Is the price of mastering really worth it?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by headchem, Dec 4, 2005.

  1. headchem

    headchem Guest

    I know this will open a can worms for all the professionals out there, but I master with a $300 program called Reason. I have consumer speakers my friend gave me when he got surround sound and two pairs of cheap headphones. I know all three sets very well. Not a single person who I've shown my masters to, compared to the professional version, have ever noticed a difference. Sure, about 1000 mastering engineers out of a world of 6 billion would notice something, but no one has a mode-treated car with Genelec speakers in the doors. No one turns on their iPod and listens with mastering headphones...

    Sorry if that came out a bit harsh - I really just wanted to put some perspective on the amount of money that is spent on mastering. If someone can convince me that I am wrong, feel free to let me have it! :)

    To start out, I have the feeling that some people think that I am talking about a good final mix, and not about mastering. To clarify, these are the devices and processes I use when mastering within Reason 3.0:

    multi-band compressors, stereo imagers, high frequency harmonic enhancers, master reverb, dynamic filtering, upward expanders, plus all the usual devices: compression with side chain input, EQ, limiter, volume maximizer with soft clip. I'm currently working on a Reason patch to emulate the sound of the Vitalizer hardware.

    Aztec clarified this for me, thanks!
    Now, on to the debate. :) I know experts are passionate, and I really do appreciate your input.

    Yes, they are! Business 101: If you want higher profits, don't raise prices, rather cut your costs.

    My girlfriend can't either, despite my attempts at teaching her... :) For that matter, neither can 99% of my target audience. If I marketed my CDs to mastering engineers, sure, my masters are horrible. Luckily, I've decided that a target demographic of mastering engineers is too limiting and too demanding an audience.

    No one but mastering engineers cares about that level of quality. No one but mastering engineers can even hear that level of quality. Mastering the business of subtlety, and subtlety isn't noticed by the average ear. I'd bet $15,000 that your masters beat the socks off of my masters, but I'd also bet that people like our girlfriends wouldn't be able to tell the difference. People like our girlfriends are the consumers. The cost of improving a master from 'good enough' to 'professional grade' increases exponentially. $15,000 just so some professional mastering engineers will say, "that's a good master!"? I have better ways to spend my money.

    I feel like this is a bit of an old school vs new school issue. It's not that I settle for crappy quality, I just have some relatively new technology (Reason 3.0) that allows me to get 'good enough' masters when previously I couldn't dream of having the cash for pro mastering gear. I think the devices and processes listed at the start of this post is a decent list of gear. All I lack is a treated room and expensive monitors. But if I listen to reference material on my consumer speakers, and try to emulate the sound, will the result be close enough? I know answers to that question in this forum might be biased since if it is close enough, your jobs are suddenly threatened.

    The same way musicians in the early part of the twentieth century felt when recording became possible. Their unions banned members from recording thinking it would put live musicians out of jobs.

    I’ve always wondered if there’s been any research on whether or not there is a significant psychological advantage to professionally mastered music when compared to ‘good enough’ mastered music to justify the costs of pro mastering. I haven’t charged anyone yet for my ‘good enough’ mastering services, but I feel like this cost-effective-for-the-quality method could fill a consumer demand in semi-professional recording.

    I really don't mean for this to be a flame or an attack on the usefulness of mastering engineers. The way technology is going, I think this is an important topic for everyone interested in mastering to discuss. I am perfectly willing to be convinced that my $300 methods really stand between me and a sucessful career. Let's hear the evidence! :)
  2. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    Oct 23, 2005
  3. wayne

    wayne Guest

    Hey. I answered yes to almost all of them and I ain't EVEN a, never mind.
    Wayne Smith
  4. headchem

    headchem Guest

    That's a great manual. I don't know whether it encourages me to use all those techniques within Reason 3.0 in my bedroom studio or if it convinces me to pay the big bucks for a professional to follow all those techniques for me...
  5. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Chicago area, IL, USA
    Home Page:
    To sidetrack (also from the original thread) - I know several guys who use - let's call it "severely budget deprived" rigs for mastering. Some of them do a failry decent job. But many of them can't really hear what they're doing to the mixes. $300 program or not, there is no substitue for a quality monitoring chain (including the room, of course). The point is to tweak on a system that is superior to - not equal to or less than - 99% of the systems the project will ever be heard on. That's why the mixes sound right in cars or on Genelecs or in your living room.

    Many of them think that a maul-the-band compressor and a pair of nearfields is the ticket to greatness. When those same guys come in here with their mixes, they can finally hear the damage they're doing.

    I'm not saying that this is the case - But there are two things that are used very rarely in mastering rooms - Multiband compression (the first thing on your list, and what SO many people think is "the usual") and nearfield or small full-range monitors.

    Hell, when I finally started out "on my own," even I thought I could beat the laws of physics. And I had worked on sessions in some really great rooms. I knew better. Don't know what I was thinking - When I finally figured out that I was only getting a tiny percentage of what I was shooting for, I accepted reality and plunked down for some "real" gear. **

    Again - I'm not saying this is the case all the time - Maybe you (or some of these other guys) are "naturals" or have special skills that most don't. Impossible to say. And with the way a lot of records sound lately, maybe it even matter that much anymore - Which would be sad, but for me, I'll keep doing what I'm doing.

    ** Heck, my current rig is gets snubbed by some other M.E.'s I know...
  6. Calgary

    Calgary Active Member

    Nov 25, 2005
    The value of a good mastering engineer is in their experience and their gear. Unless you plan to become a mastering engineer the odds are that you won't be able to do anything comparable to what a good mastering engineer could provide, particulary with Reason as your only tool. It depends on your goals, but suffice to say I don't think there's been a single pop hit in history which was mastered in Reason. That doesn't mean it isn't possible, it just means it isn't probable. By contrast many of the mastering engineers you can outsource your projects to have worked on dozens, if not hundreds, of actual pop hits. There's simply no substitute for that type of experience. :cool:

    You don't seem to have a full grasp of what a good mastering engineer does, try this. Save up a couple hundred bucks. Finish off one of your tunes as best you can. Book a few hours with a local mastering engineer. The best you can find. Take your song in and sit in on the session. Observe as much as you can and ask questions without impeding him/her. Get your song mastered. Now you'll know for sure if it's worth it for you or not. Consider it research. I think you are going to leave the studio with a *much*different view of what mastering is than you have now, but I might be wrong. :cool:
  7. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    If you are pleased and your clients are pleased and they are selling their target number of CD's, then their is no complaint. However, I am on year 31 of doing this and the track record is that of those who use my services tell me they sell "many more" CD's of the ones I have mastered than previously before they used my services. Perhaps it is mearly a coincidence.

    Time and time customer base is my repeat customers.

    These days, I don't even try to get new customers. I do get them from referrals but honestly, I do MORE repairing of botched mastering jobs WITH the new customers than my scheduled ahead work. I used to charge as much as a decent used car to provide my services. I bet now I am one of the lower priced services out there. It is not cheap..but it is not $650 an hour or by the hour. For new clients.. I charge per project..after I hear it.

    I really don't see me going out of business anytime soon. I actually have bookings well into 2007 and two confirmed (Paid) in 2008...already blocked out.

    I wonder why that is? (??)

    People know something "special" when they hear it.

    Tell you what. Pick a track of the three you have listed. I will master one of them for free. Compare.

  8. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Good advice by both Massive Mastering and Calvary! I especially like the idea of doing 'research' on one of my tracks to see what professional mastering is really like. You're right, then I'd know for sure if it is worth it.

    I listed the Multi-band compression first just by accident. Since I make all my music with Reason 3.0, as well, I have control over the mix, so I very very rarely have any need for the MBC. If I ever do use it, it's just to "densen up" a particular frequency range. I just wanted to point out that constructing a MBC is possible in Reason 3.0, along with many other rather advanced pieces of gear.

    I doubt that Reason 3.0 has been out long enough to really have any hits produced or mastered on it... Maybe I'd be the first to master a pop hit on it? ;-)

    I guess my mantra is still 'good enough' is more cost effective than 'professional.' Those three free songs in my signature were all mastered in Reason 3.0. I am not in any way claiming they are as good as a professional master, and I know many things could have been improved in the mix beforehand, but do you think they are 'good enough?' I already have many tricks of the trade in full force for my second album material, so my newest masters are sounding much better than these old three songs.

    In some separate threads, I am learning much from people criticing my masters / mixes of these three songs, and I really do believe that Reason 3.0 provides all the necessary tools. All that's left is to train my ears.

    I definitely understand the need to use better gear than consumers. I guess I try to overcome this need by using multiple consumer speakers, like several sets of headphones, computer speakers, car speakers etc. Each set brings out something different. With their powers combined... Maybe all the different details they bring out is the same as listening once on a really nice set of speakers in a treated room? I guess listening on all those different speakers takes more time.
  9. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    Unfortunantly, you have over 7000 clipped peaks on Elan Oak.


  10. headchem

    headchem Guest

    That's a very impressive schedule, audiowkstation, and I'm sure you provide excellent services that bring back repeat customers. Perhaps you are more of the Mercedes approach, while I am more of the Honda Civic approach. There's certainly a need for ultra high end mastering, and I don't doubt there will always be a market for it. In the same way, there will always be a market for ultra high end sports cars, even though a used Honda Civic will also get you to your destination...

    I'm not sure where I am going with all these comparisons between high end and low end services, but maybe a new demand for cheap but good enough mastering services is waiting to explode as the technology required in mastering becomes more accessible to the average musician?

