Do you need a separate master for each streaming platform? Which format goes where? What about vinyl and CD? Read on as I try to answer these and end the confusion.
You should at least get two different files from your mastering engineer
The minimum I send out to my clients and the minimum you should request from your mastering engineer is:
- one WAV file for streaming and download (16 Bit / 44,1 kHz)
- and one WAV file for video and hi-res streaming (24 Bit / 48 kHz or 96 kHz)
This covers most, if not all of your digital needs. Whenever a platform allows a 24 Bit upload, you can use the hi-res file, for everything else use the 16 Bit file and you'll be fine. The 24 Bit file should also be used in your videos.
Both of these WAV files are lossless.
Many mastering engineers will argue that one properly created master, or the two mentioned above, will be enough for streaming/download and everything else is not worth the hassle.
Others will recommend making different masters for at least some of the major platforms. So I'm going to explain what else you can do.
YouTube is one of the most important music streaming platforms and of course the place where we all watch music videos. You can make a master that's specifically created to sound best with YouTube's encoding and processing. It's up to you to decide whether it is worth it for you, but it can't hurt to ask your mastering engineer for it. You can always use the 24 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific YouTube master.
You can try and make a master that's specifically created to sound best with Spotify's encoding and processing, but one of the main problems (with any platform) is that it is constantly changing . Most people agree that one proper digital master will work perfectly on Spotify, but again, asking for it doesn't hurt. You can always use the 16 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific Spotify master.
"Apple Digital Masters" or "Mastered For iTunes" is a standard and set of specifications that Apple provides, so that mastering engineers can make masters specifically optimized for Apple Music / iTunes. Not every mastering engineer is convinced that it is necessary or actually sounds better, but if you want the "Apple Digital Masters" badge to show up on your release, you have to ask your mastering engineer to provide this specific file for you.
For CD manufacturing you'll need a DDP image. This is a folder that has the actual audio files in it and also the meta data, like codes, song titles, gaps, song order, transitions, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The actual audio file format for CDs is WAV 16 Bit / 44,1 kHz. So no need for a separate master here. Just make sure the sequencing and DDP creation is done properly.
For vinyl manufacturing you'll need one WAV file per side, not per song. So one file that has all the songs of one side on it, including the transitions and gaps. You'll also need a cue sheet that tells the pressing plant how long the songs and gaps are, where each song starts and ends, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The audio file format for the vinyl pre-masters is WAV 24 Bit / 44,1 kHz (minimum, you'll likely get a master with a higher sample rate). In this case, you'll probably need a different master, though. It's not only about sequencing. Typically the mastering engineer will also adjust those vinyl pre-masters sonically. Loudness, sibilance, stereo widening and sub bass content often need to be controlled a bit more in order for a vinyl master to work properly. Sometimes the digital master will work just fine. Simply ask your mastering engineer for it and she'll take care of whatever needs to be done.
Don't convert yourself!
None of these files above can simply be created by converting one file into another! This is critical and super important to understand. So whenever you need any of those files, you gotta get them made from the original source mix and you should never just use a converter or online tool to try and create them yourself from the master you got! That won't work and likely degrade the sound of the master.
Choose a good mastering engineer
It helps to know this stuff, so you know what to ask for and where to upload the different formats. But at the end of the day it's a mastering engineer's job to provide you with the right files for what you're trying to do and to explain to you how and where to use them. You should either be given the option to choose what you need or you should just get a complete package that has everything in it. Different engineers handle that differently, but if they know what they're doing they should always be guiding you through the process and provide you with everything you need in the end.
PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain
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