Top 10 DIY Mastering Mistakes

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by audiokid, May 19, 2012.

  1. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    What do you think the Top 10 DIY Mastering Mistakes are?
  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    1. Doing it yourself (repeat for the next nine answers) <GRIN>
  3. Laurend

    Laurend Active Member

    1. 99% the DIY option is a wrong choice. No serious monitoring, acoustics, equipment, nor knowledge... But the feeling.
    2. Expecting poor mix to be fixed at the mastering stage.
    3. "I always set a HPF to gain headroom (because I've read this on the GS forum)"
    4. "I'm "monoing" all the low frequencies (because I've read this on the FL studio forum)"
    5. "I want to be louder than the last release of my preferred artist"
    6. "I put almost all the possible plug-ins on the master section to improve the sound"
    7. "I always add some reverb for the "glue" (from the Reason forum)"
    8. "Multiband compressors are so good to improve the sound, that I put three in series"
    9. "The limiter is my secret weapon to achieve competitive loudness"
    10. "My car audio system is a world class reference"
  4. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    1. Thinking you can do it yourself and get professional results.
    2. Thinking that just because you have several plug-ins that are categorized (by their manufacturer) as "mastering" plug-ins, you'll achieve professional results.
    3. Putting a compressor on the master bus just because someone said that would make it sound better, while you really do not have a firm grasp on what a compressor does or how it works.
    4. Believing that the main goal of mastering is to make your finished track louder.
    5. Believing that your DIY mastered tracks actually sound better than they did before you screwed them up with over-used "mastering" plug-ins and compression.
    6. Making no attempt to balance the sonic character and apparent loudness between all of the tracks in your project.
    7. Thinking you can achieve professional results using headphones as your monitor.
    8. Thinking that your bedroom is a perfectly good acoustic environment for mastering.
    9. Checking your results on your laptop using it's built-in speakers.
    10. Not believing enough in the quality and importance of your music enough to give it the professional treatment it deserves!
  5. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    1- Not knowing the meaning of Mastering
    2- Not having the objectivity if you recorded and/or mix the project yourself.
    3- By doing it yourself, why didn't you fix it in the mix before ''mastering'' it?
    4- Same person.
    5- Same room.
    6- Same ears.
    7- Same monitors.
    8- Same judgement.
    9- Same mistakes.
    10- Not fixing or doing within the mix and believing that you will be better on the 2-bus.
  6. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    1. Thinking you can master your own work
    2. Not understanding that there are actual specifications for signal norms and maximums (Red Book)
    3. Thinking you can master your own work
    4. Not looking at IM distortion levels
    5. Thinking you can master your own work
    6. Not editing the data fields correctly to include all pertinent data including images and ISRC
    7. Thinking you can master your own work
    8. Amateur/prosumer listening and monitoring environment
    9 Thinking you can master your own work
    10. Believing you can actually master a project in 30 minutes
  7. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member

    When you're a bedroom engineer who cares what your mistakes are? You have fun with the process, do the best you can, learn from your mistakes and go back and fix them can smoke

    People at home engineer for themselves because they can, and they want to. It's a hobby, it's an artistic process that some people are simply drawn to. Your listening and monitoring environment is "amateur/prosumer" because, guess what (?), you are an amateur/prosumer.

    One of the biggest mistakes you can make in the DIY mastering process as a bedroom engineer IMO is "not having fun with it".

    The second biggest mistake is not reading about mastering. There's plenty of material out there written specifically for the bedroom engineer about DIY mastering and those resources are available because there is a demand for it. There is a market for it. It's kind of stupid to tell people not to master their own material.

    If you're a pro obviously you're not going to go there in the first place - usually.
  8. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Yes, that's a very valid point. What I think it brings up is that there are two separate processes or levels here, leaving aside what they might be called for the moment.

    The one that you describe is that of an engineer improving his mix by listening, reading and learning about what further processes could be applied. The other is that of a separate engineer in a different acoustic environment operating on a two-track mix that has been brought in, and using his/her experience to add something to it that turns it into a track fit for the shark-infested commercial world.

    Whether both these processes should be called "mastering" or should have different names misses the point that both the processes have a separate valid existence.
  9. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member


  10. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    1) I'm an experienced professional mastering engineer because I "mastered" my own CD and actually sold 8 copies.
    2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)...repeat 1).

    11) I just realized I am NOT a "mastering engineer" because I lack the facilities, experience and equipment, but I have fun making fairly good stereo mixes that my friends are kind enough to say are good. (All 8 of them sold their copies I gave to them to their friends for a dollar each...because, they said, they "liked it so much and wanted to spread my music"!facepalm) I now humbly realize the huge difference between "professional mastering" and home-brew "mixdown".

  11. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member

    It's also funny how many professional ME's out there send their work back to the studio for review and everyone hates it - even the mix engineer. I've seen that time and time again. I've sent my own final mixes to ME's only to be very dissatisfied with the result.

    An analogy that can be applied in many cases is: You don't always have to be an ASE certified mechanic to do an oil change and tune up on a great many vehicles we drive.

    And much of what we hear these days anyway are complaints about how ruff-hewn/distorted the mastering sounds these days on average, or how the final product is too glassy or even plastic. Even if you can afford an inexpensive ME, how many times is the final product actually worth the price?

    I was lucky enough to be let in on a mastering training session with a rather well-known ME once and was so unimpressed I left the session after only 30 minutes. The friend I was with is a professional ME and he was so disappointed he didn't know what to say.

    Titles and credentials are something one can achieve through dedication and diligence. Dedication and diligence don't always necessarily equate to useful mastery of your chosen discipline.
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member


    If it is an attended session then there should be no problems later for the client. They are sitting in the same room with the same monitors the mastering engineer is listening to and they should be able to get the music to sound EXACTLY the way they want it to sound. Mastering is a service business and if the client asks to have their material smashed the mastering engineer will, usually after explaining the problems it may cause, do EXACTLY what the client wants.

    If the client and the mastering engineer are not in the same room then things may get more confusing very quickly. In most cases the mastering engineer is only doing what the client requests and is not doing anything additional.

    There seems to be a growing feeling on some forums that mastering engineers are somehow "messing with the music" for their own amusement or just because they can. I cannot speak for others but at least in my mastering operation nothing could be further from the truth. We work very closely with the client and are very attuned to their needs and wants if they are here or hundreds of miles away. I think some of this comes from people sending their stuff off to a "famous mastering engineer" and telling him or her to "make it sound good and/or loud" and not really communicating what they are really looking for from the mastering. The "famous mastering engineer" does "make it sound good and/or loud" (or at least as good as he/she can) but when the client gets it back, after paying big bucks, they are unimpressed or feel that they have not gotten what they wanted. It all boils down to good communications between the parties and sometimes people are unwilling or afraid to tell the "famous mastering engineer" what they really want. There is also the problem that when the artist gets his or her materials back they play it for their friends and get some negative feedback and jump to the conclusion that somehow they did not get what they paid for in the mastering phase. Even though a top rated mastering engineer worked on the material he or she can only do so much with what they are given. I don't mean this in a negative way but just like in computing it is still garbage in - garbage out and there are only so many ways you can make something that is not quite ready for prime time sound like it is. Some artists assume that just by mastering their stuff will be magically transformed from what it is to a perfectly recorded and mixed album. Unfortunately most mastering engineers are only human and cannot take lead and make it into gold.

    I don't know what "training session" you sat in on but either the person did not really want to share their knowledge with you or there were other mitigating circumstance you are not sharing. I would love to sit in on a mastering session with Glenn Meadows, Bob Katz, Bob Ludwig or anyone else who I consider to be at the top of their profession if I had the chance. I am sure I could learn a lot and I have been doing this for 17 + years.

    MTCW and YMMV

    FWIW this topic is about DIY mastering and not about sending things off to a mastering engineer.
  13. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Thus my point, that just as a lawyer who represents himself, has a fool for a client, I have the understanding that I cannot do do as good of a job mastering my own work as I can someone else's work.

    The more accurate your room and your equipment, the better the work will turn out... IF you goal is to meet or exceed industry standards.

    Anyone can make something sound good, given that even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then. But, the fact of the matter is that gear is made to operate inside a set limit. Outside that limit... there is probable failure. The goal is really to stay inside that limit.

    Doing it consistently takes the knowledge of learning those standards.
  14. Serpentarius

    Serpentarius Active Member

    I've been reading a lot on this forum lately and found a lot of useful info regarding the different aspects of mastering. There seems to be a prevailing attitude from the professionals of the industry that the two biggest mistakes are 1.) to think you can master your own material, and 2.) to think that just because you downloaded a few "mastering plugins" to your Garageband app you can now make your laughable songs sound like they've been mastered by Bob Ludwig.

    But to me it seems obvious that many truly professional mastering houses today are creating masters that everyone in the industry knows are actually ruined by all sorts of sonic defects, like clipping, overly squashed mixes, sonic imbalances etc. Recently I read about how Katy Perry's latest release was a total mastering disaster, and the sonic problems with Metallica's "Death Magnetic" are by now infamous and legendary. I assume these masters were done by the best and most experienced mastering houses in the business. Then really, the top mastering mistake by far is this:

    The professional mastering engineer with decades of experience and knowledge, unlimited access to all the professional and expensive equipment he could ever want and the know-how to use them properly, who still decides to knowingly ruin a recording, only because he's getting paid to do it. Isn't this the worst kind of double treachery? Double, because he really is supposed to be the guardian of his profession and should guarantee his and the industry's professional and artistic integrity, so that no corruption, degeneration and general decline enters into the process under his watch. Not only is he neglecting his professional duty, but he is doing so knowingly and willingly because he is paid to do it. Now what profession does this actually remind one of? His excuse then is that "the customer is always right", when clearly this is just a meaningless phrase. Obviously, the customer is not always right.
    Such a mastering engineer is actually causing the same decline in sound quality—and the music consumer's worsening knowledge of said sound quality and his declining listening habits—he himself is bemoaning.
  15. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    If you don't do what the client wants then they will find someone else who will and will never return to your studio. I don't know your background but it is very easy to point the finger at professional mastering engineers and say they should do such and such but when a client is in their room and wants things smashed beyond all reason you either do it or you lose a client. I try and dissuade clients from smashing their materials but most times that falls, literally, on deaf ears. They are sooooooooooo worried about being "fu$%ing louder" than everyone else that they want to take their stuff to the max. If you make your living mastering driving away too many clients by refusing to do what they want will so cause your business to go belly up. It is like the Democrat that has to do a lot of Republican TV spots. He doesn't necessarily like to do it but "business is business" and he either does them or goes out of business. YMMV
  16. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    Let's also keep in mind that this is very centered around the whole "volume" thing -- Which is only a very small part of the process.

    Don't get me wrong -- I'm as guilty as cranking out "Uh, are you sure you want it THAT loud...?" projects as the next guy (although I also tend to fight for every dB under what the client is looking for that I can muster) - But there's a lot that goes into ---- how do I put this... I can only imagine what some of those projects would sound like if they just slapped a limiter on them vs. the careful and thoughtful tweaking they go through.
  17. Serpentarius

    Serpentarius Active Member

    There you go then, Thomas. If that's the way you look at your profession, then there's nothing I can add. If you're willing to ruin a good recording for money then you have to live with the consequences. Now, if you don't care about the recording—or if it's crap—and you do what you have to do because "business is business", then again, you have to live with the consequences. I consider it a crime to be an expert in one's field, to know what's good quality, to have the knowledge, and still produce an inferior product, just because you're paid for it. That's just giving up everything you've ever struggled to learn in the first place. You might as well not have spent the years learning it all, if you end up never using it. If you don't apply your expert knowledge, how then can anyone tell the difference between you—a knowledgeable professional—and an amateur beginner?

    You might not know my background, but in this particular discussion that isn't really relevant, since we're talking about principles and not specific cases. I'm a professional opera singer and I have to deal with the exact same questions of quality and principles as any mastering or recording engineer on a daily basis. The only difference is the form in which those principles manifest. In fact, the reason I'm here at this forum is because I've become so disgusted with my chosen profession that I'm toying with the idea to try and learn to record, mix and master records. So what I'm criticizing in the mastering industry is the same thing I'm criticizing in my own profession: the fact that knowledgeable people are selling out to the ever lower demands of the industry, to the point where you're actually asked not to do your job, you're overqualified and a pain in the ass at work because you know what you're doing. Is it any wonder that more and more people are questioning the established mastering engineers' expertise and qualifications, when it's gotten to the point where they're getting paid to actually not do their job?

    When I say the biggest mastering mistake is when professionals take money to not do their jobs, the reason is that that mistake affects millions of music listeners and contributes to the artistic corruption of a whole profession, whereas if an amateur musician masters their own music and botch it, it really only affects a handful of people.

