Is it worth doing sound engineering in India

Mastering: four alternatives to the studio

After a song has been arranged and mixed, the mastering follows. This is an optimization of the sound, which is ideally adapted to the medium of the planned release (e.g. vinyl or MP3). It also ensures that different tracks on an album sound uniform and balanced. As a rule, individual tracks are edited, but it is no longer unusual to also master DJ mixes.

Highly paid specialists like Howie Weinberg run their own studios. These rooms, often specially built for this purpose, with perfect acoustics, are equipped with the finest hardware (compressors, equalizers, mixers, high-quality converters or amplifiers and speakers), so that the prices for mastering are correspondingly high. Such a mastering engineer has many years of experience. But are there alternatives to the often expensive trip to the studio in addition to the classic analog route? And how do they compare? We present four options, which often only cost a fraction and are easily accessible:

1. Automated online mastering

The number of online mastering services is great. One of the best known is by far LANDR, then follow eMastered, MasteringBOX and CloudBounce. The handling is similarly simple with all online providers. A track is loaded onto the provider's server, after which settings can be made using a limited number of buttons.

The actual mastering takes place fully automatically and on the basis of an automated analysis of the track. The result of the analysis is compared with a database, then effects (equalizers, compressors, stereo imaging) recognized as being suitable are applied to the track.

For the finale, some parameters can be adjusted for fine-tuning, whereby the sound differences that differ from the original can be checked in real time. Ultimately, the track is available for download. The price for online mastering differs depending on the selected audio quality. Often a monthly subscription is offered for a few dollars. Most services offer a test run - a good opportunity to get an objective impression.

Online mastering with LANDR

- Online and app
- Monthly price from 4 EUR
- All Inclusive 25 EUR / month
- Mastering for two tracks per month for free (compressed)
- Integrated distribution with iTunes, Spotify etc.
- Mastering for DJ mixes (partnership with Serato)
- Mastering for Stems (Native Instruments)

LANDR

Online mastering with eMastered

- Monthly price from $ 6
- All Inclusive 15 USD / month
- "Developed by Grammy-Winning Engineers"

eMastered

Online mastering with MasteringBOX

- Monthly price from 4 EUR
- All Inclusive 14 EUR or 29 EUR / month (depending on the desired format of the master file)
- After registration, one free mastering per day (compressed)

MasteringBox

Online mastering with CloudBounce

- Single track (24 bit WAV / 320 kbps MP3) USD 4.90
- All Inclusive $ 19.90 / month
- "By musicians, for musicians"

CloudBounce

assessment

Easy to use, absolutely moderate in price. Prior knowledge is not necessary. Actually, you just have to play with the manageable settings until you like the result. And surprisingly often it says yes. These are presets of mastering effects that are applied to the song, fully automatic, so to speak. In contrast to mastering by professionals, no real person listens to the song to be mastered during the mastering process. This type of mastering is particularly worthwhile, for example, to be able to test your own tracks in the club without having to spend a lot of money in advance.

2. Mastering with plugins

With programs like iZotope Ozone or Lurssen Mastering Console cheaper solutions for your own computer are also available. The purchase price is a bit higher at first, but you can edit an unlimited number of tracks with it. The software itself offers a lot of presets as a starting point for your own experiments. The possibilities of sound processing are much more extensive than with online mastering; but more possibilities always require more knowledge.

Lurssen Mastering Console

- 179 EUR
- Win / Mac
- Stand Alone / Plug In / App for iPad
- 25 presets (rock, hip hop, EDM, etc.)
- Emulation of Gavin Lurssen's mastering chain

Lurssen mastering

iZotope Ozone 8

- EUR 249
- Win / Mac
- Stand Alone / Plugin
- Preset manager with many presets
- Integrated A / B comparison for reference tracks

iZotope Ozone

assessment

Advantageous if you want to master tracks frequently and are satisfied with quick solutions. In order to work beyond the presets, it is necessary to deal with the operation of compressors or EQs and similar tools, there is no upper limit with the time you can invest in learning. With the combination of presets and your own know-how, the results can already approach professional work.

3. Mastering via online service providers

If you don't want to do it yourself, you can do it. At Fiverr, an online platform for freelancers, also offers mastering services. The price depends on the capabilities of the provider, starting at five dollars. But don't expect too much for that. The song sent in will probably be processed by a software preset - done. The scope of services offered varies depending on the price. Someone who knows about the subject and invests time will, for example, even take around 20 dollars per track in India. An existing evaluation system helps with the selection. You should make sure that a reference track is sent that clarifies the tonal goal. With a little luck, the Fiverr freelancer will be listening. Often you also have the option of post-processing if you don't like the first result.

assessment

Morally questionable, keyword: fair wages. Care is also required when selecting the provider. Communication is important for the result. And definitely think of the reference track, which should provide the provider with clues as to which sound is desired for the master. In general, however, it is not to be expected that the result is a real alternative to a professional studio.

4. Mastering with a DAW

In principle, a DAW like Ableton has everything on board that you need for mastering. YouTube provides the rest with various tutorials. You can slowly build up your knowledge and realize that a boring 8-band EQ can be a powerful tool. In addition, you get closer to music in a special way, namely through frequencies. Learning to master is not magic, but it is time consuming. Routine is possible, perfection is hardly possible. The subject is a bottomless pit, if you want to master masterfully, you should hardly have time for the actual production. And once you have understood how a compressor works, you think about replacing the digital plug-in with its analog equivalent, which is where the expensive fun really starts.

assessment

It makes sense to deal with the basics of mastering. Either you get satisfactory results or you don't. If not, you at least know roughly what it is about and can better assess and use the offers of the professional studio.

Conclusion

Mastering is and will remain essential for professional music production. There are all sorts of alternatives on the Internet that offer quick and inexpensive results, but of course they are not enough for the work of experienced and optimally equipped sound engineers. As always, it depends on what you want: If the sound of your own work is to be optimized to the maximum and prepared for professional use in the music industry, going to the mastering professionals is inevitable. However, if you are looking for a kind of preliminary stage to a master's degree, for example to test your own tracks in the club, there are definitely alternatives.