggregator or directly to a label or your client. Mistakes usually aren’t forgiven in the industry.

This blogpost concludes our six-part mastering series. If you have any questions of feedback, do write in the comments and let us know!

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March 7, 2016

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice