eli5 why do some songs say “Remastered”?


eli5 why do some songs say “Remastered”?

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They are older songs which may not have had the best mixing or mastering done, so an audio engineer will take the original recordings of the instruments and re-do the process. They might change the stereo positioning of instruments or they might change the volumes of different instruments in relation to each other etc. An easy example is how some of the older songs will have some instruments only coming out of the left speaker/headphone and others in the right. This was really common when stereo became a thing – now some of the remasters have a more modern mix of the instruments rather than hard panning them.

Original music comes from an original master recording. If it isn’t from the original master, it’s remastered.

When song is recorded in a studio the recording engineer/producer records the instruments separately (and the singing too if there is any).

Nowadays it’s done on computer but before that it was done on magnetic tape.

Each instrument/voice is recorded on it’s own audio file/tape called a track. So if it’s a 4 piece rock band for example, that might be one track for drums, one for guitar, one for bass, one for vocals etc.

When you have all your instruments and voices recorded you want them to play altogether. This is called mixing. So if the drums are too loud in comparison to the guitars you can turn the guitars up or turn the drums down, or both. If the bass guitar isn’t sounding bassy enough you can turn up the lower frequencies, adding more low end, or bass to the sound.

When all this is done you combine all the tracks that you mixed together in to something called the master recording. This is the recording of the song that gets copied and released on vinyl, cassette, CD, digital etc.

Remastering is when an audio engineer goes back to the original recording of a song, takes all of the separate tracks and mixes them again to create a new master of the song.

This is done for a variety or reasons. Maybe the original master has been lost or damaged. Maybe the original master wasn’t that good, or doesn’t sound as good on newer formats. Maybe there is new technology to improve the sound of the original recordings, like cleaning up noises or imperfections on the tape e.g hiss.

Anyway that’s a very simplified explanation of what “remastered” means. There is a lot more to it but it’s a bit technical and has to do with waveforms, compression, signals, differences between analog and digital etc., stuff I don’t really understand.

The instruments for many old recordings were recorded on analog tape, and then mixed and mastered using more analog tape. Because of how analog tape works, every time a copy is made there is a slight degradation of the sound. The first generation – directly recorded from the instrument – sounds the best, and the later generations – copies – don’t sound as good.

Most remastering is done by taking those original analog tapes and converting them to digital format, and then recreating the original song using that digital copy. The digital mixing does not degrade the recording, so the final output of the process is better than the original recording.

Remastered recordings may have additional effects applied to them, and sometimes the original artists are involved.

Doing remastering requires both effort and expertise, and the result depends on the effort that is invested and the quality of the original recordings. Sometimes, the whole process is redone well, sometimes only some of the process is done and it’s done poorly.

Some remasters are wonderful – to pick a couple, Rumours by Fleetwood and the first album by The Cars have remasters that are breathtakingly better than the originals.

And there are others that are just “meh”.

A remaster is *usually* when the original “master recording” of a really old song is re-edited because new technology will make it sound better than previous releases.

For music made digitally such as video game music, a remaster can also be when an existing song is remade with the exact same composition but new instrumentation.