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Why Master? Why human?

With the runaway success of computer software and hardware in the last decade, more and more recordings are started and finished in project studios or in the home. The quality of the front end interface, the processing power of the computer and the vast collection of plugin hardware emulations available can mean, in theory, that you would never have to step into a professional studio to record and master your song, EP or album! But is this good working practise?

The books and magazines on the shelf at the bookstore or newsstands promise you in depth theory into the entire process and pretty much guarantee you’ll be competent enough to mix and master your own music by the time you reach the back cover. They have a point, the mastering plugins you can purchase these days are extremely powerful (I use them myself) and with the correct skill it’s sometimes all you need. Game over for the engineers, then?

Here’s where the magazines fall short. A lot of them hint there is always a good time to call in the professionals, because that’s what the professional does:

  • Cast an objective and impartial ear over your music.
  • Critically appraise the mix and offer suggestions to better your mix if required and therefore create a better master.
  • Take the guesswork out of the technical standards required.
  • Works in an acoustically controlled environment with accurate monitoring.

More frequently it’s transpiring that a mastering engineer is the only time a professional will hear your music before you release it to the world and in my opinion it’s becoming more important to do so. Even today I sat with a producer who was concerned his mixes didn’t quite hit the mark and should he change a few things in the mix? After a brief listen and an experimental mastering session the problems were highlighted and an enlightened producer went away to adjust accordingly. This experience happened last week and the week before as well.

Mastering engineers can become professional consultants to your music, this is where they become invaluable. Not solely relying on creating a good sounding master they can guide a mix to create a stunning master for your music. Online mastering like Landr, where the human element is removed completely, does’t even know if something can be fixed let alone give you an option! The process has it’s place but an experienced human at the controls will always produce more accurate and reliable masters. Also, if I suggest a “mix fix” then under normal circumstances you won’t get charged for a second session, this has got to be of benefit to you and your career…

So, is it time to put down the magazines and call a professional? Absolutely. The magazines are great teaching aids but in the end a human mastering engineer is the first, best and final route to mastering happiness.