As musicians, we all want our music to sound its best.
If someone were to say, "We could make your music not sound as good as it could if you did things differently," what would you say in response?
"Sign me up?"
You'd be more likely to say GTFOH.
But, because service providers aren't - and don't have to be - transparent, they only tell you the pros and not the cons of their service. And that is why a lot of musicians choose a certain, newer type of service despite the fact that it ends up making the musicians sell their recorded music short and not have it end up sounding as good as it could.
What is that service?
I will say it unequivocally...online mastering does not, cannot, and will never help your music reach the potential that mastering by a human being who cares about his/her clients can.
So, why does online mastering exist and how does it make enough money to keep going?
It all starts with the fact that most musicians don't know what to expect from mastering. In fact, I'd bet that nearly 100% of musicians recording their first album don't even know that their recording needs to be mastered after its mixed and before it can be made available for streaming, physical product manufacture and radio airplay.
It's usually the mixing engineer that tells the recording artist that their recording is ready for mastering. And, the recording artists - who at this point will think that the mix sounds good after hearing it crafted from pieces into a cohesive form - assume that mastering is just some technical step, like converting a digital file from one format to another.
Nope. Mastering is more than that.
Sometimes, musicians will think that mastering is just the step that makes a mix louder.
Nope. Mastering is more than that, too.
Mastering is the final step in the music production process that influences the quality of the sound of the recording.
Did you get that?
Mastering actually changes the sound of your music, with the goal to make it sound even better than the mixing engineer could.
Since the online mastering industry has popped up, it has taken advantage of musicians who don't know what mastering is. And musicians fall for it.
For a low price, a musician can upload a recording, wait a few minutes, and an automated system will then enable you to download a "mastered" version of the recording.
But, you wanna know something else most musicians don't know?
It's that there's no one way to master a song.
You could have a song mastered by an online service and two different human mastering engineers at different mastering studios and I can guarantee you that you will have three different sounding versions of your song. They will differ in quality. There will likely be one that sounds bad in comparison to the others, and it's probably going to be the song mastered online.
"C'mon, Chip. If online mastering made people's music sound bad, those companies would have been out of business by now."
Note that I used the phrase "bad in comparison." If you only get the song mastered online and your only point of reference is your mix, you won't know the potential you are leaving on the table, especially if you are one of the musicians that don't really know what mastering is or what you can/should expect from mastering. So, you may be like, "Yeah, online mastering is OK."
Here's a little window into how I will master music and how I know that online mastering leaves a lot to be desired.
As I mentioned, there are multiple approaches to mastering a song. And, if I'm working on an album full of songs, I make extra sure that I try multiple approaches on at least one song before I apply that approach to the whole album.
So, I may try four or five different approaches on the first song. One of those approaches may be simply using a preset. Another may be mastering on my first impression, dialing in settings based on deficiencies my expert ears hear in the recording. A third may be to try to match the characteristics of a national release, and so on.
Online mastering is kind of like me using a preset. Load the song and let the computer do the work.
Do you wanna know how many times I can "beat the preset" and produce a better sounding master by using a different approach?
100% of the time.
That's because I'm a human mastering engineer and I care about giving my clients the best possible sounding master they can get.
For example, one of my mastering services clients had finished recording their album right around the time that Iron Maiden came out with their latest album. I had listened to the Iron Maiden album recently and thought that it had some good aspects of modern production while not abandoning the classic sound of Maiden.
I felt that my client's music had a similar style, but lacked the tone and the edge that the Iron Maiden album had. So, after trying some other mastering approaches on their music, I carefully picked out some sonic styles from Maiden, reverse engineered them, and incorporated them into the client's record as another approach. That actually produced the best sounding master!
I didn't tell them my approach, but the client was thrilled with the results!
Now, no computer is going to think, "Hmm...I've listened to an Iron Maiden album recently and some of those production elements would really nail what it seems the client is going for." It will simply give you a file that meets the minimum technical definition of being "mastered."
So, that is how the online mastering industry tricks musicians into selling their recorded music short.
Do you want your music to just be "mastered?" Or, do you want it to be mastered and sounding the best it possibly can?
You will have that decision to make the next time you finish the mixing phase of recording.
If you decide you want your music to sound better than online mastering can make it sound, please consider contacting us at Before and After Music Group at 412-600-8241 or email@example.com. I'd love to put my heart into making your music sound its best!
Chip Dominick is the CEO and head mastering engineer for Before and After Music Group