    I'm only saying that the self-respecting mastering engineer with artistic integrity should do his education, experience and good taste justice by refusing to do a bad job. Surely, Katy Perry's mastering engineer could've managed without the money from that gig, no? Surely, Metallica's mastering engineer of "Death Magnetic" could've managed even if saying no to that gig? It's not as if they would've had trouble putting food on the table or paying their bills unless they took that job, right? I understand that smaller enterprises need to compromise, but what about those who produce albums for millions of listeners?

    It's simply a question of artistic and professional integrity—do you have it or not? Do you even want to have artistic and professional integrity? You might not even care for such things, in which case you should not be bothered by my thoughts on the matter at all. After all, who am I? If money is all that matters, then that's fine. But when people who only care about money also start to talk about artistic and professional integrity, and sound quality, then it starts to smell hypocrisy to me. (Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily mean you, personally. I don't know you. I mean people in general.)

    Surely, Ludwig could've said no. That's all I'm saying. "Bruce" might not let anything out unless it's exactly the way he want it to be, but what about Ludwig? "Oh, I was just following 'instructions'." Surely, he should have more clout than to follow "instructions". He can afford to say no occasionally, and with his position in the industry he should ​say no much more often than a small-time rural mastering engineer can, with his limited business opportunities.
  18. Serpentarius

    Serpentarius Active Member

    I appreciate your response, John. Of course there's more to mastering than volume. That's the problem: mastering has become almost entirely about volume when it should be about so many other things. You guys know much better than me. That's why I'm here. I want to learn. Imagine though if my reference for optimal quality mastering was Katy Perry's latest album or Metallica's "Death Magnetic"! You would all be screaming "are you crazy?!?! That's all crap!" Well, how would I know? I'm just an amateur consumer. You mastered those records. Not you personally of course, but you, the industry. You are actually part of it, you know. Just like I have to apologize everytime someone asks me what I think of Paul Potts: "I'm sorry if you've been led to believe that's opera, but it's not." Believe me, I'm trying to do as much as I can to make people understand what good singing is, what good opera is, but when my profession is undermining itself for money, that's when I feel like quitting and going into the recording business. Maybe I shouldn't then, considering you guys fight the exact same fight, and we're all seem to be losing...
  19. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I don't enjoy smashing things especially music. I love the "olde days" when the client was more concerned about how their music sounded and less about how loud it was.

    Mastering has changed. No one seems to need mastering anymore since all the artist say they go to the WWW directly with one song at a time and figure they can use their cracked DAW software and pirated plugins to DIY the mastering of their music. The people that go to a mastering engineer read too many articles in MIX or EQ or do too much surfing on the WWW and think that everything they do has to do with loudness. When you try and "reason" with them they get upset that you are "messing with my music" and they also want you to do the mastering for $5.00 a song since that is what they see on the WWW. Mastering use to be a GREAT profession and still is in many cases but sometimes I feel like a hoar selling myself to the client so they can tell me what to do and how to do it. I just had a client who brought in "bricks" of mixed songs. There was not much I could do but he wanted everything much louder. The laws of physics say I can only push things to 0dBFS but he wanted it louder.

    I think until you can be a fly on the wall at some of these mastering sessions and see what REALLY goes on you should stop imagining why people do what they do.

    MTCW and YMMV
  20. Serpentarius

    Serpentarius Active Member

    Fair enough, Thomas. I appreciate that. I guess that the only thing one can really successfully glean from the web is the purely technical stuff, while musicality and good taste is a little harder to learn off the web.:wink: I really do wish I could sit in on a mastering session and who knows, one day I will. Chances are though that I might have the same experience as CoyoteTrax. Personally, I'm confident I have a good ear and I know I have a solid professional education in music. I know quality in music when I hear it. What I don't have is the technical expertise and the know-how regarding how certain pieces of equipment actually work. But since I believe that's actually gleanable off the net and from studying professional textbooks—and by becoming a member of a forum of professionals and asking them silly questionsthumb—I think I'll be OK. Of course, I'm very well aware that nothing can substitute long experience but just having decades of experience without the most important quality, namely musicality, only makes one very experienced in producing mediocre products. That reminds me of a couple of really mediocre opera stage directors I've worked with; they suffer exactly from this: loads of experience but no talent...

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