A good master… well it's hard to pin point considering we're speaking about one of the most subjective mediums in existence. In a very basic non technical sense, a good master is one that the artist / producer / engineer is happy with and feels accurately represents the musical vision. And since every master is limited by the mix from which it is created, it is really a good mastering engineer that makes a good master ha!
To delve a little deeper from a mastering perspective, a good master should capitalize on the strengths of any mix while improving or diminishing the weaker aspects off the mix. Of tantamount importance to almost every mastering engineer is the subtle art of preserving dynamics. With proper dynamics, a master should be pleasant to listen to without causing ear fatigue.
Sometimes we're asked to make things LOUD! In these cases we do our best to preserve the overall energy present in the mix while still achieving a commercially viable level for the overall output of the master. In other words, we try to make make things sound loud without sounding crappy! It is generally the loud records that become most fatiguing to the ears. Although with a quick listen the louder record will appear more exciting, with no dynamics or space, a listeners ears will quickly become tired and their attention to the music will dwindle.
Two important skills necessary to producing good masters are the ability to interpret an artist vision and to translate that to sound using electricity, experience, and intuituion. The first seems easy enough…or does it? Each artist can have very unique terms for describing what they want to hear. While it's not uncommon to hear someone say we'd like everything to be a bit brighter, or a bit darker. You also have to be prepared for more unique requests such as; deeper, splashier, punchier, warmer, uglier, grittier, slicker, smoother, snottier, even greener!
With almost limitless combinations to choose from, adjustments need to be chosen to achieve a very specific result. It is the quality of the result that is special to good mastering engineers. It may seem easy enough to add more bass when an artist asks for for more bass; however, there are many ways to achieve a bassier master. Simply adding more bass may or may not disrupt other musical qualities about the master. It is the mastering engineers job to listen and know which method is yielding the best result.
Overall, what makes a good master is a mastering engineers willingness to work WITH an artist to help that artist express their vision.
~Rob / Owner & Engineer