The Cutting Engineer
Ready for a brief history lesson? Good! Okay- back in the 60s and 70s music was pretty much only released on vinyl. Yay! So the “mastering” engineers were actually the ones doing all the vinyl cutting as they “mastered” music for vinyl.
Once other formats (cassette, CD, iTunes) were popularized, the highly skilled cutting engineers were in danger of becoming obsolete- so they started “mastering” music for all formats, and soon mastering engineers were working in the industry that had never been a cutting engineer.
The times were a changin’!
We’ve come full circle now, where very skilled people are reclaiming the craft of vinyl mastering, but now a “new” name since the term “mastering” carried on in a different form. Kind of like when a band breaks up and some members keep on with the old name.
The Mastering Engineer
With all the different ways people can experience music now, the mastering engineer’s role is more important now than ever. This highly skilled person sits in their totally tweaked out and geeked out studio day in and day out listening to music from all walks of life. Their job is to make sure your music sounds as good as it can in all types of listening environments (ear buds, car stereos, laptops, home stereos, elevators, etc) by using specialized equalizers, compressors, de-essers and other fancy boxes. They also make sure your music sounds the best it can on all types of formats: iTunes, CD, vinyl, etc.
They also have the thankless task of making sure all your metadata is correct, so when people download your album from iTunes, or add your CD to their iTunes library it comes up as your band name, not as an Eagles record. This is very important, especially for radio airplay!