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Learning how to master (1)

It was the year 2009 when one morning I woke up with a strange taste in my mouth. I run towards the mirror and there, in fear, I noticed that half of my face was blocked. Lately, this was diagnosed as Bell's Palsy. It was a very difficult time for me, I was in the middle of my second work and I had to stop everything. I was not able to move half of my face and I had to learn how to speak again. I was not able to close my eye and I had to use a patch to sleep. I was not able to eat properly and I had to use a straw to drink. Smiling was out of the question... It was at that time that I learned that facial muscles work in contraposition to each other. So if I laughed, my lips would be pulled from the right side of my face up to when, almost, my smile was in the back of my head. I visited a doctor and asked how to become 'normal' again, and, to my surprise, the doctor told me that I had to imagine doing the things I could no longer do. At first, I thought this was a joke... How could imagining something make any difference in my body? But I was desperate and I had to try.

Now, I am pretty sure that each of us has read at least one article that states that we use only 10% of our brain or so. But still, the consideration of my doctor shocked me. As a good Gen-Xer, I started to search for information on the internet and I found out that what the doctor had told me was real.

So I started to imagine myself smiling, eating, drinking, speaking, and so on. After a few months, I was back to normal. Not to 100% of my capabilities, my left eye still looks squeezed, especially if I have not slept properly. I was lucky, I know, but I learned a very important lesson: imagination is a powerful tool. Day after day, my imagination made nerves grow back, millimeter after millimeter, and I slowly regained control of my face and my expressions.

This was a long introduction, I know, but I wanted to share with you this story because I think that imagination is a powerful tool that we can use to learn new things. One of the most important processes of audio mastering is to be able to listen to the music and dissect portions of the sound to understand what is happening. This is not easy, especially if you are not used to it. But let me assure you, it is possible to learn how to do it, and with the right training, it is possible to get very good at it.

Let me give you an example. When we meet other people in a noisy bar, we are able to understand what they are saying. We are able to do this because we have learned how to filter out the noise and focus on the voice of the person we are talking to. We have learned how to do this because we have been doing it for a long time and because we have trained our brains to do it. We have become so good at doing this that we have dedicated a Wikipedia page to this concept: Cocktail party effect. Click the link if you want to read more about it.

And I think behind this concept, lies the art that every mastering engineer has mastered (forgive my word game) in many years while performing their work. So... we can learn that too, right? The next time you listen to your favorite track, try to dissect the sound and focus on the different elements that compose it. Try to focus on the bass, on the kick, on the snare, on the vocals, on the guitars, on the synths, on the effects, on the reverb, on the delay, on the compression, on the EQ, on the stereo image, on the panning, on the loudness, on the dynamics, on the transients, on the harmonics, on the distortion on the saturation and on the stereo width. I know that's a lot of work, but it doesn't mean that you have to do it all at once. You can start by focusing on one element at a time.

Then, try to focus on different frequency ranges, particularly the low, the low mids, the mids, the high mids, the highs, and the very highs. Try to focus on the different elements of the stereo image, particularly the center, the sides, the left, and the right. The more you do it, the more you can appreciate the work of the mastering engineer and the love that they have put into decorating a beautiful track into something that is easy to listen and that gives joy to the listener. At one point, you will probably be developing a system, for which you'd prefer to concentrate on the bass first and continue upwards (probably the most common order) or any other order that you prefer. If we concentrate enough, we will discover that our brain is capable of doing amazing things. And what is more amazing than understanding the music we are listening to? Understand the characteristics of the sound that makes us pump adrenaline or feel melancholy or sad. It's a long way to go, but I can assure the journey is worth it.

In this series of articles, I will share with you my journey in learning how to master. I will share with you the resources I am using, the techniques I am learning, and the results I am getting. I will also share with you the mistakes I am making and the things I am learning from them. I hope you will find this series interesting and useful.

Published on: 2023-05-19 in:

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