There’s been a lot of buzz recently about “Robo” Mastering. These are inexpensive online mastering services that use sophisticated algorithms to give your music a polished sound. They claim to do just as good a job as an expensive professional for a fraction of the cost. It is possible that you may get similar results using one of these services, but I’m not a big fan of taking this approach to mastering. I can offer 3 reasons to have your music mastered by a human being.
You can afford it.
Whether you are planning on releasing a single, EP, or full-length record you should be prepared to make an investment in not only your recording but also the look, distribution and promotion of it. That means you have some kind of budget to do this. If you have a modest budget of say $10K to record, design, release and promote your music, why would you skimp on mastering?
In my opinion, mastering is an important last step in the recording process. It allows your music to pass through one more set of ears and get some final love before it goes out into the world. It’s like buying a nice suit and not having it tailored. Now, would you hire a robot to tailor your new Italian suit? Probably not.
As a rule of thumb I suggest reserving 10% of your recording budget (not including design/packaging/promotion) for mastering. If you are spending $5K in the studio, $500 of that should be for mastering. If your budget is low, and I mean low, then by all means consider “Robo” mastering, but better yet, find a newbie mastering engineer who is hungry and will do everything in their means to make you a happy customer.
You can talk to a human being.
Your human mastering engineer, if they are worth their salt, will take an interest in you and your music. They will strive to do everything they can to make your songs sound as good as possible. They will also tell you when you need to fix the mix or re-record something that was not done properly. Robots don’t do that.
You'll know what you are hearing.
When you master with a human being you can sit in the room and hear what is happening, ask questions, and guide the process. When you “Robo” master you'll likely receive an MP3 to reference, which is not an accurate representation of the final result. You only get the full resolution file if you are willing to pay for it. And then, what if you are not satisfied? Perhaps you can try a different preset algorithm and try again. Or, you could hire a human being to do the job, who will not only make sure you are hearing what will end up being shared with the world from the get go, but will also guarantee every detail of your final master is accurate, right down to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
So go ahead, try it. Hire a real human being to master your music. You wouldn’t hire a robot to write your songs, would you?