Mastering audio is commonly said to be a black art and I must confess, I too consider it to be a bit of a mystery. The basic concepts of level adjustment, equalisation and compression all make sense, but I think it really takes a lot of experience to truly make a song sound better, not just different.
I had been thinking for a while about investing in one of the many mastering software packages out there, but eventually decided to try one of the online mastering services available. There are pros and cons to both approaches I guess. The one-time investment of software certainly makes a fair amount of financial sense, but then again, at the rate I manage to finish recording songs using a professional service isn’t a huge burden. Software also allows you to re-master your song if you decide to change the mix down the track. Having using a commercial mastering service I now feel pretty committed to the mix I sent them. It would be interesting to see how long a service store their settings for and whether they offer a cheaper rate on re-mastering a new mix of the track. The final advantage I could see to using software was that it offered an opportunity to learn more about the mastering process rather than just outsourcing it, but at the end of the day there just isn’t the time to know everything about everything.
In the end there were two main factors that finally made me decide to try getting a song mastered professionally: being able to benefit from the engineer’s years of experience and the benefit of having a different person listening to the song for the first time with fresh ears on different equipment in a different room.
I spent a bit of time looking around and eventually chose to go with Studios 301, located here in Sydney (http://www.studios301.com/mastering/mastering-engineers). This time I simply sent a WAV to them through their website but one day I would also like to book a session where you sit in with the engineer. A number of different engineers work at Studios 301 and you get to select the engineer that you would like to work on your track. I chose Sameer Sengupta due to his focus on electronic music and I was very happy with the results. Studios 301 were very pleasant to work with too. I uploaded the song on the weekend and received a call from them first thing on Monday morning to confirm a few details and take payment over the phone.
The main thing I noticed when I received the mastered version (on the same day) was that I could now hear things in the mix that I just couldn’t before. In particular the bass has been quite muddy and that repair alone was worth the price.
The song I chose to get mastered was The Glass Slipper and you can have a listen to the end result on SoundCloud.