The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns that began in 2020 brought about several shifts in the music industry. One of those was referred to as a "home recording boom" by the Economist. Unable to play live and, in many cases, unwilling to get together with other musicians or recording specialists, musical artists began exploring recording at home in unprecedented numbers.
This movement was largely forced on us by the public health crisis. But, it was facilitated largely by decades-long trends in the recording industry that saw recording software become more powerful, more compatible and more affordable than ever.
That doesn't mean that every musician who recorded at home produced great sounding tracks that rivaled the quality of the biggest and best studios with the most experienced engineers. In reality, it's probably safe to say that most of the recordings produced by first-timers were pretty bad. But, it's probably not a stretch to say that some musicians learned quickly and, with an innate knack for it, were able to produce some music that sounded good when reduced to a recording.
Pre-COVID-19, musical artists usually engaged two audio professionals to get their music into radio-ready shape: a recording engineer and a mastering engineer. So, does the trend towards home recording make these two professionals endangered species?
You see, there are several very specialized processes that happen between writing a song and having it prepared for radio airplay, streaming and/or CD production. As I wrote in a previous post entitled "9 Steps for Releasing Your Music," those include tracking, overdubbing, editing, mixing and mastering. Each involves its own skill set. So, you could start from the beginning and hand your project over to a professional once you no longer have the skill set required to produce the quality you want at the step that you get to.
But, let's just say that you want to do as much as possible yourself. Maybe you want to spend as little money as you can.
Should you have a home recording mastered?
Before I answer, let me make sure we are on the same page in defining a "home recording." By "home recording," I do not mean a live, one-take recording of a full band on an iPhone. I am talking about a multi-track recording done on a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic or, hell, even Audacity.
I would say that you should probably not bother getting an iPhone recording mastered. It's unlikely that any mastering services will be able to whip a phone recording into radio-ready shape.
However, if we're talking a multi-track recording on a legit DAW, I would absolutely recommend having mastering done by an experienced specialist.
Most songs you hear on the radio will have had at least two top-level professionals involved in the production of them: that recording engineer and mastering engineer. If you've recorded your own music - and assuming that you haven't been in the business of recording other people's music daily over a period of years - you've already cut one of those professionals out of your recording. Your recording is already unlikely to sound as good as it would have if you had gone to a pro studio.
But, sending the tracks you've recorded out to a professional mastering studio allows you to at least have one of those professionals involved in getting your music in the ballpark of its sonic potential. And professionally-done mastering can sometimes have a bigger impact on a mediocre recording than it can on a phenomenal recording. A phenomenal recording may already have its instruments so perfectly EQ'd and compressed that the mix sounds tonally balanced and dynamically smooth. Mastering can certainly improve upon that. But, if a mix has some notable deficiencies compared to major label releases, mastering can close those bigger gaps to a greater extent.
I get it, recording at home can save a lot of money. When I've recorded in other professionals' studios, I've paid around $450ish per song for the tracking/overdubbing/editing/mixing aspects. And I've paid $50-$150 per song for mastering. So, if you choose just to have professional mastering done, it's a smaller proportion of the overall expenses that you are choosing to pay.
If you are considering having your home recording mastered, please keep Before and After Music Group in mind. We would love to help your music reach its sonic potential. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-412-600-8241 and let's discuss your project!
Chip Dominick is the CEO and head mastering engineer for Before and After Music Group