I have spent the last few days in my studio mastering a recent recording of St Edmunds Girls School Chamber Choir from Salisbury made by 4 Part Music. One of the things I often hear customers say after a recording is “now go and work your magic to make us sound good!”. i’m not inferring from this that any of the choirs and musicians I have recorded do not already sound good but I think there is the assumption nowadays that music is created more by technology than by musicians.
Possibly in some areas this is the case. I confess that sometimes I do reach for the auto tune but certainly not always. And for location recordings its not often that auto tune would work anyway. You cannot, for example, auto tune a choir or orchestra recorded on location. The process of mastering relies on many different tools and whilst it is true to say that some are used more often than others, there is no single magic plug in which suddenly makes any recording sound perfect.
Alongside my composition work, mastering work is one of my favourite activities. Not because it involves playing with technology but because above all it involves listening. My job is not to improve nor to fake anything but simply to bring out the best from the musicians we record and present them in the best possible light. Sometimes this is a 2 hour process and sometimes it can take several days of walking away and going back to get the sound absolutely right. Perhaps the most challenging thing of all is, there is no right or indeed final answer. Ultimately mastering is a matter of opinion. Sometimes its my opinion, sometimes its that of the musician and sometimes it is a compromise between the two. What matters is that the final result sounds musical and polished and presents the music and the musician in the best way possible.