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Home Studio Mastering – Viable Option Or No-Go?

Daily Blog - July 27th 2021

Mixing yourself is hard enough, right? So should you even try to learn mastering? Is it worth it? Can home studio mastering lead to great results at all?

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I have mixed feelings about home studio mastering - and in fact wouldn't call it "mastering"

Mastering requires experience. A lot of it. You need to be able to hear the smallest details, identify problems, know what to do about those problems and stay on top of all the technical requirements and standards to make sure the music you work on sounds great in the target formats and on the target platforms.

And professional mastering can only be done in a professional listening environment that can actually reveal small problems and lets you hear all the details. This can be a great studio room with super accurate monitoring (not the reality in most home studio mastering situations) or high quality headphones (much more realistic).

So, technically it can be done, but it's not gonna give you the same, reliable, consistent high quality results and the peace of mind you get from hiring a professional mastering engineer to put the finishing touches on your records. Mastering is much more than "just" the technical part. It's quality control, an outside perspective, a fresh pair of ears, mixing advice, sequencing, making the whole record flow well and knowing that the project is truly finished.

So, to me, by definition you can't do true "mastering" yourself, or at least not take full advantage of it, if you've already mixed the song. You're not objective anymore and it's unlikely that you can do what an experienced mastering engineer does.

So "home studio mastering" actually means tweaking and fine tuning the mix. Even if you separate the steps. You mix a song and you just make it sound as good as you can. Your "mastering" is just a part of the mix that happens on your master fader.

But what if "professional mastering" was not needed and DIY home studio mastering was enough to help you achieve your goals?

That's why I have mixed feelings about it. While I absolutely believe that it's worth hiring great mastering engineers and that this is the best way to get amazing results, it might not always be necessary. And I also think that people blow it way out of proportion compared to mixing, for example.

If you...

  • ...already have a great mix,
  • ...practice a lot,
  • ...get a couple of amazing, "intelligent", easy to use tools,
  • ...invest in reliable, accurate monitoring or headphones,
  • ...do enough research to know about the basic technical requirements of each format and platform,
  • ...maybe get some coaching or regular feedback,
  • ...explore (good) online AI mastering tools like Maastr.io and use them mainly to learn and compare your results to the AI masters,

you might be able to finish your project yourself and release a decent sounding record that connects with people and helps you reach the next level as a band or solo musician. It's definitely possible.

But is it worth the effort? 

Honestly, I don't think so. You probably still have enough to learn and improve when it comes to recording & mixing (the most important parts of the process), so you should invest that time and money into these (or even just focus on recording and producing). 

Also, mastering is not really expensive. So home studio mastering is not a great way to save money compared to other things, like only buying gear you really need, for example.

So I can't think of a good reason to do it yourself for a real release, but I can totally understand that you want to explore it. Because I wanted that as well. It's fun and it's kind of a dark art that we all want to demystify. Also, doing it all yourself start to finish can feel amazing. I get it.

That's why I'd say go for it. See how far you get. Nobody's going to die if you fail. Just keep in mind you're not really mastering, you're just tweaking your mix.

If home studio mastering gets you exciting results that you and your fans love - perfect. Mission accomplished. If you feel like you're not reaching your goals and want to unleash your music's full potential, hire a mastering engineer. I'd do that anyways, even if it's just to learn and compare.

-Benedikt


PS: If you're looking for an amazing community to get feedback from and provide your own expertise for, check out The Self-Recording Band Community. It's 100% free and can be the growth accelerator you've been missing all the time.

PPS: Downloading one of our free guides and joining our email list is also a great way to connect with your peers, as we will invite you to events and keep you in the loop about what's going on in our community. For example, we host amazing video meetups and help people improve their recordings, arrangements and mixes by listening and giving collective feedback live on the call. Join us now!

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