Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
Label your recordings correctly

Label your recordings correctly, or disaster is a sure and certain fate

If you do not label your recordings properly, don’t be surprised if the wrong version makes it through to manufacturing. Did you really want to release your out-takes?


Here's an example where poor labeling led to disastrous consequences. In the 1980s when the CD format was new, it was soon realized by the record companies that they could re-release their back catalog on this new medium and get rich, or 'even richer' might be the correct expression.

So they quickly gathered up all the old master tapes they could find and hot-housed them through the mastering process, into manufacture and into the shops.

And people bought these CDs in their masses, often replacing their entire vinyl collection.

The bad news? The CDs were made from the wrong master tapes. Many CDs were made from 'production masters'. A production master is a tape that is EQ'ed and otherwise processed specifically for its destination medium, in this case the vinyl LP.

The problems are that firstly the production master is in fact not a master, it is a copy. Therefore it has suffered the inevitable degradation due to the analog copying process. And worse than that, it might not be an original production master – several would have been made via a further generation of copying.

And then the production master would have been processed according to the limitations of vinyl, not the much higher specifications of CD.

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So the people that bought these CDs received a rather unsatisfactory piece of merchandise.

When the record companies realized what they had done, they immediately recalled all the CDs they had sold and replaced them with CDs made from the true original masters.

Actually, they didn't. They released CDs made from the original masters as premium product, forcing people who wanted the best to buy again (which would be a third time if they had bought the original vinyl)!

The main problem is however in identifying the correct recording to master from. There are so many stages in the production process that it really is difficult to keep track.

This still applies today. In fact there is so much more copying done today that it is even more important.

The solution is in a standardized labeling scheme, such as the one recommended by the Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS).

This system identifies a number of possible options…

  • Session Tape – A multitrack or 2-track work tape; may contain out-takes.
  • Original Master – The earliest possible generation of the final stereo product. Not necessarily suitable as a production master but can be regarded as the 'definitive' version.
  • Production Master – All necessary EQ and other audio treatment has been applied to the material for the format(s) indicated.
  • Production Master (Copy/Clone) – A duplicate of a production master. A digital copy is a clone and is therefore identical to the production master, assuming there have been no errors in copying. A copy has been made through analog means and is therefore not identical. Further copies of copies should not be made.
  • PQ Encoded Tape Master – A fully prepared and PQ encoded tape ready for CD manufacture.
  • Safety (Copy/Clone) – Strictly for safety purposes and should only be used with the approval of the producer.
  • Not for Production – Self explanatory really – out-takes would be one example. In thirty years time the record label may come back to this for a 'documentary' release.
  • Media Version (Radio/TV/Film/Video) – Supplied for the purpose indicated. Not suitable for manufacturing.

Although these labels were developed during the era of tape, both analog and digital, they are all still applicable to disk masters and copies.

One last word – never assume that a file you have copied from one digital disk medium to another is actually identical to the original. The original disk master is still the true original.

David Mellor

Mastering In The Box

Mastering In The Box

Trainer Joe Albano is back with an advanced look at mastering in our popular Audio Concepts series. See how pro audio engineers master their tracks “in-the-box” in this in-depth, high-level audio engineering course.

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David Mellor