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Is mastering worth it?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Production Techniques  
Author Is mastering worth it?
Playing with the idea of putting out an album via Bandcamp, etc, and I'm wondering if it's worth paying someone who knows what they are doing to master the thing. Hoping to, I dunno, get a little more dynamic range, a fuller sound. But maybe that's all up to me and how I do things in Ableton? I kinda feel like guys who know how to master can work magic.

What are your thoughts?

For the record, my stuff is super sparse, here's just a few samples of a sound I am working with. I don't know if the sparsity is a point in favor of or against mastering.

I imagine this conversation's been had a few times before, if there's a great thread somewhere, please do link me to it.
Full disclosure: I've never had anything mastered.

But it stands to reason that if you hire an professional engineer in a proper room with a zillion dollars worth of top end equipment, they will be able to tweak your stuff to sound better.

I still was never really convinced, until I listened to episode 3 of the squarecad podcast, in which you get to hear a pre- and post-mastering version of the same song. The difference, as they say, is not subtle. There are a few other episodes where he plays the before-and-after versions, and they're interesting too, but they're mostly guitar music.

The other interesting thing about that podcast is that nearly all the mastering engineers he interviews stress that they honestly don't care about what kind of music you make, they take it as their job to make it better.
Interesting. The thing I always get caught on is thinking that if I really have this particular kind of sound in my head, it's up to me to get there, versus having someone with mastering abilities help me push it across the finish line.
I do mastering for my label and some outside jobs. About 90% of a good sounding track is in the mixdown, 10% or so is the mastering. Sometimes it does tilt a little more. I think it is worth it, but you need a really sold mix first. That's my feeling, anyway.
It certainly can make a positive impact, I would say to give it a shot but work with someone who will listen to your feedback. It can pull frequencies out unexpectedly, sometimes good and other times unfavorably.
One key to achieving a good mix is to check it on as many different types of speakers and playback devices as possible. Don't simply trust that your studio monitors are telling you what the music will sound like on everything — they won't.

Take your mix that sounds great on your studio monitors and burn it to a 128kbps MP3, load it into your portable player and listen to it through a pair of shitty earbuds. Play it through your car stereo. Play it through the best-sounding audio system you have access to. Play it through every music playing device you can and notice how the sound changes each time. You need to craft your mix so that the elements that you deem are essential to the music remain sounding as close as possible to the way you want them to in as many different playback situations as possible. Be prepared to make compromises — you'll never be able to get everything exactly as you want it to sound in all situations, but you'll eventually learn the keys to creating a mix that will translate well to any playback situation.

This is a skill that you will not acquire overnight, but the quicker you do acquire it the quicker you'll no longer need to rely on others to complete your artistic vision.
yes mastering is worth it. find a good mastering engineer who fits your budget. once you can communicate what you want you'll find it really worth it.

keep in mind if your mixes are shit.. mastering won't fix it.
I wanted one of my experimental synth tracks mastered because I knew it was going to get 1 airplay on a big fm station.

I went into a mastering room, the sound was balanced very well (more like wow!) and the guy even gave me a demo of what it could sound like.

..the thing is that I could hear how much my mix sucked, no way he was going to be able to fix that in mastering smile

.my money would been better invested in mixing in a studio, one with a great listening room.

.the other thing is that mastering is intended for a delivery medium, and industry standard stuff, so depending if it is for TV or film or pop music for radio or easy listening or classical or whatever, the mastering can help you fit into industry standard, and the technician has those fields in reference when he is working on your stuff... but if you bring in whacky experimental that does not fit in any genre he knows, you are as good as he is if you have a pair of ears.... and a good listening environment.
Mastering is worth every penny.
Getting a final mix loud enough without ruining it is a job for a professional.
Is mixing worth it?
I've had stuff "mastered" and I no longer bother.
It just comes back sounding "different" and my view of "better" is going to different to other people's, including the mastering engineer.
Mastering for radio play, gaming, or other stuff like that I can understand, it has to sound a particular way, and have a certain level, and you might not know how to achieve that. But for my own music and similar I view it as completely unnecessary.
Is it worth it in terms of sound quality and aesthetics? Well, depends on the engineer, your communication, and the tools. If you choose the right person and studio, it is well worth it. There is much to gain from it, not only in terms of sound but also what you learn from it.

But what most people overlook is that (pre-)mastering is not only about increasing loudness and sweetening a mix, but also about ensuring technical integrity, and proper preparation for the actual mastering, i.e. transferring your music to the final output format.

I would never release music without going through the process of mastering with an engineer I trust, it can be a great experience and it wraps up the process of recording music for me.
Here is another similar thread

As I said there mastering is not a remixing phase, it's all about getting your final product to its desired medium. For Bandcamp that means cutting files (you don't even need to tag, BC does all that for you). So "mastering" for Bandcamp couldn't be simpler: render your final WAV and you're golden. There's no media specific considerations since your fans can just download the lossless release.

If you're asking if there's benefit to paying someone with nicer equipment and more experience to remix or stem remix your stuff before release then the answer is: probably (particularly if they have more experience) if you've got the budget for such things. But I do wish people would stop referring to that as mastering.
If you just do music for your own pleasure and don't really care what other people think of it, then mastering is a waste of time IMO. If you're planning on releasing it to the masses, then I think it can be massively beneficial to have another set of fresh, trained ears to just tweak it here and there to make your stuff sound less out of place when played against similar music.

You should find an engineer who has experience with your sort of sound then listen to a lot of their work (good engineers should have plenty of references) and see if you like their style before commiting
plushterry wrote:
I think it can be massively beneficial to have another set of fresh, trained ears to just tweak it here and there to make your stuff sound less out of place when played against similar music.

