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The Future of Mastering

Saidera

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I have an impression that mastering engineers design their own gear, use rare in-house devices or analogue gear, and yet start from scratch all the time when thinking about how a particular project can be tweaked to sound as good as possible with the minimum of intervention.

Many of them have authored books. Online courses to impart some skills have been created.

In the past, recording studios were far more popular but my impression of recording and mixing is that it is difficult and complex, and seems far beyond the reach of many casual listeners.

At this point, automated mastering services are appearing but regardless of that, many content creators will also opt to 'master' audio on their own.

Is it possible for any audiophile to practice what a mastering engineer does? Can a person, with or without studio working experience, set up a good studio environment according to the books, use smaller but well-performing studio monitor speakers e.g. Adam Audio etc, and such technology as mastering software, plugins, studio monitor headphones etc to master their own streaming content? Aren't the audiophiles who consider things to the highest and deepest levels those who are basically mastering engineers even if they don't work professionally as mastering engineers?

If this is the case, mastering engineers will quickly become unnecessary, since AI and amateurs can easily replace the occupation.

It is arguable that digital plugins, with much trial and error, is capable of recreating what was only possible with analogue gear.

It seems it takes more than just an audiophile to make a mastering engineer. Mastering requires a kind of objective stance - if it's your own content it may be difficult to make it its best. Professional mastering would best work if the person has a grasp of wide ranging kinds of music, an ability to enhance the emotional experience, and not focus solely on 'sound quality' too much if that detracts from emotion. The person has to have experience as a player of an instrument, and studied electrical engineering etc. Not merely a passive listener.

Overall, since mastering as a profession has become firmly established in the 20th century, the only way people can enter that field is by working at one of the already existing studios. Obviously such skills as vinyl authoring are only possible to gain there. In the digital realm, trial and error could get you to the same level perhaps, but that is limited by how much skill+experience you already have in working at a proper studio. Most mastering engineers would need to be in a studio affiliated with or directed by a larger corporation to remain in business without too much trouble.

But let's throw common sense out the window. Ignoring the need to have speakers which you understand deeply and can work by analogy to imagine even larger speakers, let me ask what DAC does a mastering studio use? Can Sonata HD Pro suffice? Can Audacity be mastering software? Can studio monitor headphones like Sony's M1ST, Yamaha's MT8 or Audio-technica's ATH-M series suffice? And ultimately, if most consumers use the most commonplace worthless gear to listen, isn't it proper for the mastering to take place using just a DAC and headphones? In most cases there'd likely be no issues with how it sounds on a radio, a TV, a car, or a high end setup, although one could simply test it out rather than rely on analogy and experience with professional studio speakers.

Can every audiophile be a mastering engineer with only a Sonata HD Pro, a computer, and ATH-M40x?
 

Cbdb2

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Mastering is the icing on the cake. The recording and mixing is the cake. Some cake dosnt need icing. Some people like vanilla icing some people like chocalote. All you need for mastering is a computer, some DAW software and some good plug ins, EQ and compression/limiting. Oh, and a lot of experience, training, listening, and good ears. Not to mention dealing with producers and record label executives. If your evening out the bass from one record to the next with some EQ, than you've already stared mastering.
 

Blumlein 88

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I've done some recording. Started as minimalist as possible with high quality. Recorded some people I know. They issued one CD from my work. The next one, mainly due to copyright hazards they went with a recording studio. We told the guy up front we don't want the squashed dynamically compressed sound so common. This group plays acoustic instruments on bluegrass or Appalachian style music.

The initial results from the studio were nearly unrecognizable. An accapella Christmas lullaby had a DR rating of 6 which is one less than the infamous Metallica Death Magnetic album. We asked it be redone. The second result was like still unrecognizable. The primary vocalist listened to it in their car and thought their car audio rig must have gone bad.

So they sent the guy some of my tracks saying, "this is the kind of thing we want". The 3rd attempt was very good. The fellow has some real skills way beyond what I have as an amateur recording guy. Some of it I could figure out what he'd done, some of it no. But his result was to their liking and much better than what I could do. So he is capable and should be having made his living there for 26 years. Getting him to ignore the "fashion" of super compressed sound was difficult. This guy was already all ITB, in the box, no analogue chain. He was skilled, but I'm sure he masters to what his customers think is the current fashion. Or maybe what he thinks is what everyone wants. A shame really as his skills are really good, but being misapplied for the most part, IMO.

Oh and the OP mentioned minimum intervention...............................HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Where did you get this idea? Those guys want to wow you with what they can do. Minimum intervention doesn't enter into it for the most part.

One of the great revelations to me is how easy it is to make darn good minimalist recordings with excellent sound. But it is totally unsuited for most purposes and unsatisfying to most musicians. You can't listen to such recordings in your car, and everyone wants to be heard in people's cars.
 

H-713

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Most people who start as audiophiles end up making really miserably poor recording and / or mastering engineers. Fact is, what makes a great record isn't the "chin-stroking audiophile definition of perfection". It has to be something that's actually worth listening to. Records that meet both of those criteria are few and far between.


