Know the Technical Definition of a “Master” in Recording Industry
The official definition of a “master” according to the document “Recommendation for delivery of recorded music projects” is ANY collection of “official” or “unofficial” work output by the recording producer and engineers in the studio.
This master will be used by the next process or be kept by the label. In music industry, the recording label is the owner of all masters created by the recording producer.
It is because the recording producer is being hired and financed by the recording label to create these recordings. Any work output done by the producer is therefore owned by the label. Let’s elaborate this definition by showing a flow chart below:
In all music production processes (recording – mixing – mastering), the recording producer will be in-charge in managing the recording label project. In the first process, the recording producer will initiate recording sessions with the artist.
For example if the producer will be recording with a 3-piece band (drummer, guitar, bass/vocals), the following will be sample work output of the recording session:
a.) Drum recordings – snare track, bass track, cymbals, etc.
b.) Vocal recordings – lead vocal track, backup vocal track
c.) Bass guitar recordings
d.) Guitar recordings – lead guitar track, rhythm guitar track
Each of these “tracks” (“tracks” will be defined in details in the next section) will have several takes. These takes will be examined by the producer and decide which one will be the best take or version of the recording.
This is usually the best recorded performance of the musician or the artist. Even there are several takes during the recording session; the industry standard is to NEVER DELETE any of these takes. These includes those takes that were not being completed at all (for example an interrupted vocal take because of wrong lyrics) or irrelevant to the music production project (such as artist interviews or artist talking in the studio which was captured in the recording, etc.).
This means that after completing the entire recording session, all these takes are also called “recording masters” based on the above flow chart. However, only the best take is regarded as the official recording of a specific track (vocals, guitars, and bass) that will be forwarded to the audio mixing process.
Those other “unofficial” or “uncompleted” takes will be archived in a digital storage media (hard disk drives) as discussed in Part 1 of this tutorial and will be kept by the label.
In the mixing process, the mixing engineer will be working those official recordings provided by the producer. The work output of the mixing process will be called the “audio mixing master” or commonly known as the “mix down”.
Like the recording session, the audio mixing session also have several versions of work outputs. For example, there will be several mixes for each song in the album such as “radio friendly mix”. Each of these mixes will be kept and should never be deleted which also forwarded to the recording label for review and approval.
Finally the recording label and the producer will decide on the best mix that should be forwarded to the mastering engineer for every song in the album. The mastering engineer will be working on these official mixes.
The output of the mastering process is the final master that would be distributed to music store outlets. All versions of the song final master done by the mastering engineer should also be kept by the label.
The reason why the recording producer is not allowed to delete any of these masters (unofficial takes, mixes or masters) because after the recording artist spends several successful years with the label; they will decide to release some of the artist archived masters in the past. These are commonly called “unreleased recordings”. In some instances these will become very successful such as the release of Beatles bootleg recordings.
Definitions of “Track” and its uses in music production
You will be surprised that the term “Track” can have a lot of definitions in music production. When you are using this term, you should be clear to what applications or implementations are you referring to. This word is either used as noun or a verb. For example:
“Track” as used in analog tape recorders – a noun signifying the number of channels in the analog recorder. For example a 4-track recorder will have 4 channels of recorded audio.
“Track” as used music production – a noun signifying a unique recorded entity. For example a vocal recording of the main singer in the band would be called as a “lead vocal track”. In a guitar, you can have such terms as “lead guitar track” or “rhythm guitar track”.
Each of these tracks can either be mono, stereo or even surround. Then during the mixing process, the engineer will be combining all of these tracks in the project. It is why it is called “multi-track” since there are several tracks recorded and mixed together.
“Track” as used in CD album, LP or EP collection – a noun signifying each of the individual songs in the collection.
“Track” as used in recording session – a verb describing the recording process. So if you hear the producer, “OK let’s track the guitar now” – this means that the producer would want to do a recording session of the guitar.
Content last updated on October 11, 2012