Frequently Asked Questions about Music Mastering
Everything is included in our flat rate pricing. For every song, you'll receive an initial preview, at least one additional revision, then any outputs of your choice, whether for streaming, download, vinyl, or CD pressing.
You also get time with Mark who will listen to your concerns and dial in the sound you're seeking. Check here for detailed terms.
Work with Mark because you want the care that full-service mastering gives your tracks, without the rates of inner-city mastering studios. I take the time to understand the tone, groove, texture, etc. that you're going for.
You also get the perspective and easy communication that an experienced producer can bring.
At Stellar Sound Labs you'll enjoy:
- A high-touch, relationship-focused approach
- All revisions included
- No extra fees for additional outputs
- Full compilation sequencing
- Insights that help you refine your signature sound
Ideally, I work best when I have at least a few days' turnaround for a project. It gives me time to make multiple passes and rest my ears between critical listening, and this results in better masters.
I serve professional engineers and producers so I will accommodate your deadlines. The more time we have, the better.
All revisions are included in the price we quote you.
My initial output will be a first pass, to ensure all tracks are present in your mix and that we're on the same page.
From there, I'll master the track and dial in any changes you want. Then you should receive your masters within a couple of days.
You have a heavy workload and client demands. You need to stay in your zone, focused on what you do best.
When you have a trusted go-to mastering partner who knows your signature sound, you can focus on your mix and finish more projects. When you can give your best to each client and finish projects faster, you generate more revenue and build a larger portfolio for yourself.
No assumptions. I take the time to speak with you and understand your needs. We'll communicate openly about your project.
No babysitting. After 25+ years as a player and producer myself, I know how to deliver. I get to know your particular likes and dislikes.
No nickel-and-diming. I value our relationship and will always go the extra mile for the project.
Our perspective brings insights into mix issues and helps your future work.
Stunning results. That's what the artist expects. That's what your hard work deserves.
Mastering should make you look like a hero to your clients.
You can build mastering into your engineering fees by letting your clients know upfront that mastering with Stellar Sound Labs is part of your signature sound.
If clients like what they hear in your portfolio (they did hire you after all!) then you can inform them that to achieve the high level of quality their music deserves, their tracks need to go through detailed, custom mastering.
Mastering comes at the end of a long chain of audio processing that the mastering engineer unfortunately has little control over. I suggest being careful and conservative with the entire signal path of every track in your mix to keep it as pristine as possible. Remember that every processing stage is somewhat destructive (even if it makes it sound better) and oftentimes "less is more."
Some more tips: Get your tones upfront during recording. Avoid digital clipping at all costs. Avoiding all unnecessary sample rate conversions (watch for plugins that upsample!). We've got more technical advice here.
Absolutely. You navigate and I steer. You're paying for a service. I'm here to serve YOUR vision, not mine. However, I also won’t hold back in giving you options when I feel we can enhance the song or fit it better into genre standards.
Remember, mastering isn’t just about EQ and compression. It’s about taste. Sometimes a chorus needs a lift, or an intro is too quiet, or the backgrounds are competing with the lead vocal, or some instrument is sticking out. We'll first approach your mastering as: Can this song present itself more effectively? Can its drama and its message be enhanced?
The most important thing you can do is to prepare your mixes according to the guidelines. This is vital if you want optimal masters.
Also have all your metadata ready and 100% correct to the letter.
Compilations get a DDP image and Win/Mac DDP player so you can hear the full sequence and spacing of the tracks. You just need to download and install and listen on your trusted playback system(s).
Delivery is completely digital so you can be anywhere in the world to receive the files. Of course you're welcome to come meet me in person too. I'd like that!
I occasionally have time for mixing projects but I always offer a hybrid called Stem Mastering where I will mix up to 5 of your mix group outputs (say drums, bass, instruments, background vocals, and lead vocal for example) and master the final result.
With Stem Mastering, we can create a final mix from your group outputs in my treated room. This allows us to dial in the balances, avoiding mixing issues common to small studios.
Rates for quoted per-project, and in general are higher than "drive-thru" mastering studios, but certainly less than "city" rates. Contact Mark directly, he'll be happy to hear about your project and give you a friendly quote that works for you.
Please have a look through our full terms of service so that everyone is on the same page.
I do everything I can to save you money and get you the best master.
First I'll give you the option of fixing anything in the mix that I feel could compromise the master.
