After working more than 20 years on recording studios I´d like to share my experience and write this post about the important points that will make a mastering work, professional.
Many artists try to master their songs but without achieving the desired result. Here are the main 5 reasons you should have in mind to master a song professionally.
1. The acoustics
Yes, this is the most important aspect to make a quality mastering. A room without the proper acoustics will be useless to make the final decisions of a song. Especially deep bass, bass, and low-mids are the problematic frequencies in the studio, thus the fragile zone of the tracks. An unbalanced bass will translate in a bad way, sounding boomy with overpowered energy, or thin, making a track flimsy.
Mid and high frequencies are equally important, controlled reflections and an appropriate RT60 will give you a natural sound and transparent picture from the music. The mids are very important because there reside the most important spectral zone of the instruments.
With bad acoustics, the room will blurry your mid-zone. My studio has a very controlled acoustic to get a great mastered product. You can read an acoustic guide that I wrote years ago, it will help you to improve the listening response in your studio.
2. Accurate monitoring
This is the second important thing in a mastering chain. You can buy the most expensive monitors but if your room is not well treated it will be like having a veil in your face.
Mastering speakers must have a transparent mid zone, accurate bass with no distortion and dynamics (a lot of badly designed speakers compress the signal). A coherent monitor with a good response and image is imperative.
There are full-range speakers that work good, from 30hz-20k, others need a good subwoofer to fulfill the response, an accurate subwoofer free of distortion to listen to the deep low octave. I think a good subwoofer is very important in mastering because it helps to analyze all the deep bass frequencies, even if the speaker goes to 20hz. Many people send me their tracks with a lot of pops recorded in the voice, and other deep noises from the recording.
The preamp or monitor controller is another important actor on this matter. A preamp without transparent and accurate sound will hide and color your response masking small details from the recording.
In my mastering chain, I use the extraordinary Lipinski L-505 + Genelec subwoofer. These are feed by a Crane Song Avocet monitor controller, and they give me a total control in a mastering session.
3. The engineer
An experienced audio engineer will carefully take the correct decisions to finish a track, thus will use their equipment and knowledge to extract the maximum potential. A good engineer will care about the levels and peaks on the final mastered song, and will detect phase problems and other artifacts that can appear in a track. A good engineer knows the problems that could generate a squeezed master, and other factors that musicians don’t know. The key in audio mastering is not crossing certain lines…
Another advantage is that a trained mastering engineer will analyze the work with another point of view and help to correct problems in the mix.
Each engineer works and has a different point of view so it is convenient to find that desired sound to master a song. Try until you find the engineer you like.
4. Audio mastering equipment
Today a lot of amazing plugins are available in the market to process a track. You can get great results but in my opinion, they don´t get close to analog and digital High-End equipment.
The nature and dynamics of the sound that they produce are the most appealing to the ear. Tubes and class A circuits give the roundness to the music.
Plugins are great, but I think they lack in emotion…
Audio mastering gear is not cheap, and this is another cause why many people master a song with equipment that degrades the sound.
5. The quality of your mix and the recording
Audio mastering always improves a recording, but is not the Grail Saint, when a track has poorly production we will have limitations. Choose quality samples, record your instruments as best as possible, and the mastering process will shine that jewell.
For that reason, to work with good monitors is very important to decide the steps in your production, as well as the acoustics. A nice production and well mixed track will shine after mastering, the poor tracks not much. Sometimes in an audio mastering session, you can work to hide the defects of a bad production. So take care of your foundation.
Now you know how to master a song like a Pro, If you are serious about mastering your own music take into consideration these 5 points. The closer you get to these requirements the closer you will be to get a professional mastering.
When you cannot meet these requirements, hire an audio mastering engineer, because apart from an expensive investment, master a song professionally it´s not an easy task.
One of the best practices before mastering is to modify the final mix, the mastering engineer will be your ally to get the best possible mix and perform a quality mastering.