HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO MASTER MY ALBUM? (see masterer's log for more detail)
If the mixes are recorded well, an average 12 track album takes about 5 1/2 to 7 hours to master.
Besides the number of tracks, the other major factor in mastering time is how many musical or stylistic groups of tracks are on the album. For instance, a compilation of unmastered tracks with different bands of different styles would take the longest and an album consisting of 4 similar up tempo tracks, 4 similar medium tracks and 4 similar ballad tracks go much faster.
One of the goals of mastering is to ensure that the album as an entity is balanced from track to track for listening from beginning to end in one sitting. In other words, ideally you should not feel the urge to turn volume up/down or turn on/off the loudness button or change the equalization while listening to the album in one pass.
So, the more variety between mixes, the longer the mastering session will likely be because more tweaking (eq, compression, equalization, volume adjustments) will be done differently for each track for the sake of the album as a whole. A radical example would be if you had a didgeridoo or an 808 kick as the bottom end of track 7 of a mostly guitar and vocal album. Because of the obvious intention to have a heavy bottom on this track, we would not try to remove all the bottom end to balance it but we would evaluate how much should be present so that the album flows nicely from track 6 to 7 and 7 to 8 and if the album is in random play with itself, track 1 against track 7 will still be comfortable to listen to.
The other factor to consider is what medium the mix is recorded to. If mixed onto 1/4 or 1/2" tape, the music has to be recorded to the hard drive in real time. The times mentioned in paragraph one are based on a supplied audio CD, Data CD, Memory Stick or via FTP because the load time is significantly less. I.e., by the time one loads in from tape for an album that is 50 minutes in length, after set-up and transfer time, the engineer has spent about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. If the material is on several tapes, add another 30 minutes for rewind, loading and searching. If the tape is not clearly marked with IDs and doesn't have tones, or the producer isn't sure which take should be used, add another hour!
Tape transfers work out to almost double the album length. First there are the tones to check, head cleaning before starting and often during the transfer. Also, most albums come in on 2 to 4 reels because the final takes haven't been edited together onto one reel. When we were mastering and remastering the Wendy O Williams/Plasmatics catalogue, we were given a 1/4 tape of a previously unreleased album that was recorded at Electric Lady Studio. Needless to say, we were excited to be able to work on a recording of historical merit but that tape needed a lot of winding and rewinding and some major head cleaning in order to get the tape playing properly. That 40 minute album took at least an hour and half to transfer properly. Older tapes can also be delivered in damaged condition because of faulty formulation, age or poor storage conditions. Those tapes may need to be transferred by a specialist as they require unusual techniques and knowledge to transfer properly.
So here is the formula to figure out approximately how long it will take to master your album:
- 1 hour load and prep for mastering
- 1 hour to master the "template" track
- 20 to 30 minutes for each subsequent track
- 15 minutes to sequence and check the spacing between tracks
And lastly, any of the following services will likely add more time to the mastering session:
- mixes are not recorded well (untuned basement studio mixed by inexperienced engineer vs pro set-up)
- "forensic" problems such as excessive noise, click removal, internal track rebalancing (the guitar solo on song 4 is too loud), etc.
- mixes were recorded/mixed in 2 or more studios
- multiple versions of mixes, i.e., the radio edit, the TV mix (show mix), etc.
- fades are left for the mastering engineer
A single almost always takes an hour to master. If you have multiple versions with the same mix (i.e., the radio edit, the TV mix (show mix), a Capella) add about 7 minutes per extra mix.