We all agree that mastering is a post-production process that is applied to a musical recording to give it a polished sound. This gives listeners more feel when listening to the musical production. But music has been around as long as humans. The question is when did mastering really start and how did online mastering emerge from the industry. This piece will help you get a good understanding of how mastering evolved throughout the evolution of technology.
During the early 20th century, all recording and mastering were done through a mechanical process. Those musicians who performed played through a large acoustic horn that created the master recording by direct transfer of the acoustic sound from the diaphragm of the horn to a lathe. The lathe’s cutting edge was driven by the acoustic energy coming from the horn and inscribed grooves into the surface of a rotating disc. These discs were made of soft metal alloy or wax. Hence, masters were created.
From 1920’s to 1940’s
Between 1925 and 1945, electronic advancement made its way through the industry. Microphones and amplifiers were now being adopted in the recording process. Recording process now allowed the capture of sound that is balanced amplified, filtered and balanced electronically. Although the recording process remained to be mechanical, the recording process was adopting the electronic technology.
During the late 1940’s came the emergence of magnetic tapes. This was a revolution for the recording industry. The audio quality improved dramatically during the time the magnetic tape was adopted. Although this breakthrough was changing how music was being recorded, the limitations from mechanical recordings, such as dynamic range and running time of the masters were still limited. (read more here: https://studios301.com/)
From 1950’s to Late 1970’s
During this period, the electro-mechanical process of mastering was being applied to recordings. The process of mastering involved several stages. Once the recording on a multi-track tape was completed, a final mix was prepared and transferred to a master tape.
It was then discovered that upon transferring the final mix to a master tape, further electronic treatment by the mastering engineer could be done that would create a record that sounded better. This was being done by making adjustments to the amplification of sounds within different frequency bands prior to cutting of the master disc.
From 1980’s to Late 1990’s
Digital technology was taking over almost everything including music. The electro-mechanical process of mastering was being quickly replaced by digital technology. Digital recordings were being stored on hard disk drives or digital magnetic tapes and were primarily transferred to a compact disc (CD). Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) became relevant to mastering facilities and allowed the manipulation of audio through a graphical interface. Although digital technology was on the rise, better results from mastering digital audio versus analog are still debatable until this day.
The 21st Century
From the early days of 2000 until this day, technology has made great breakthroughs especially with the rise of internet use. Almost everything could be transferred through a computer and internet connection. Services evolved from an actual shop to an online presence.
With digital technology and internet going hand in hand, online mastering process emerged. Music productions could now be sent and worked on with the use of a computer. Digital adjustments were made and online mastering services emerged.