The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 1

One of the themes I see coming up rather often on a lot of the recording forums is of people complaining that their mixes don’t sound as loud as commercial records. The answer given most often is, of course, mastering.

Before we carry on, a few caveats. First off, getting a good mix comes first. As [one version of] the saying goes: you can’t polish a turd. The next thing is that I highly recommend having a reputable professional mastering engineer do your mastering for you.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they are going to have absolutely top class equipment, most importantly their monitoring, their room and their ears, along with the experience to get the most out of them. The second is that you’ll get a second person listening to your mix. If you’ve been immersing yourself in your programming, performing, arranging and mixing, you can start to lose some objectivity. The mastering engineer can step back from the mix with a fresh perspective and hear what the mix might need.

When it comes to picking a mastering service, do your research. It seems like mastering has exploded in the last couple of years. It seems like everyone with a copy of Waves L2 has set up an online mastering service. Look to see who has mastered some of the records in your collection and check them out; they might be more affordable than you think. With even huge studios like Abbey Road offering online mastering services, anyone can now get access to those ears of experience.

All that said of course there are going to be times you might want to do it yourself. You might have a work in progress you want to listen to in the same context as some commercial releases; you might have just finished a song that you want to play out that night; or you might have just spent your last penny on the latest plugin.

So, for those occasions, how can you bring that level up and add a bit of punch? A simple internet search can give you more ‘how to’ guides than I could ever hope to list, so I’ll just run through a quick step-by-step of what works for me, and you can adapt it for your own best results.

In preparation for part two of this post, get yourself a stereo wave file of your final mix ready along with a couple of files of similar style commercial tracks for comparison and stop back in a few days for the step-by-step…


4 Responses to “The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 1”

  1. 1 Maxxy November 1, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Nice blog, I’ll drop in from time to time. Would be great to hear how you got on marketing your own stuff. I’m only now, with my 40th birthday on the horizon, starting my musical journey, having had a keyboard since I was about 15. I’ve had bits of tune ( usually nothing more than 4 or 8 bar loops ) for years, and recently I decided to approach some studios to see if they could help me turn my ideas into something more tangeable. So I’m currently working on my first three tracks. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have them finished……

    • 2 fynncallum November 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment! The marketing side of things is a great idea for a post, and certainly something I’ll be planing on posting in the future. I’m working towards getting a three track release ready to go so, once that’s ready and the marketing kicks of for it, I’ll be posting some updates on what I’m up to and how it’s working. Cheers, fc.

  2. 3 Maxxy November 2, 2011 at 11:28 am

    There’s interesting. I’m currently working on three tracks in the studio too. So are you planning to release the three as a kind of EP ?? I’ve wondered about releasing an EP, rather than waiting to collect an albums worth of material. Not really up on the digital releasing norms…..would be interested on your views of releasing smaller collections and the pros and cons……

    • 4 fynncallum November 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      It’s perhaps a bit different, as this is a set of deep house tracks, which are generally released as 2 or 3-track singles. This might be slightly different, as it’s going to be three different songs, rather than 1 song with an original mix and 2 remixes.

      I think EPs are great. Particularly in the indie scene, I’ve got a few in the vinyl collection, including a nice double ’45 by The Bees. Something to consider as well is how much time are you getting to spend in the studio? Is it worth getting an EP finished early to get something out there?

      Also, if it’s likely to take a long time for an album, will you have all the songs written up front then record and mix everything at the same time, or will it be more sequential? If it’s the latter how much will your writing and production have changed by the end of it and will that mean that the songs perhaps don’t sit together as comfortably as an album?

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