TF Archives

Bear Basics: The Masters Series Pt 1.

Author: Tony Mantz
Monday, November 28, 2005
The guys at Tranzfusion had this kooky idea that I should write a column about mastering and share some experiences...And hopefully even enlighten you good folks on some of the aspects you might not have otherwise considered.

I hope to give you guys a better understanding into what mastering is, as well as giving you some ideas as to the do's and don'ts when it comes to trying stuff at home and what to do before you go to a mastering session.

I gotta hand it to writers. Trying to scrawl 600 words that make some sense is not easy…at least for me. I'd have more luck cracking a fat watching a gay porno….and I'm not talking about the ones of the female persuasion!

So what is mastering- Well the simplest and strictest definition is that mastering is first and foremost the manufacturing of a production master whether; it be for cd or the (alas) slowly fading vinyl format.

The first thing I want to dispel is the myth that mastering is some kind of black art or there's some kind of voodoo involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is really not much to it. Doing it well is another kettle of fish! No different to anything else in life me thinks. And don't expect to become an expert by reading books, enrolling in a course or even by reading this! The day you become an expert in sex by reading a book or doing a course will the day great mastering engineers are produced via the same methodology.

"How do you do it then-" I hear you say. Well, the first thing to do is to train your ears. "How do you do that-" you are probably asking next. Well, listen to a lot of music critically. Really pull it to pieces in your mind. Try to do things like focus on a particular sound or instrument and see if you can follow that through the entire performance. This is a good way to train your ears and get an appreciation of as many styles as possible. I'm going through a bluegrass stage right now. ;)

Mastering is the end of the creative/artistic chain and the beginning of the manufacturing process. The technology and tools used in mastering are amazing today, but it is no magic bullet. You still need a great mix to create something special. The demands on mastering engineers are increasing all the time and people sometimes look to mastering engineers to fix their mixes. Sometimes the request is physically impossible. I had one client many moons ago who wanted me to pull an entire vocal out of a mix, thus turning it into an instrumental. I said "Sure…if you can drink a scotch and coke and leave nothing but pure scotch in the bottom of the glass!"

In future columns we will look at such topics as:
'Doing your own mastering when you don't have the budget.'
You're probably thinking, "why would you want to tell us this- Aren't you hurting your business by giving away your trade secrets- Don't you get mad when peeps do it themselves instead of coming to you-"

Well ….no not at all. Does a chef at a 5 star restaurant get pissed off when a diner cooks at home- Of course not. Sometimes you gotta do things out of necessity. The way I see it is like this: the better educated clients I have, the better results I can pull. While people hire a mastering engineer to take control and be the objective 3rd party, it still helps when you have a client who can articulate their vision. By having some knowledge and being conversant in the art, a better end product is guaranteed.

Catch ya on the flipside!

Tony Mantz aka Jack The Bear has been a mastering engineer since 1981 and his clients include a who's who of Melbourne, Australian and international artists and record labels. For more info email him at or check out his website