Mastering is a very technical process.
The process goes thus: you record the songs, you mix the songs and then you master the album.
Mike Gibson has been my mastering choice for many years. He has also worked on albums by such New Zealand luminaries as Trinity Roots, the Black Seeds, Stereogram, The Wot Wots, and Fatcat & Fishface.
I sat in the studio at Bonfire Audio and watched Mike at work.
Mastering generally takes about a day for an entire album. Basically, Mike goes through and listens to all the songs to get a feel for them, then goes back and tweaks each song individually. It’s a chance to even out the levels between songs. Some songs may be a bit quiet, while others might be too harsh (or as Mike politely puts it “have too much BITE”). He can enhance the tonal qualities to make it sound better –like colour grading a film – and correct anomalies in the mix (for example, bring a vocal forward if it is getting lost in the mix). He said the foundation for mastering was transferring high resolution (high quality) to a lower resolution medium without damaging the music, since CDs are a lower resolution medium. I’m not sure what that means, but it seems to me that he makes all the songs sound like they belong together.
Mike made adjustments, and as he finished each song he allowed me to sit at the desk and compare, flicking back and forth between the original and the mastered version of the track so I could hear the changes he’d made. Sometimes the improvement was immediately obvious, and at other times the change was extremely subtle…almost like he was adding a feeling of space to a certain tone in the song.
I also found out that Mike is a Cancerian and born in the Year of the Monkey. Hence the name of his business, Munki Mastering (www.munki.co.nz)