In 2020, defining what mastering is has become more complicated to explain. It goes against the typical trends you have in any industry. The more established a sector in any given market is, the more evident their function within that market becomes.
With mastering, this has gone the other way round. The more mastering studios/ online mastering services/ automated “mastering” website popped up, the more confused about mastering people have got.
Well, this has to be attributed to the internet and the new generation of software.
Too many “mastering” tags have been used by services and tools which have nothing to do with the real meaning of mastering.
Having software that analyses your music and applies automatic settings, it is not mastering.
A website where you can upload your mixes and spits out 5 minutes later your “mastered” version is not mastering.
Painting by numbers with presets of some software, it is not mastering.
So, WHAT IS MASTERING?
Let’s start with the basics. The process of mastering ALWAYS involves a mastering engineer.
The same as every mixing process always involves a mixing engineer, a recording process involves a recording engineer, you see where I am going with this.
Using an automated process (e.g., in the form of templates or AI algorithms) is NOT mastering.
It is simple audio processing.
Having your music “mastered” though a website which uses AI algorythms to master your music, skips the most fundamental part of any mastering process: NO ONE has been listening to your music. Not the original mix and more imprtantly, no one has listened to the final results!
I am not here to say that these types of websites are good or bad. I am just saying that waht they offer, is mere sound processing.
A mastering process involves a ME who actually LISTENS to your mix in a properly TREATED room.
By a human being who has spent thousands hours in critical listening on top of the range monitors in a neutral listening environment, with updated knowledge of market trends and requirements.
That is it!
Your mix is judged first, analysed, and processed later based on the ME experience.
There will be some discussions about your best course of action. You will be advised in regards to what distribution channels you have chosen to shop your music on. Based on your type of music, you will be advised in terms of loudness, sonic profile, and final delivery format.
And, unlike any software, sometimes you’ll be advised not to master your music as it has been deemed not to be ready to be mastered and released. In these rare cases, you’ll be advised how to tweak your mix and make sure it is ready.
Having the best gear on the market or having the technical knowledge is just a small part of what makes a good ME. What defines an excellent mastering engineer is that he/she will always advise you by putting your interests first, even if that means he/she will lose the gig.
When I get asked what I do for a living, I never say I am a mastering engineer.
My answer is always, “I listen to music for a living.”