Mastering used to be the process of processing the stereo track to get it ready before getting it onto the final product which the consumer puts in his stereo system. The basic idea behind mastering is getting the mixed stereo track to sound good on many different types of stereo’s, car systems, walkmans and on the media it is used or played on tape/CD or broadcasted on radio/TV.
To get a stereo track to sound good on a media like CD, processors / effects like: compressors, limiters, equalizers and the latest kind of maximizer or loudness effects are used. These effects should not really introduce it’s own sound but should be high quality and that’s the reason the analog processors are quite expensive. But then there is the digital world and the line seems to disappear. Not only do programmers include very transparent effect but they also included effects that have the warmer sound of analog processors.
Now that most people have many effects and also some mastering tools and easy ways of burning CD’s what does the mean for mixing and mastering? For instance it opens up a new way of doing both. You can actually hear a little of what the mix will sound like when having it mastered or mastering yourself. Just print all the mastering effects on one of your own mixes with a sample editor like a compressors, equalizers, limiters and loudness/maximizers and listen back how it can sound when it’s mastered. You can even put it on a CD and start listening to these semi mastered songs on your car system and other systems. Don’t like it? Go back to mixing and see what you can fix.