If you're a musician or a producer, you probably know that mastering is a crucial part of the music production process. Mastering engineers are professionals who specialize in polishing and enhancing your music tracks, making them sound better and ready for distribution across multiple mediums, and streaming platforms!
But how do you find the right mastering engineer for your music? With so many options available online, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one for your needs. In this article, we'll guide you through the process of finding the right mastering engineer and answering questions along the way.
At Modern Metal Songwriter, we understand the importance of finding the right mastering engineer for your music specifically. Let's get started on finding the right one for you.
What Does a Mastering Engineer Do?
Before we dive into finding the right mastering engineer, let's define what a mastering engineer does. A mastering engineer is responsible for taking the final mixed songs and turning them into the final polished product (the final master file) that you will deliver to distribution services, such as Distrokid, or CDBaby.
They will listen to the tracks with a critical ear, identifying areas where they can improve the sound quality and make the tracks more cohesive (this is especially important across EPs or Albums). To do this, mastering engineers use specialized tools and software to adjust the EQ, dynamics, and stereo image of the tracks. They also apply compression and limiting or clipping to ensure that the tracks are at an optimal volume level for streaming, vinyl, or CD release.
A skilled mastering engineer will have the ability to enhance the sound of the tracks while maintaining the integrity of the original mix. A mastering engineer can also help to bring out the best in your music, making it sound more cohesive and polished for the listener.
Mixing vs. Mastering
Mixing and mastering (they ARE two different things...) are both crucial steps in the music production process, but they serve different purposes. Mixing is the process of blending all the individual tracks in a song to create a cohesive sound while mastering focuses on polishing and enhancing the final mixed product. Mixing engineers are responsible for balancing the levels of each individual track in a song, panning them to create a stereo image, and applying effects such as reverb and delay. They ensure that each instrument and vocal is heard clearly and that the overall sound of the song is balanced.
Mastering engineers, on the other hand, focus on the final overall product and ensure that it sounds polished, cohesive, and ready for distribution. They work on the stereo image, EQ, dynamics, and volume levels of the final mixed product to ensure that it sounds consistent and professional across all playback systems. While mixing engineers work on the individual tracks, mastering engineers work on the final stereo mix file. They use specialized tools and software to adjust the overall sonics of the songs, rather than on an individual level.
It's important to hire both a mixing engineer and a mastering engineer to ensure that your music sounds its best, or atleast one that specializes in doing both. While mixing engineers will ensure that each individual track is balanced and heard clearly, mastering engineers will polish the final mixed product and make it sound professional and ready for release.
Some mixing engineers also do mastering, but depending on the scenario and budget of the project, we truly believe outsourcing mastering can add a lot to a track, so it's worth considering, if the budget is there.
Why Should I Hire a Mastering Engineer?
You may be wondering if hiring a mastering engineer is necessary for your music. There are online mastering services (Such as Landr, and Emastered) and even off-line AI mastering tools/plugins that can do the job for a fraction of the price. Although, it's important to understand that mastering is a skilled service that requires years of experience to do correctly, and that some of these AI systems still have not quite caught up to the quality a true professional brings to the table. This is especially true in rock and metal where the DAW and plugin meters don't always tell you the full picture of the sound.
Hiring the right mastering engineer ensures that your music is in the hands of a professional who can bring out the best in your tracks. Mastering can make your music sound more cohesive, balanced, and polished, and they can also ensure that your tracks are at an optimal volume level for streaming or CD release. This is crucial for getting your music heard by a wider audience and for being playlist-ed next to some of the biggest names in your genre.
At MMS, we believe that hiring a mastering engineer is a crucial investment in your musics final sound. It can make the difference between your tracks sounding amateur or professional and can help you stand out in a crowded music industry.
AI Mastering vs. Human Mastering
In recent years, AI mastering tools such as Maastr, e-Mastered, or LANDR have become increasingly popular among musicians and producers. These tools use machine learning algorithms to analyze and enhance the sound of tracks automatically. While AI mastering tools can be a cost-effective option that is great for pre-production and demos, they're not always as effective as human mastering.
AI mastering tools lack the critical listening skills and nuanced understanding of current music that human mastering engineers have. They work on a preset algorithm that may not take into account the unique characteristics of your music. For example, if you make metal music with a lot of electronics, it may not factor these things in, and leave you with a result you don't like as it wasn't sure what to do with your song. This can lead to a lack of energy and depth in the final sound of your songs.
While AI mastering tools can be a good option for demos or quick turnaround projects, they're not recommended for professional releases. Human mastering engineers bring years of experience, critical listening skills, and a nuanced understanding of music to the table. They can tailor their mastering process to your unique tracks and bring out the best in your music.
How to Find the Right Mastering Engineer
Now that you understand the importance of hiring a human mastering engineer, you may be wondering how to find the right one for your music. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect mastering engineer:
- Ask for recommendations from fellow musicians and producers: Reach out to other musicians and producers in your circle to see if they have any recommendations for a good mastering engineer. You can also join online forums or Facebook groups dedicated to music creation in your genre to ask for recommendations. Our Facebook group is an active place with many people willing to help you find the right person!
- Check online marketplaces: There are several online marketplaces where you can find mastering engineers, such as SoundBetter, Fiverr, and Upwork. These sites allow you to browse through profiles of mastering engineers, read reviews from past clients, listen to their work, and compare pricing.
- Look for a mastering engineer who specializes in your genre: Different genres of music have unique characteristics and requirements when it comes to mastering. Look for a mastering engineer who has experience working in your genre to ensure that they understand the unique requirements of your music.
- Listen to their previous work: Most mastering engineers have a portfolio of their previous work available online. Take the time to listen to their previous work to see if their mastering style aligns with your musical vision. This is key for making the right choice.
- Contact them directly: Once you've narrowed down your list of potential mastering engineers, reach out to them directly to discuss your project. Ask them about their process, pricing, and turnaround time to see if they're a good fit for your project. Some mastering engineers even offer test-masters for bigger projects.
We recommend joining Modern Metal Songwriters our free Facebook group for musicians and producers as it is a great resource for finding the people to help you with pretty much anything you need as a musician recording, and writing at home. Whether it's a mastering engineer, songwriting partner and more, that group has you covered!
Our community is filled with like-minded individuals who are passionate about songwriting, and music production and are always willing to share their knowledge and recommendations!
Mastering is a crucial step in the music production process, and hiring a mastering engineer can make all the difference in the final sound of your tracks, especially when paired with a great mixing engineer (click HERE to read our article about finding a mixing engineer).
While AI mastering tools may be a cost-effective option, they lack the critical listening skills and nuanced understanding of music that pro mastering engineers have. When looking for a mastering engineer, ask for recommendations, check online, look for a mastering engineer who specializes in your genre and get in touch with them.