When a mastering engineer tells you that they can make your music “ Radio Ready, recipe ” it typically means that they are going to make it very loud by crushing it’s dynamic range – otherwise known as “Brick-Wall Limiting.” Believe me, you should be weary of the term “radio ready” because the phrase itself is a creation of music professionals, typically mastering engineers, to sell their services. I think it would be wise for musicians and producers alike to educate themselves in both the science of FM radio compression and the true value of “professional mastering” before hiring a mastering engineer.
Providing the radio station with a very loud mix posses a fundamental problem. Radio stations use hard-knee limiting to reduce the dynamic range of music. That is, if a song is low in volume with a large dynamic range, FM radio compression will bring up the overall volume. The opposite is true with “loud” songs, as the radio station’s compressors will drive down its peaks. In some cases this can pose a problem for “loud” songs, especially if they are “brick-walled,” because the radio station’s compressor will “view” the entire song as one giant peak and ultimately drive down the entire volume. The “loud” song now sounds softer, smaller and more distorted than the dynamic song when the exact opposite was intended.
To correct this phenomena, a mastering engineer will create a “loud” mix not by simply applying “brick-walling” limiting, but by capably shaping the dynamic range to increase its perceived “loudness.” In other words, the peaks in the song are not “squashed” or removed, rather manipulated and shaped according to the musical style, to create impact and punch. The result is a preserved dynamic range with the perception of “loudness.”
As a result of proper mastering, the song will retain its peaks, volume and musicality after FM radio compression is applied. And in some cases actually makes the song sound louder!
In conclusion – If you are an independent musician, small or major label; make absolutely sure you are confident that the mastering engineer you hire has a fundamental understanding of how to make your music loud and retain its dynamic range.