This article was written on December 1, 2012 and is the copy written intellectual property of the trustees of TheMasteringStudio.com.

Should I Master My Own Music?

While it is true that there has never been higher quality audio tools available for a lower cost at any time in history, this does not mean that every last person who can open a software box is an experienced audio or mastering engineer.

Sometimes it may seem an attractive option when a friend of yours offers to master your mixes for a very low cost. It may be even a more attractive option when you think you can master your own project for nothing.

With the availability of high-quality low-cost digital audio production tools, there has been an increase in the audio quality available to the layperson. It seems like just about anybody can get great sounding audio results. Just about anybody, if they don’t mess it up too much, can get results that are 80% to 95% good. What this means is that the professional audio engineers are vying for that top 20% of excellence.

What differentiates one project from another these days is a smaller margin in that top 20% of project quality. While it is true that a person can achieve a project that is 80% excellent today and it is true that these projects sound better than what was available to the layperson say even five years ago, the public has become more discerning in differentiating between good and excellent mastering.

This means that even though your friend may get very good sounding results at a low cost, it still won’t be up to par with what a professional mastering engineer can do for your project.

This is because an experienced, long-term devotee to mastering excellence will try to gain advantages wherever they can to provide projects that are hundred percent excellent.

The difference a professional mastering facility offers is the sum of these very small gains. These gains are achieved by using specialized mastering equipment that cost thousands and thousands of dollars per channel. These gains are also achieved by years of experience in the evaluation and working with manufacturers and software developers to achieve perfect excellence in each step of the mastering process.

Another often-overlooked characteristic of a professional mastering facility versus a do-it-yourself mastering job is the acoustic environment in which the mastering is performed.

The acoustic environment and the mastering monitors used are very important in actually dictating the outcome of the mastering project.

For instance, if you monitor on speakers that are too bright, then you’ll make decisions with equalizers and multiband compressors, in the opposite direction making the masters too dull. If you are listening on monitors that are too dull, you will make decisions that add too much highs to your final masters. This is the same for the midrange frequencies, the bass frequencies, and every frequency in between. If you listen on a system that has too much bass you will make decisions while mastering that make the final master’s bass shy or not have enough bass. If you are listening in an environment where midrange is accentuated then you will make decisions while mastering to cut midrange and thus the final Masters will be lacking in midrange.

It is for this reason that one must perform mastering in an acoustic environment that doesn’t accentuate nor attenuate frequencies in any part of the audio spectrum. If the acoustic environment is not perfect, even experience mastering engineers will not know what is going on. A poor acoustic environment is similar to driving a car without headlights at night.

The good news for those who want to master today on their own, is that today’s studio monitors and even audiophile speakers can have very flat frequency responses. The bad news is, the room environments in which these studio monitors and audiophile speakers are used can contribute as much as 60 dB boost or cut along the frequency response getting to the engineers ears.

Even if there are imperfect sections of 20 dB in the frequency response of the room you are listening in, these represent huge aberrations in the frequency response. They can lead to drastic correction curves that may sound good in that room only.

Have you ever had the experience where you mix something in one room and it sounded great? Then you go to another room or hear it in your car and it sounds completely different. Part of this is the result of working in an environment with peaks and dips in the frequency response of the room.

In many cases acoustic treatments and controlling the room acoustics are low on the priority list of those people building up their own recording studios. It seems a lot more attractive to buy wonderful hard disk recording systems, a locker full of microphones, fancy outboard gear, and hard drives full of the newest software.

Many times people building studios of their own find there is not much money left for acoustic treatments. Many times people don’t have the technical abilities nor tools or resources to be able to measure and treat their acoustic environments.

It can take years of specialized knowledge and experience to be able to properly treat an acoustic environment.

One of the hallmarks of a properly done professional mastering job is that your masters will sound consistent from system to system. It will be consistent in different rooms, in different cars, on different types of stereos, and different sizes of speakers. These results can only be achieved by mastering in a proper audiophile acoustic environment.

But there’s more to it than that. When mastering: equalizers, compressors, and processors, seem to act differently on an entire mix than they do on the individual tracks. Sometimes the results of how a processor works on an entire mix can be unpredictable as compared to working on individual tracks. It takes many, many, years of practice and experience to figure out how processors are going to interact with the mix that is so harmonically and dynamically complex.

Really the only way to gain this experience is to do nothing but mastering. Of course, in order to work up to becoming a mastering engineer, it seems one must have a long history of professional recording engineering in both tracking and mixing. This may be why when you look into the top professional mastering engineers they are typically older. Those who are younger professional mastering engineers have typically apprenticed with older established mastering engineers.

Some of the best mastering engineers also have backgrounds as musicians. But something true of all worthwhile professional mastering engineers, is a complete devotion to mastering and a lack of diversity into other forms of recording.

Finding the right mastering engineer for your project comes down to finding somebody who has mastered hundreds and hundreds of projects. It is likely that if you are involved in tracking, recording music, or writing music, and playing with a band, that your commitments are in other places. This is the main reason why it is important to choose an outside mastering engineer who does nothing but mastering.

At TheMasteringStudio.com we are honestly trying to help you make an informed decision when choosing a mastering engineer for your project. We feel once you know how to choose a mastering facility properly you will choose us. Over the years we have done nothing but mastering. We have refined our acoustic environment and our brick and mortar mastering studio. We have the highest quality mastering equipment available to anybody. We have even worked with manufacturers and software developers to improve our software and equipment beyond what is available to the general public.

For the reasons above, we are recommending that people not master their own music and choose a reputable mastering facility.

This article was written on December 1, 2012 and is the copy written intellectual property of the trustees of TheMasteringStudio.com.