Pro mastering engineer Jude Rawlins comments on 'Can you really master at home, take 2'…
An interesting debate about mastering. Frankly, you're both right. I AM a professional mastering engineer, with 20 years experience, my most recent clients include EMI, Warners, Universal, and One Little Indian. And my favorite place to master is Studio 6 at Abbey Road.
Now, if I'm remastering, be it from baked analog tapes, DATs, whatever, give me the state of the art studio. Without the gear it would be possible – but arduous and time consuming, and none too accurate – to eliminate everything from tape hiss to 16-bit digital blocking to room-next-door noise.
If you want me to give you a flatload from a baked 40 year old mix tape that's got exactly two passes in it before it dies, then I need Sadie and Cedar, I need an UNCOMPLICATED audio path to the PC analog inputs, I need a Studer that's been checked by the best, and I need an assistant who knows ferric when he smells it.
But that said, when it comes to mastering NEW recordings, if you've got a great mix, if you've worked with an engineer who knows what he's doing, if your multitrack had great levels to begin with, in other words IF the raw material is good enough, well then… I could master it at home.
All I'd need is any old version of Soundforge and (for albums) a multitrack like Acid or Nuendo, a decent pair of flat speakers, and not much else. And I would guarantee you that it'd sound as good as if it'd been done in Studio 6.
But I'd still charge you the same, because what you're actually paying for are my ears. I think you see where I'm going with this. The gear is only as good as the skills being deployed on it.
And once you know what you're listening for, because you've done it so much you've developed a sixth sense for it, pretty much any gear that can perform the task will suffice in a crunch. Folks just need to stop mastering with their EYES and start using their EARS.
Just because a plug-in has the word 'mastering' in its name, well that doesn't mean you need to use it. And your finished WAV file doesn't need to look like a horizontal Empire State Building, it just has to sound RIGHT.
My biggest tip for anyone considering mastering at home is this: Get yourself some cheap outboard gear, a couple of compressors, a maximizer, and maybe an enhancer of some kind (Behringer and BBE are pretty good), a little desk and set up a little mastering suite.
Burn your unmastered mixes onto a CD. Run your audio CD through your little system, and see what you can accomplish just by twiddling knobs and adjusting faders. What are the shortcomings? How would you solve this problem or that problem?
Learn to let the track TELL YOU how to master it. The music always knows best.