Once I get your truly final mix, mastering has begun and there will be an additional charge of about half the quoted rate when we are downstream and need to start over with a track.
After you receive a quote, create a ZIP file of your final mixes. You can either provide us a link to your files, or use our handy service for uploading.
METADATA refers to the song credits, song identifiers, and other text-based information encoded into the digital file. It's very important for tracking ownership and getting paid from music licensing.
Some mastering engineers no longer offer this, but YES, I can encode the hidden metadata into your audio masters, or your distributor can do it later, it's up to you.
For this reason, PLEASE ensure all artist, track, etc. spelling is correct to the letter! Alternatively, if your CD duplicator or online distributor offers this service instead (CDBaby, TuneCore, SongTradr, CoSynd, Ditto, DistroKid, etc) then just let me know if you want me to refrain.
COPYRIGHT: Any original work is copyrighted as soon as it's recorded in a mechanical form (e.g., writing the sheet music or recording the song). However, if there is ever a dispute, it's up to you to prove time of origin.
If you register your works with copyright.gov within 3 months of their creation, you put the law on your side. This creates clear proof of ownership and you can receive real legal benefits (such as collecting for attorney's fees) if someone ever steals your work and you need to go to court.
Pro tip #1: Some distributors will register copyright for you.
Pro tip #2: If you need to do it yourself, registering multiple tracks at once as a "Collective Work" keeps the cost-per-track much lower.
ISRC: These song codes are very important for tracking royalties if your music is going to streaming, licensing, or duplication. Aggregators/distributors like SongTradr, Tunecore, CDBaby and Cosynd can generate ISRC codes for you.
I will embed them into your metadata if you provide them to me. If you ARE going with one of these types of services, it's a free service for them to include metadata, and I recommend you use their online robots for accuracy. They can also be added later by your duplicator (for physical products).
UPC: Physical records and CDs need a UPC code to track sales. First check with your distributor (like CDBaby) who can often generate these for you at lower cost, as well as CD duplication houses. But beware of whether the UPC is for internal or worldwide usage. For example, here is the recent (2020) advice from DistroKid:
"DistroKid UPCs are for digital distribution within DistroKid. If you want to apply for a UPC issued by GS1, please contact your local GS1 office here."
Yes. A vinyl master has different requirements (the sonics are different than digital or CD). Please tell us upfront that you are going to vinyl and this will be included when we quote your order.
Please know that with vinyl, song sequence and timing of album sides is important. Also note that a record's frequency response can change based on how close to the center a song is placed. When you need this option, we'll discuss the details.
Of course. Your music goes nowhere, except on my private studio computer, until you get it back. Then I ask of you is to be able to use short clips of select songs for my portfolio (never a full track).
Mastering prepares a 2-track (stereo) mix into a great sounding product ready for duplication and distribution. It tries to ensure that the music will sound as good as possible on whatever flavor of playback system it might encounter, from a mono speaker in a pickup truck, to a set of earbuds, to a hi-fi home system, to a large public address (PA) system.
Mixing blends multiple instrument tracks into a stereo 2-track. This is challenging, time-consuming, and very subjective. Artists often prefer to achieve their own balances and arrangements by mixing their own music or by hiring a dedicated mix engineer. Then I suggest engaging an experienced mastering engineer to ensure the mix will sound good for its genre and translate well across playback systems.
Mastering your own tracks isn’t actually mastering because it robs the artist of mastering’s most important benefits–perspective and quality control.
Mastering is meant to provide another set of ears, in another room, by an engineer with many years of experience in the music business. There are always things we mastering engineers hear that can enhance your production.
Mastering dilutes the mix engineer’s focus and ultimately hurts their business. The best mix engineers are thrilled to work with mastering houses because it saves them time and energy, they get that all-important quality check on their work, and they can continue to bill themselves as a specialist, which helps their reputation.
Stellar Sound Labs is located in "The Creative Capital" Providence, RI USA just outside of Boston. Mark's experience comes from playing, producing, and engineering for over 30 years in New York and California.
Since you're not familiar with the sound of my room (it's very different, very clinical) I usually work alone and then send you the results to listen to on a system you know well. Your feedback will be much more valuable to me that way. But I'd love to meet up in person at the start or end of our session.
Yes, I don't advertise this but, I will do a rough pass for new clients who have never worked with me before and who want some reassurance. Reach out to Mark directly here. Be sure to let me know the intended delivery medium, your vision, and your concerns.