I’ve Been Mastered

I went to Alex Degrace at Suite Sound Labs here in Vancouver for mastering. I’d been to Suite Sound before to master The Feminists records, but I’d never worked with Alex before. And, I’d never really learned exactly what mastering was. I knew it was necessary, but in my younger days I couldn’t be bother to find out why. I never heard much of a difference after a recording was mastered, due to my overall impatience and poorly developed ears.

However, when you’re in charge of a project – and paying for it yourself – you start to become more curious and invested in what exactly is going on and why. At least I did. So here is a nutshell summary of what I have learned about mastering:

Mastering is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix (wave files on Mike Southworth’s ftp site in this case) to a data storage device (the master cd); the source from which all copies will be produced. What’s involved in the mastering process is quite detailed.

Mastering requires critical listening on the part of the engineer; part of their job is to improve upon sound translation on all playback systems, i.e. make the record sound good on your iPod, in your car, on your living room stereo. Basically, mastering “sweetens” audio to maximize the sound quality by editing minor flaws, adding ambience, adjusting volume, and equalizing audio across tracks. Kind of like putting on your makeup and touching up your hair just before you go out for a fabulous night on the town, having already dressed to the nines and made your plans.

Anyway, Alex put some great hair and makeup on my EP. It did seem to sparkle and shine a little bit more after he had applied his critical listening skills. The recording is truly, truly done. It’s time to let you all hear it and release it out into the big world to seek its fortune.

I’m six months into my pregnancy now and I notice some interesting parallels between making art and making babies. I could never understand women who insisted that their ultimate fulfillment comes from having baby after baby. But I sort of do now. It is an amazing process, and unlike most other creative projects, so viscerally physical. Anything that’s grounded so completely in the body will feel incredibly real and immediate. And critically important, which it is. Important to the baby in particular. I feel proud of my album that I made; I feel proud of the person I am making. For me though, I am glad to have had both – creating good works with head and heart and creating a baby with a beautiful man. I could have been quite happy just making art, growing my love and knowledge, and evolving as a human without ever being pregnant. I mean, come on. That’s the lot of all men (and many women) all the time. They seem to do okay. But I’m glad I have a chance to experience this particular kind of creativity too.

I definitely now understand, with the intensity of a thunderclap, that pregnancy takes its meaning from each individual woman and her particular circumstances. It’s very easy to judge when women handle their pregnancies in ways we don’t agree with. But pregnancy at the wrong time, with the wrong man does not feel wondrous and amazing and fulfilling. The complete physicality, the raw immediate-ness of the experience is overwhelming and can be terrifying in a negative context. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a woman to change her mind about a pregnancy that happens in rotten circumstances, that of course happens every day thousands of times around the world. But for the ones who don’t change their mind, their absolute conviction that this pregnancy is a completely unwanted invasion of their body, of their life, is just as powerful as my conviction that my pregnancy is exactly right for me and a welcome, treasured expansion of my life and my body. Knowing it’s wrong for you doesn’t make it easy. Knowing it’s right for you doesn’t make it easy. I have a newfound respect for this fact. It may not solve any problems, but it does enable me to have a lot more compassion towards other women and their struggles.