In media, a “master” is the definitive copy of some work – a song or a movie.

This was an important concept in the days before digital storage. While today we have perfect digital recordings of everything across thousands of devices, media recordings used to be on physical media – like magnetic tape – and needed to be stored in safe locations. A recording of something might be the only recording of that thing.

When a song was going to be released or used somehow, it was copied from “the master.”

(In 2008, a massive five at Universal Studios destroyed hundreds of thousands of physical masters of both audio and video recordings. It can be assumed that many of these had never been converted to digital, so were permanently lost.)

The concept of “re-mastering” is generally used to refer to a restoration of this original – removal of audio and virtual artifacts and decay caused by storage, and transferring the original to modern, digital storage (so-called “digital remastering”).

To remaster is to literally “create a new master.”

However, this has largely become a marketing term. “Digital remastered” is a phrase often used to hype the release of an older work in a new format, when it might just mean that the new method of distribution is simple digital (as is all media distribution these days).

(Indeed, what does the concept of a “master” even mean anymore? When perfect recordings of something exist everywhere, then everyone effectively has a “master.”)

Why I Looked It Up

I’ve heard the term for years. It came up in a book about Viacom media, which prompted me to finally look it up. Turns out I had the general concept right.

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