Now that you know what mastering is, the big decision must be made: who will master your recording?
As a general rule, most musicians and engineers recommend having “fresh ears” for your mastering. That means that all the blood, sweat and tears, all the emotional effort you’ve put into your album have inevitably made you lose all perspective on how it sounds. You’ve listened to these songs over and over as you wrote them, recorded them and mixed them. While you can have a pretty good idea of what makes them sound good, you probably aren’t the best candidate to put the finishing sonic touches on your songs.
This is why most people hire mastering engineers: not only do they have tons of experience in the audio mastering industry, they have fresh ears to bring to your project. Fresh ears may hear things that you wouldn’t, and can really breathe new life into your recordings that you didn’t even realize could be there. Although if you do want to take a crack at mastering, check out our guide to mastering at home.
The Best Gear Wins
In addition to an excellent ear, you should find a mastering engineer with top-notch professional gear. Even the finest ear can’t do much with your recording if it doesn’t have the equipment to get the job done. If you know something about audio gear, look for equipment lists on mastering websites, or call them to ask for a rundown on gear.
Someone You Trust
At any stage of the recording process, it’s important that you trust the people that are working on your music. Trust means different things to different people. You probably won’t always know everyone who engineers your projects personally, so you’ll have to rely on other things that give you confidence in their character and trustworthiness. Have they been in the industry for a long time? Can you speak with any other artists who have worked with them? A great engineer has probably been doing his job for years, decades even. And if they really are good to work with, other clients can vouch for them.
Check the engineer’s website to find a history of the business and a client list. When in doubt, go with your gut–it’s usually right!
Getting Your Style
It’s always important to check if an engineer’s work is a good fit for your musical style. Many mastering engineers will do all kinds of music, but often times different studios will specialize in specific genres. If you write hip-hop, you should probably find an engineer that has mastered a lot of hip-hop and rap music and not someone who specializes in rock.
In the end, your ears are the best way to pick an engineer. Listen to before and after samples on their website and check out recordings of other artists they’ve worked with. If there are no samples on their website, contact the engineer and have them send demos to you. A professional engineer will be happy to oblige!