    Any of you pros want to hire a young whipper-snapper who thinks his new-fangled gadgetry can usurp the old tried and true mastering institutions? :) Just kidding, but not really. I will be looking for a job after I graduate... Do you think this cheaper service could have a place alongside the high-end studios? Or would poor bands just assume that my masters are automatically inferior? If there is a demand out there, think of the cost / revenue ratio! A team of Reason 3.0 "mastering engineers" wouldn't need any local offices because you could just email them the mix files. You could charge clients half of what you normally charge while paying the whipper-snappers 1/4 of what you earn. It would be like free-lance project work. Like outsourcing, or hiring cheap foreign labor...
  11. headchem

    headchem Guest

    You've trumped me on that one. :) I honestly don't know what 7000 clipped peaks means. I assume it's a bad thing, but I didn't hear 7000 clipped peaks... I mean, I know what a clipped peak is, but I thought you had to sacrifice some (or 7000 apparently) of those peaks in order to compete in volume. Someone put me in my place so I can have a foundation on which to form an educated rebuttal... :oops:
  12. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    I will be happy to show you.., perhaps tomorrow. It is bedtime around here...but I opened the file first (using ears) and of flat tops..then I simply opened the file in samplitude and saw them all. You can have "loud" without having "clipped".

    Actually, the trend is going away from LOUD..since people are finally starting to discover the volume control on their playback systems. It simply does not need to be that loud. Perhaps this is why I have such a splendid reception with my clients and their CD's are actually selling.
    We can carry on. I will be happy to do some tutoring..and you will benefit...and your music and clients will as well.

    I just finished a 15 hour day, got to bed down now.
  13. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Yeah, if it weren't for an 8-page essay on Francsico Franco, in Spanish, that is due tomorrow, I'd be hitting the hay, too. I have this mysterious knob on the volume maximizer in Reason that's labeled, "soft clipping." Maybe tomorrow you can enlighten me as to it's function if it even has anything to do with 7000 clipped peaks. To me, it sounds even more distorted when I turn soft clipping up.

    You're probably right that I've made everything too loud. That was a similar critique of the track Running, when I submitted it a few weeks ago.
  14. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Jun 29, 2001
    It sounds all clustered up..I am not getting any impact. Tomorrow will be fine. My email is imbedded in my website, do remind me.

  15. headchem

    headchem Guest

    To clarify our discussion tonight (which I will look forward to continuing tomorrow): I have no clients... I was just speculating on the business side of things, but I certainly am interested in getting into this line of work. As it is now, I only master my own material, and I've spent about the past 4 months really learning the techniques of mastering. I used to patrol the official Reason forums, but no one there seemed to know anything advanced. That's when I went in search of a specialty mastering forum, and I came across

    In spite of all my slightly inflamatory challenges to the old guard of mastering, I really do appreciate all the responses and the fact that no one seems to be guarding their wisdom on the subject. I certainly hope to do my fair share of contribution after I've been around the block a few times. I have a few tricks that I'm pretty sure no one has ever thought of - stemming from Reason's ability to visually program device chains and the unlimited amount of devices available... But that'll be for another post.
  16. Calgary

    Calgary Active Member

    Nov 25, 2005
    Wow that's very generous of you audiowkstation, class act. :cool:
  17. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Notice the image file name: ouch.jpg... class act, or is it class clown? :)
  18. Calgary

    Calgary Active Member

    Nov 25, 2005
    If you want to enter the arena of quality audio be prepared to take some mild ribbing from time to time. You'll look back on the work you're doing today in a few years and think, "Wow, I was really out there..." :)

    Clipping isn't good anyway you slice it, no matter what. I think the point being made by "ouch" is that with 7,000 clips, it's definitely an issue to be looked at. :D
  19. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Oh, no offense taken! I think it's clever, and I definitely agree I will look back on these early mastering discussions as cute at best. Kind of like the nostalgia of listening to my very first demo recordings...
  20. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    If you think 99% of the people can't tell a difference, then I think you are misguided. Maybe they can't put it into words, or know what it is that is different. But they like some things better than others, they just don't know why. I think the proof is in your own words. No one has ever payed you for your "new technology" mastering. So it's not really a threat to the "old school" if you aren't taking any money out of their pockets.
    This idea isn't new. Bedroom mastering has been around since the first wax vinyl cutters were afforable to the public, say 1950's. I even have a recording my grandfather made in his living room to vinyl and I can "almost" hear him say "Hello this is Vince on the new vinyl cutter. Hear the quality and the detail. It sounds like a professional recording". then he plays the piano. sure it's cute and nostalgic, but professional???

    This whole discussion reminds me of about 200 interns i've known over the years in various studios. Walking around pointing at the old guys and laughing. Every single one of them is doing something else like bartending while the old guys are older and still making records. Maybe, just maybe, you don't know as much as you think.

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