I always think, how can I get my music to sound as out of place as possible!

If you have a quality series of mixes and good content, mastering is a great step (given a good mastering engineer) in the process of making the best of your recordings. Hands down yes if you have quality mixes and tunes. Well worth the investment if you want to invest in your sounds.
When doing right, letting do the mastering saves you lots of work and frustration. When making an album it's always good to master it.
Unequivocably yes, if you intend to release actual albums that others pay The Monies for.

Mastering isn't just dynamics processing. It's a more veteran pair of ears prepping your material to sound its best on the widest range of listener systems, earbuds to audiophile setups, and to ensure all your tracks are objectively sitting together as a proper collection, sounding consistent between themselves. A mastering engineer's notes have forever changed how I even record and mix, making me a better producer.
It is absolutely always worthwhile to get somehting mastered by a pro.

I use Dog of Tears, who is around somewhere on this forum from time to time.

Worth every penny
The best advice I can give is download a free iZotope mastering guide and go on from there. In some time–hopefully!–you will learn to do some okeh-to-decent mastering yourself.

Me, I have mastered Whoop-de-do (an album in my signature) myself using Zoom R8 mastering algorithms & (o blasphemy!) a pair of KRK KNS-6400 headphones. In near three years from then I'm still fond of the result, and used the same approach for mastering my upcoming album/tape. It is very important what kind of medium we do speak of, as for when I (one day, inevitably! meh) have a vinyl release, I would resign and as much as I enjoy doing mastering myself, allow an experienced engineer do their job.

Preparing tracks for cutting on vinyl is art, and since I'm speaking dance music here, I'd want someone involved who's seen (and heard) it all, who knows the physics of sound, can see the room and say which frequencies will predominate if you put subs this many meters from the wall & et cetera.... And there is no magic in that, just knowledge and experience: just by using equations you can calculate phase cancellations at certain frequency if you so desire; it's not necessarily mastering engineer's work, but what I'm getting at is they've heard it all, they take my techno track and hear it playing at Berghain or underground bar—all in their head,—and know what adjustments they need to make, how many dB to boost / cut at 80 Hz so it sounds good in every kind of room. I / you, or near everyone at this forum – we all know much about sound and can do well / decent – or maybe even remarkable, – when it comes to these things like recording, mixing, mastering – but sure enough, not as good as people that, for good 20-30 years, have been doing just that.

Sorry for going into such depths to convey a thought, but to sum it up, I'd say this:

1. As electronic musicians, we all are used to and learn with experience to be good at many tasks (part of the deal), being a composer, arranger, performer, sound engineer and more in one. Still, that doesn't disannul the fact sometimes it's worth it getting someone else on board: hopefully skilled and cooperative enough, who can help you to convey your vision of music to the masses, without screwing everything up in the process. The rumour is... such people exist razz

2. While it makes sense to have your tracks / albums mastered professionally in certain occasions, it's open for discussion still if paying for this kind of work is justified. Decide for yourself, but personally I'll confess I have an absolute zero of a desire to shell out some €700 for a 4-track LP and better leave it to the label to handle all this smile In case of being told you'll need to pay for/do mastering yourself, it's probably something fishy anyway, and guys like this aren't probably worth to deal with and wouldn't likely even send you a copy of your own release (happened to my friend), better look for someone else.

3. If you are doing mastering yourself, I'd ask yourself a question: what do you really want to accomplish? – and then use that as a starting point. While working on my tape, I had several considerations in mind, first of them making it sound as good (& loud!) as possible in headphones, since that was my preferred way of listening to the music.

I maximized volume using EQ and multiband compressors (these arethe shit) and then applied various stereo-width effects like dimension/reso – which is called so in R8 fx bank and was more of an artistic director decision, just what I wanted my music to sound like.

Second consideration was that I've heard high frequencies can sort of go flat-out with time on a magnetic tape, so I boosted them a generous deal to prevent / delay that, in a way.

It's always good to work on something when you have a clue of what end result you are aiming at: just doing mastering formally, for a tick, – there is no point in that and would be a waste of time. Maybe your tracks do not need a special threatment after all: if they were mixed well in the beginning, it is a possibility. You can listen to my album Analog Explorations: there, I barely touched them, a pinch of levelling & normalize, and that was all. These, and my other tracks that I recorded with monotribe through big muff, sounded good & full-bodied straight off the assembly line, as that pedal acts is a sustainer of sort, and gives you nice thick and compressed sound without further fuss.

Hope that's helpful! Cheers Y'All.

Yes.. master. But look for an engineer who has worked alot in your genre of music.

Nowadays most people mix tracks in their home studios which means they are bouncing out mixes in rooms that are acoustically untreated and therefore you're probably going to over/under compensate certain frequency bands (especially low-mids are a problem in home studios)

When I get a track mastered I'm looking for 3 things

1- Volume
Get the track to a good level of limiting without going FULL CODE
This is so when people hear your track after something that was commercially produced, it doesn't sound QUIETER

2- Sort out the bottom end
Mixing in small untreated rooms makes it hard to judge bass. Given that most standing waves are longer than the room you are listening in, this can be pretty hard to get right at home

3- Mix compression and other variables
A good engineer might add some buss/mix compression which can act as a kind of glue to the overall mix, there are also other tweaks such as stereo spatialisation which can be added but this whole area is easy to overdo

The fee charged for mastering services can be quite reasonable, and IMO its well worth it for a GOOD ENGINEER. However there are MANY chancers online offering mastering who just use presets on plugins which may make your track sound better superficially, but do not address the issues described above
Check out the Engineers CV would be my advice
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