Frequently Asked Mastering and Audio Production Questions

Mastering is a final stage of production - AFTER mixing - to prepare audio for release. The main goal is to ensure that the audio playback is well-balanced in tone and volume to optimize clarity across a wide range of speaker systems. Generally this involves the careful use of EQ to shape the audio's tone and compression to control the overall perceived volume. (and sometimes none at all) To effectively master audio, a critical listening environment with highly detailed speakers, amplification and room acoustics is key. Most studios that offer "Mix and Master" services are using mixing environments that are NOT designed with this task in mind, and will often provide much lower quality masters as a result.

DDP (Disc Description Protocol) is a format for specifying the contents of a CD. While often referred to as a DDP "file", it's actually an archive containing everything that goes onto a CD including audio, track layout, CD-TEXT meta-data, and more. A DDP file is a complete lossless master copy of the CD, suitable for electronic delivery to replication or duplication houses. DDP files have taken the place of CD master reference discs (But we still produce reference discs upon request).

ISRC ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a unique international identification code for your recording. ISRC codes are per track - a 10 track album would have 10 individual codes. They are widely used by digital distribution companies (like iTunes, Spotify, etc) to identify recordings and track royalties. ISRC codes can be obtained independently, although the process can be confusing and expensive ($95 registration). However, 2Track Mastering is a registered ISRC manager, and we can provide codes for tracks we master at no additional charge. (Need a code for a track we didn't master? We can issue those too for a nominal $2 fee)

Apple Digital Masters Certified Formerly known as "Mastered for iTunes", Apple Digital Masters is a standard for audio quality and fidelity.
To meet the standards, the music must be mastered from a 24bit or better original source, and have zero clips or digital overages when converted to Apple's AAC format. Apple Digital Masters are distributed in a higher resolution format than the reset of the songs on iTunes/Apple Music. To have your songs distributed as Apple Digital Masters, they must be mastered by an Apple Certified studio.
2Track Mastering is certified for Apple Digital Masters.
[more information]

We can accept any audio format for work, but there are suggested guidelines that will ensure your project's quality. First, a lossless format (such as WAV or AIFF) is highly preferred over a lossy format like MP3. This is because MP3 encoding discards audio information that cannot be recovered. While it may not be noticable in a high quality 320k MP3, it will certainly be noticable in lower-quality MP3 conversions. Second, don't convert the audio bit depth or sample frequency before sending your original files. 24bit (or 32bit float) files have more dynamic range than 16bit files, but if you didn't record and mix at that bit depth, send it as is. Same with the sample frequency - a 96kHz file can contain much more detailed high frequency data, but if you recorded/mixed at 44.1kHz don't upsample your final mix. We can accept files up to 192kHz.

Yes - let us know you're planning a vinyl release upfront if possible. I try to keep all masters as dynamic as possible and adhere to the best-practices needed for a successful vinyl pressing, but there are additional steps that may be necessary for a vinyl specific project. Unlike digital streaming, or even CD's, time constraints play a big role in a successful vinyl project - volume, bass response, and song sequencing can all be impacted by the length of each side on a vinyl record. If the lacquer cutter has any specific requirements, we can work directly with them to ensure a smooth project. We can assemble "sides" files with the proper sequence, gap timing, and a cue sheet for the cutting engineer.

ABSOLUTELY! Our name "2TRACK" Mastering is because I got my start recording and editing on 1/4" 2-track analog tape.
I can accept projects on 1/4" tape, on reels up to 12" diameter, recorded at 7.5 or 15ips.
If you are restoring or re-mastering a project from older tape, there can be issues with "sticky shed syndrome" or other aging/deterioration - for tapes with only minor issues I can safely handle restoration in-house, but for tapes with excessive deterioration issues or tapes of historical significance I will refer you to a tape restoration specialist.

If you're preparing a NEW project on 1/4" tape (awesome!), we'd recommend the following practices:
  • Use NEW tape manufactured by ATR Magnetics or Recording the Masters. Don't use old tape.
  • Use 1.5mil tape (ATR Master, RTM 900/911/468) not the thinner long-play variants
  • Make sure your machine has been properly calibrated and aligned before recording
  • Include test tones on your tape - 100Hz, 1000Hz, 10kHz @ 0dbVU at least 10 seconds each
  • Separate test tones from program material with a few seconds of leader tape
  • Properly label your tape with: test tones at head or tail, test tone frequencies, recording speed 7.5/15ips, EQ type (NAB/CCIR), operating level in nWb/m, Noise Reduction if any, track listing/order
  • store tape slow-wound / tails out
  • 15 seconds of leader tape at head & tail
  • if possible, 2-4 seconds of leader between songs