Okay...I’ve been blessed to have many of my mixes mastered by some of the best in the world so I know the difference. My first efforts were mastered by Doug Sax who taught me the most about what mastering is, what they do and why their work is so valuable. Since then Bernie Grundman, Bob Ludwig, Howie Weinberg, Andrew Mendelson, Gavin Lurssen, Greg Calbi, Ted Jensen, George Marino, and even the late Chris Blair of Abbey Road. (Bohemian Rhapsody anyone?) all have done their best to make my mixes sound good. And let me tell you, what they do is a big deal. If you think it doesn’t matter, then ask yourself why do virtually all of the best mixers have someone master their work? You know their mixes will be as good as it gets. And if they think it’s needed, the rest of us mere mortals need it too.
Now a legit reply at this point would be, “Sure. If I had the money I’d use them. But I can’t afford it so I have to do it myself or find some local guy or gal who’s just starting out.” Fair enough. And I do get that sometimes a lesser skilled engineer can make your project sound worse. Additionally I’ve found some of those to be much more hard headed about what they think things should be than the famous guys mentioned above. (Odd that great talent and skill know better how to handle their ego. Probably because they’re more secure in who they are...something I’ve covered in a previous blog. Just remember this, one of the best reasons to have someone else master your work is you get another set of ears to evaluate it. They don’t come to it with the baggage of all the work that came with the making of the project. They don’t know any of the battles over sounds, vocal levels, etc that so often color the view of what has been done or what it should be. They just hear it for what it is and will make their judgements solely based on that. Also as the music is being heard in another room (hopefully sonically accurate and with a clean audio path) whatever flaws there may be in the mix room aren’t reinforced in mastering.
Okay. So there’s my sermon on why you should have someone else master your project. But at times I understand that simply isn’t an option. So what advice can I offer for those of you who have to master your own project? First of all, unless you’ve invested some serious time and research into the subject you probably need to forget everything you think you know about mastering. Mastering IS NOT just loading your mixes into your DAW, slapping on some EQ and mulitiband limiters till the mix is loud and squashed. That’s a sure way to make your work sound amateurish. Anybody can do that, and Lord knows the great mastering engineers don’t do that. Just as you’d dig though Pensado’s Place and other sites on the web to learn from great mixers in order to make your work sound better, so you should scour the net for good information from experienced and trusted sources on mastering before start.
Now such sites are few and far between. But there is one I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s run by a fellow in England named Ian Shepherd and his site is Production Advice. At this excellent site you’ll find tons of great articles, videos, and links covering almost anything you’d ever think of and some things you never imagined. Ian also wrote a great e-book you can purchase and perhaps the best thing of all is his Online Mastering Course which is held several times a year. I’ve taken the course, and despite that I’ve been at this a long time and been a part of hundreds of mastering session, I learned a ton from it. Best of all the course shows Ian actually mastering various songs and talking his way through what he’s doing and why….all on various DAWs that you probably already own with plugins you likely have. I can promise you it will easily be one of the best investments you’ll make. And no, I’m not compensated by Ian. But if you sign up, please let him know you heard about it from me. He’s an online buddy and I’d love for him to know.
So again, if you can hire a great mastering engineer do that. But if you can’t, begin learning what mastering is before you take a whack at it.