Deciding to do your own mastering is a very big decision to make. Remember that in our article on what mastering is, we mentioned that mastering engineers must have an incredibly fine-tuned ear to hear every little detail of the song they’re working on. Mastering engineers can pinpoint specific frequencies that need to be adjusted when they listen to a project. Additionally, in our article on who should master your music, we touched on the idea of “fresh ears” being essential to getting a great master.
But there may be several reasons why you’d want to master your album yourself. Spending a few hundred bucks on mastering software could be a cost-efficient alternative to spending closer to a thousand dollars on a professional engineer. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the extra money goes toward quality. Parting with a few more dollars tends to be well worth it to get professional results. And if you factor in the expensive gear found in mastering studios, the cost of doing it at home could end up not being able to compete.
If you are determined to master at home and feel confident that you have the skills and ear necessary to do it, here are a few tips to get you started.
First and foremost, you’ll need to get some sort of audio mastering software to work with. Applications can run anywhere from $50 to $8,000, so there is something to fit every budget. Check out Mastering Today’s reviews of mastering software to familiarize yourself with a few of your options.
The more expensive the program, the more features it will have and the better sound quality you are likely to get. Don’t forget that there will be a learning curve and it will take some practice to get familiar and comfortable with any new software. If you’re on a tight deadline, you might want to try an online mastering service that can do it well in a short amount of time.
Your speakers are incredibly important. Most mastering studios have several pairs of very high-end monitor speakers that they listen through. It’s also helpful to have pairs of lower end speakers to compare as well (like computer speakers and stereo speakers). You’ll want to hear your master in every possible audio situation. A pair of professional monitor speakers with a flat frequency response will give you the purest representation of your recording. But most consumers will be listening to your album on much lower grade speakers, so you’ll want to hear what they’re hearing as well.
When it comes down to it, all you really need to do your mastering is the software and a good set of speakers. But professional mastering studios run the audio through racks full of processors like compressors and limiters in order to get the CD-quality sound you crave. Most mastering engineers swear by analog gear to give your project the warm fullness that can take it over the top. So if you want to master at home but get pro-grade results, you’re going to need to invest in some serious outboard gear. This is where you might consider just heading to the studio or using an online service—music gear costs can really add up!