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Why Normalization is NOT Mastering

Got this interesting question about normalization in mastering:

Well, if I’ve got a bunch of tracks and I want to get them all in the same range and everything, I make a CD of them using Windows Media Player, then rip the tracks back off the CD. Why? Because Windows Media Player uses Normalization on all the tracks – and they all sound like perfect brothers by the time they hit the CD.  People don’t talk about Normalization much and I’d love to know why not – surely it’s a great shortcut to making things sound sonically similar?

I answered his e-mail but I thought everyone could benefit from the answer.

Normalization is just a way to raise the gain or volume of the track and to make a bunch of tracks sound at the same level. It’s just a volume knob with a fancy-sounding name.

It doesn’t affect compression, EQ or any of the other parts a mastering engineer uses when mastering a song. Having the tracks at the same volume is only the START of the mastering process.

When everything is at the same volume(gain) it’s louder it will (subjectively) sound better to you.

Granted, I’m not familiar with what Windows Media Player does to audio exactly, but I’ll hazard to say that it’s up to no good. Using your Windows Media Player probably makes all the songs sound at the same level and very comparable to each other.

But they’re far from being “mastered.”

My advice is this:

Know what you’re doing. Know what your processors are doing. Don’t just push a button and take it on faith. –

When I’m mastering I know what every part of my mastering chain is doing since I don’t trust nondescript “make loud feel nice” buttons since I’d like to know exactly what’s being done to my audio.

Bottom line is, it’s better to know what everything is doing instead of pushing buttons and hoping for the best. You also feel smarter, which is always a good thing.

Learn more about mastering with Ian Shepherd’s Mastering with Multi-Band Compression.

Image by: mag3737

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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