Sometimes, when people who are not in the music industry ask me, “What is mastering?” I’ll respond, “You know on some albums it says ‘Digitally Remastered’? Well, that’s what I do… sort of…” The truth is that while most people have no idea what mastering is, digital remastering is a household term.
Remastering is exactly what it sounds like. It’s taking a recording that’s already been mastered in the past and remastering it to modern specs. This is usually a good thing. Sometimes it’s a disaster. Digital limiting, compression, modernizing and ‘the loudness war’ can all contribute to the destruction of the integrity of the original recording.
When remastering, care must be taken to respect the source and not give in to modern trends of mastering while still making the master have modern specs in terms of noise, volume and dynamic range.
I’ve done lots of remastering over my 15+ years mastering. Currently I’m working on a remaster of The Spoons first release Stick Figure Neighbourhood. It’s a rare recording not previously available digitally.
This recording arrived on two tapes (both at 1/4″ 15ips) which needed to be baked. Tapes that are past a certain age and not stored in the perfect environment need to be baked at a low temperature of a long period of time to prevent their destruction on playback.
Each tape, strangely enough, sounded quite different from each other. This could be due to the degradation of the tapes over the years or a miscalibration on the original masters.
I decided to send both tapes through a unique analog signal path, involving tubes and transformers, that sounded good for each tape. Then, I played the entire tape through that analog signal path to 24bit 96khz via my $10,000 dCS analog to digital converter.
Once inside the computer at high-resolution, I used a linear phase EQ, (a very transparent EQ process) to subtly balance out each song while still maintaining it’s original sound.
The result is a digital master, from the original tapes that both sounds modern and maintains the feel and intention of the original recording.