There’s a lot to think about when your band is recording. You’ve got to choose a studio, or set up your own, and you’ve got to be exceptionally tight to minimize recording time and get the best final product possible. You’ve also got to think about mastering. Mastering helps songs sound uniform in volume, and gives each tune a sort of extra “boost” that can give it a good sound regardless of the sound system that’s playing it.
Some bands decide to master their own recordings. In general, this is a very bad idea. Here’s why.
1. You’re biased. When you’re mastering, you have some control over the volume, tone, and EQ of various parts of a band (though not as much as when you’re mixing). Without even knowing it, you’re likely to start mastering in a way that complements your instrument. You might put on some compression that makes the guitar sound great at the expense of the drums, or vice versa. Mastering engineers need to listen to the entire song, not just specific parts, and it’s hard to remain objective when you’re actually on the track.
2. You don’t have the ear. Relax, I’m not trashing you–it takes years to develop a good ear for mastering. It’s not automatic, and it’s not the same as mixing. A professional mastering engineer has serious equipment designed specifically for mastering, including special software, a special computer, special monitors, and most importantly his ear. You don’t have any of this, unless you’re actually a mastering engineer. And if that’s the case, I have no idea why you’re reading this article.
3. Band members will invariably disagree. If you’re mastering an album with your band, you’re going to run into issues right away, and remember what I said about how you don’t have the ear? Well, neither does your drummer. Unless, again, your drummer is a mastering engineer.
Usually, disagreements in a band can be a good thing. You disagree about part of a song, and you argue, and you come up with something better. Mastering doesn’t work this way–there’s reasons that mastering isn’t generally done in teams.
4. Mastering isn’t that expensive. Well, not when you consider the overall cost of recording an album in the first place. You can find a decent mastering engineer that will work for $40 a song, and they don’t even need to be in studio–mastering can be completed with a lossless WAV audio file of each song. Spend the money. It’ll make your songs sound better in every conceivable environment, and you’ll have a better chance of getting radio play with a well-mastered album.
Has your band had an experience with mastering an album or song? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.