Home Studio Mastering is a Terrible Idea.

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Paramadman, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. Paramadman

    Paramadman Active Member

    Although there are many tools now available for various platforms the fact is that home studios lack these important aspects that make them completely unsuitable for mastering:

    1.) The control rooms in home/project studios are generally too small to permit accurate acoustics even if you spend the money to buy some acoustical treatments. Unless you have the mathematical chops necessary to calculate depth, materials, etc for the control of low frequency modal buildup within small rooms you've lost before you begin. Besides, if your control room falls below a minimum of 1500 cubic feet no matter what you do it will still be wrong.

    2.) The owners of home studios cannot begin to afford the loudspeakers necessary for the level of truth required to master a finished product.

    3.) It takes many, many years to learn enough about the various tools used in a mastering lab to be useful.

    4.) The only thing more expensive than paying an experienced mastering engineer for their training, ears and equipment is to do it incorrectly yourself and be forced to eat an order of CD's (or other media) when you discover that you've ruined it the first time.

    5.) A topnotch mastering lab has been CORRECTLY wired electrically and thereby bring system noise down close to theoretical limits.

    6.) Home/project studios cannot begin to afford the necessary equipment. Plugins will (generally speaking) prove incapable of doing the job.

    I could list countless other reasons not to master your own material and to pay for an expert to do it instead, but the biggest single one is to get a new set of expertly trained ears—ones not “married” to the material—to put the final polish on your stuff. They will hear things you won’t and will make decisions based on what is best for the material rather than most tickling of your ego…

    Don't kid yourself. It takes the top mastering engineers years to learn their trade. It is shear arrogance (not to mention folly) to assume you can do what they can do with no more experience than a flea has with raping a python...

  2. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    You attitude, while essentially correct, is that of a top F1 mechanic dissing SCCA amateur racers for building their own cars. Very little of what they do "matters" in a commercial sense, and nobody gets killed in a five song pileup caused by someone's home studio mastering errors. Meanwhile they are making all the mistakes that lead to a deeper understanding of the process. Though few will ever be real mastering engineers some will come to have an increased respect for the profession. They are your future clients. Chill and let the people have their fun.
  3. Paramadman

    Paramadman Active Member

    I was not saying that they should not have their fun, I was pointing out that mastering quality is directly proportional to the accuracy of the room and the monitors within them. When was the last time you saw a set of near field monitors capable of the broadband response necessary to do good mastering? When, indeed was the last time you saw a home/project studio with a control room that was (at least) 30 feet deep? Without these minimum requirements they cannot hear in the low frequencies necessary to trust any adjustments they may wish to make below—let us say—30Hz - 60Hz. Even with a good subwoofer combined with some high-end near field monitors the small size of such a room will not permit any level of accuracy worthy of the name.

    Btw, I am not a mastering engineer myself—although my many years of experience probably would allow me to do a credible job. I began life as a musician/writer/composer and I became interested in recording. This interest led me into audio, and this (of course) left me with a desire to build my own facility. I designed and built a room that looked beautiful but was an acoustical nightmare. Being the kind of person that I am this poor outcome forced me to discover exactly why it was that I had failed. I went back to university and (eventually) earned a PhD in physics thereby leading me into becoming an acoustician and studio designer. However, I simply cannot get audio out of my blood and I still maintain my own studio. When I do an album project rather than mastering them myself I make use of several different mastering labs (even though my control room is both big enough and my monitors broadband enough to master should I desire to do so) because it gives me the much needed advantage of a fresh set of ears that might hear things my closeness to a project may forbid me to be easily aware of.

    I hope that the kids in this forum will indeed try to do some of their own mastering because it is almost certain to teach them the lesson that it cost me many thousands of dollars to learn...

    Paramadman :wink:
  4. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I'm curious as to what prompted this post to begin with...?
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Good thread though and I share your dream while doing other things to survive. Family and parenting has kept me from diving in full time again. Back in the day when I was full time however, the business was thriving and money was never a problem.
    I want to lease a building, partner up with another engineer and do it again but fear the worst as the passion burns inside me. I own all my gear this time round so it wouldn't be difficult to make it work if there was in fact people prepared to pay us. So I like this thread indeed.

