Here we are in 2007. We have crazy gadgets for just about every task you can imagine. Some of you have probably heard my opinions of people watching Youtube videos of dogs skateboarding on their Iphones. Even in music recording, we have various “auto equalizers” and more silly plugins than we can possible imagine.
I call them “silly plugins” because the music that inspired us to get into music recording ourselves didn’t have these types of plugins and the music that most of us want to make won’t be improved a bit this type of gadgetry. I’m not necessarily against new technology if it will improve the music.
There is an implication that we need to perform some sort of “processing” to our music to make it sound awesome. This processing is along the lines of “magic”. Well, we do have EQ, compression, reverbs, delays, etc but I consider these to be more like a shovel and a hammer. They are simple tools that help us do relatively simple things. An EQ either boosts or it cuts. There is no auto. A compressor says “Hey signal, you cross this volume line and I’ll smash you”.
With mastering, people seam to think you need some sort of incredibly advanced algorithm to analyze and perfect the audio. If my ax and shovel analogy continues, than these mastering plugins must be NASA super computers! Well, I hate to break it to you. Big time mastering engineers are using shovels and hammers on your music, too. (They had a big problem with cds skipping until they figured out that only the music should be “worked on”…..okay I’m not a comedy writer. Give me a break.)
What Tools Are Pro CD Mastering Dudes Using?
When Eric Conn from Independent Mastering got a hold of a recording I had produced, there were not any spectrum analyzers or crazy gadgets. He had an API eq, a high end compressor, and a limiter. To my knowledge, that was the extent of it. It was a very simple chain when compared to how the usual home recording dude views the mastering process.
Okay, so Eric frequently has his hands on multi-platinum albums and a great sounding compressor, eq, and limiter make up the overwhelming majority of his tools. I thought to myself? Why do I need “mastering software” for this? What is mastering software going to do for me?
I’ve concluded that mastering software will do NOTHING! Now if the plugins in the mastering software packages sounded incredibly, that would be a reason to use them. However, if a mastering software company had an INCREDIBLE eq and compressor plugin, I would want to get the “normal” version so I could use it on my kick drums, guitars, and room mics. I would want it for mixing.
Mastering In Cubase SX3
I just fire up my recording software of choice (Cubase SX3) and go to town. I put each song on it’s own track and space the tracks out to mimic the play order of the album. I grab the best sounding song and see if I can improve it. It may use a subtle amount of EQ, a subtle amount of compression, and a subtle amount of limiting. These are all plugins I load up on the insert to each track. I often put the limiter on the 2 bus because I can apply that to all tracks with the same setting and just control the volume going into the limiter. I MAY put some sort of multiband compressor on, but this is rare and I use it with EXTREME caution. (Nothing tears up a great mix faster than a multiband compressor).
So how is this different from using specialized software? It’s not! I’m doing the exact same things. I usually don’t use “spacial restoration” type of plugins, but I don’t know what those are anyway and I’m pretty sure I don’t want any “weird” processing done to my tracks anyway. “Weird” processing almost always sounds need on the system you put it on and almost always sounds terrible when getting it to translate to other systems. I’ll let the people at home add their “surround” simulator or whatever.
Why Mastering At Home Sucks
Without a doubt, mastering at home sucks and it sucks for a number of reasons.
#1 I’m listening on the same system I mixed on. Mastering is a subtle process yet I’m supposed to hear these subtle changes on a system I just mixed the record on. If I didn’t think the mix was the 100% best job I could possibly do, there is no point to mastering.
#2 If I did the 100% best job I possibly could on my studio monitors, than every mix should sound great and not need much in the way of mastering.
#3 I don’t know what I’m dong. Seriously, I’m not a mastering guy. I just try to get all the songs to sound similar. Some songs will be brighter and some songs will be darker. The idea is to make the album “cohesive” so that the changes from song to song aren’t distracting.
#4 I don’t learn anything from mastering my mixes on my system.
What A Pro Mastering Dude Can Do For You
A real mastering engineer has a system that probably sounds WAY more accurate than your room. He’s probably been mastering on those same speakers for 20 years. He knows them better than you know your wife. (And his studio monitors will never take half!……how was that one? You are right, my comedy writing sucks!). A real mastering engineer has more variety of projects than a male pornstar and can detect the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the two with ease. Most importantly, a real mastering engineer can tell you what to work on and how to improve.
If You Have $300 To Blow On Plugins
If you have $300 to blow on plugins, don’t buy something just because they wrote “mastering” on it some fancy font. Put your money towards buying some great sounding plugins that can be used during the mixing AND mastering process. You’ll be happier in the end, trust me. If you are not sure what the best plugins for $300, just ask on the recording forum forum.recordingreview.com
Mastering at home sucks, but if you have to do it due to budgetary constraints, don’t waste money on a program simply because it says “Mastering” in the title. The extra gadgetry it may contain is not something that the big boys are using, anyway. If you want to apply “neat” or “weird” effects to your mix, do it before you master. Your mix should sound PERFECT when you say “I’m done”. If you are relying on mastering to bail you out of a tricky situation, it’s like waiting for your drunk step-dad to pick you up after baseball practice. (How was that one? That one was pretty good, I thought).
I find it strange that people will “trust” their recording software with every piece of their audio to handle the mixing process, but feel that their recording software is somehow inadequate for mastering. This is just not true.