Warning: This blog post will go against what I’ve previously promised. I’m about to get into the technical aspects of recording, and specifically, the Mastering process. For those that follow me in my musical journey, this content may cause drowsiness. Please accept my apology.
By definition, Mastering is the process wherein a ‘finished’ track is finalized for distribution, whether digitally or on a CD. A Mastered track is the base for duplication. Mastering can be accomplished with very expensive specialized outboard gear (Compressors, Equalizers, Effects Processors, etc.), or can be done within a Digital Audio Workstation, using similar software-based versions of the special hardware.
I was asked on Twitter whether I thought musicians fail to go to a professional to have their tracks Mastered, and why. The answer is a resounding YES, though the reasons vary. Here is my non-expert opinion as to why so many people make a potentially fatal mistake in their productions. Bear in mind that this explanation deals primarily with the average home-recording musician with a project-studio.
- 1. Cost: The vast majority of independent recording artists are on very limited budgets. They may choose to save money by producing most of their music themselves. Even if they seek some outside help, their budgetary limits restrict the types of help they can afford.
- 2. Lack of knowledge: There is a reason the big-name professionals ALWAYS Master their tracks. A lot of amateur or independent musicians don’t fully understand what the mastering process does, or why it’s important. Consequently, even well-produced tracks can miss out on a quality finishing touch. Or, if they do understand the process, they attempt to Master their own tracks, without a full knowledge of what a Mastering Engineer does. The end result is a track that may sound great, but has not reached its full potential.
The final reason is one I have been guilty of myself.
- 3. Losing Objectivity: We’ve all done this. We dedicate precious time and energy into a project. We have invested ourselves into producing the best recording we can, based on talent, equipment, and raw effort. We listen to it countless times, mixing, EQ’ing, Compressing, and Reverbing until we feel like we’ve created the best. Recording. EVER! At this point, it doesn’t matter if we are correct, or not, because we have lost objectivity. We can no longer listen to a track, and actually hear its flaws or weaknesses. We can no longer hear whether the bass-line is punchy, or just plain muddy. We need professional help, or at the very least, we need a fresh set of trained ears. Someone that isn’t invested in the project, or who’s ego won’t take a hit if something is wrong with the mix.
I’m sure there are myriad other reasons why an artist/producer wouldn’t seek a pro Mastering engineer, but within the scope of my own productions, these 3 reasons would jump to the top of the list.