    I echo moonbaby, what sparked your thread?
    Do you really need a 30 ft deep room for mastering?
  6. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    "Do you really need a 30 ft deep room for mastering? " LOL!!!!!
    I thought that , too, until I reread it as ...CUBIC feet. I feel your pain, Chris.
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    lol, that one had me in "deep" thought. Thanks for clearing that one up moon!
  8. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    "Damnit, Jim, I'm a musician, not a mathematician!"
  9. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I think he really means 30' deep. And I suspect he's got good reason.
  10. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    OK. I was going by the 1500 cubic ft comment at the earlier part of the thread.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Ya, this must be based on how many feet it takes for low freq waves to complete a cycle but I'm sure there are many top notch mastering rooms that aren't 30' deep, yes?
  12. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    It could be that and/or inverse square law. Bigger room means reflections travel farther, attenuate more and affect the listening area less. Plus with enough time separation the ear can begin to hear them as echoes rather than a phase effect.
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I try to be both, but that's damned funny!
  14. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    To the OP: (and indirectly to the many high quality mastering houses that post here.) I'll repeat an earlier question: who is this post really aimed at? The shoestring amateurs who send their terrible mixes off to the master-by-numbers houses? You can't turn their chicken droppings into chicken salad, and you can't compete on price with the people who ... compost the chicken droppings. Can you really claim that they will benefit financially from hiring you?

    I guess the bigger problem is guys like me. I've had stuff mastered by pros and I know the difference that it can make. (In that sense I absolutely agree with your post.) But in most cases it is a pure vanity purchase. If I do work for a children choir, or a church band, or a group that' going to sell CDs at gigs there is no way that the difference in quality of the disc - which will absolutely be there - will pay for itself. So for those people for whom it isn't financially advantageous to pay for a mastering house I slap a limiter on the mix; bring the rms level up to something below squashed to hell and live with the results. (Mostly complaints from people who notice that its not as loud as the other songs on their mix tape.)

    Bottom line: Other than the really uneducated (who probably can't benefit from your services) most of the rest of us completely buy your argument that you can make our CDs sound better. How about trying to make the argument that you can make our CDs more profitable.
  15. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    "CDs More Profitable"?????

    Dammit Jim, I'm a mathematician not a MAGICIAN!
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    man, did you ever nail that one.
  17. EricIndecisive

    EricIndecisive Active Member

    I do agree with this. The sad fact though, is that I've sent songs in progress to some of my friends (the mass market - no real interest in anything about music, have no problem listening to music on laptop speakers, etc) with a single repeating drum loop, since I use that instead of a metronome. Threw a couple cymbals when the chorus comes in, and no one even noticed the drums.

    So if they're missing that much of the picture, then I doubt they'll pick up much on a REAL mastered vs home mastered song. I realize this is an extreme example, but there are many who don't care.

    I do agree though. I am trying to just step into the realm of listening well. I got a nice pair of headphones and I am actually excited when I get to put them on to listen to my favorite songs. What baffles me is that some of these pop hits, big bands recording professionally, have noticeable clipping in some of their songs. How the hell does that happen with all that money?
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    The music industry is a joke

    Once in a while I buy a top 40 CD for a sound reference. Recently I bought Katy Perry's CD, I just had to hear how it sounded through my lush system. I mean, how many million has she sold, right! Its got to sound stellar. And her songs sound pretty good on radio stations.

    Wow, I imported a few tracks into my DAW and was horrified to see and hear how smashed and terrible these tracks sound. I couldn't ruin songs that bad in good conscience. They are the worst example of top 40 music I have ever heard. I would expect this from an amateur Mastering Engineer but not something that has sold millions of copies and attracted so much worldwide music attention. Did the mastering house really do this? OMG! duh

    What gets me is how come they sound better than most tracks on the radio but the CD sounds this bad? The bloody CD sounds like an MP3. Are we so conditioned to compressed music that we don't even notice music this poorly mastered on the air anymore? Now I'm worried.

    So you know what I think. I probably should sell all my gear and buy a boat. What a joke this industry has turned into.

    The 80's is where sound quality stopped and something very terrible happened. Who is running this business?
  19. EricIndecisive

    EricIndecisive Active Member

    Don't give up yet audiokid! Just try and help the new generation! You can start by commenting on my thread in the HSR forum on where to place my broadband panels ;)

    And I wonder if her songs sound good on radio stations because they don't need any more smashed compression beyond their original state? I heard an old Jack Johnson song on the radio once and that was SMASHED. It sounded so bad.

    How about the new sattelite radios compared to FM?
  20. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    Working ITB is the only way to get noise down to "theoritical limits" these days.


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