Also, a good mastering engineer (and not some dude with a laptop who calls himself a mastering engineer) is invaluable, but they're few and far between. They need to know a reasonable amount about the medium they're mastering for (especially if it's vinyl).
 

Blumlein 88

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Yes, Billie Eilish's first album was recorded and produced in her bedroom.
OK so do you have an example where diy resulted in a good album?
 
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Saidera

Saidera

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Thanks for the really entertaining and insightful responses! Minimum intervention - I got this idea from Mr Bernie Grundman.

I see that O'Connell's small bedroom studio in Highland Park used Logic Pro X, a Universal Audio Apollo 8 interface and a pair of Yamaha HS5 studio monitors with an H8S subwoofer with an intention to incorporate the bedroom's homely nature as well as the way in which the bedroom affects vocals, the abundance of natural light and low cost.

abdo123 has answered my post with an example, to which I add that the actual mastering was not done in a bedroom studio.

As is obvious to all, a mastering engineer has a variety of tools at their disposal to match with a variety of content and artists.

I have a comment: I mentioned 'computer' to include the huge universe of plugins and software technology {'all the knives to undertake surgery'), I mentioned Sonata HD Pro to imply a belief that it matches the quality of the best and most expensive studio gear since 'all DACs sound the same' right??

And headphones are the issue. Obviously to set up a good speaker system for mastering one cannot have had minimal experience in it. Indeed some bedrooms simply are right next to a noisy road. Or can headphones be used to imagine what speakers might sound like, and even further to car speakers etc, by analogy? Might the result end up optimised for headphones and thus not playable in a car etc.

What makes sound worth listening to? Not a simple question. So mastering engineers don't really need the best equipment. Those who desire perfect sound are not their biggest audience. Perhaps music for the masses, particularly streamed music, should be made using mass produced commonplace equipment, and an understanding of digital mediums is sufficient. A good mastering engineer is perhaps difficult to define.
 
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Matias

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There is skill and experience involved with mastering. Getting the tools does not make one an expert in the field.
 
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Saidera

Saidera

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I'm not sure whether 'skill and experience' can be converted into a book, or passed down to an assistant.
Perhaps every individual engineer will have different views, and beyond a sound grasp of the basics and how to use the tools, there isn't all that much to mastering?

It's like saying, there's not much to acting apart from learning the script right?
 

q3cpma

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If you consider that she was 15 years old and her brother was 19 the album is very impressive.

But i guess leave it to ASR to judge an album by how much $$$$ it took to make.
I never listened to it, just explained the joke. But I'm almost sure I won't consider it as "good".
9776.jpg

https://www.metal-archives.com/albums/Blut_aus_Nord/Memoria_Vetusta_I:_Fathers_of_the_Icy_Age/9776
was made by a 16 year old boy in his bedroom, so I doubt I'll be impressed by this kind of feat.

EDIT: listened to "Bad Guy" to see what the hype was all about. God, it is mundane, even mediocre.
 

Matias

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If I read a book about basketball and buy Michael Jordan shoes can I become a champion? Nope, there is a loooot of training and perseverance to become great.
 
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Saidera

Saidera

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It is concluded. So there won't be an evolution of mastering in the 21st century. Casual listeners cannot become mastering pros because the art of mastering is not just a book, tools or the act of listening.

So a sports commentator (who can't play pro sports), a food reviewer (who most likely isn't a professional chef), and a mastering engineer (who couldn't play an instrument to the professional level) are not as simple as they often appear to be.
 

abdo123

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Her first album, Don't Smile at Me, was mastered by John Greenham, a Grammy awarded mastering engineer.

I said produced though. just because John opened the tracks, listened to them for few minutes and did some final touches doesn't mean that we forget that the majority of the work was done by her and her brother Finneas O'connell.

He has the producer credits.
 

Geert

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I said produced though.
You answered positive to the question if anyone can do mastering and gave this album as an example. The question was not if anyone can produce music.

And elaborating on your example; anyone can probably do mastering as well as they can produce music like Finneas can...

Finneas did a very nice job on Billies debut songs, but take into account it's all pretty basic electronic music using samples that sound 90% fine out of the box. Nevertheless I respect his work.
 
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abdo123

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I never listened to it, just explained the joke. But I'm almost sure I won't consider it as "good".
9776.jpg

https://www.metal-archives.com/albums/Blut_aus_Nord/Memoria_Vetusta_I:_Fathers_of_the_Icy_Age/9776
was made by a 16 year old boy in his bedroom, so I doubt I'll be impressed by this kind of feat.

EDIT: listened to "Bad Guy" to see what the hype was all about. God, it is mundane, even mediocre.


This is not about Billie, it's about the fact that music is a form and a medium for expression. and that you don't need 'experience' to express yourself.

It's art, not engineering.

being technically impressive =/= good music. it's up to every individual to decide whether a piece of music is good or not.
 
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