Is Mastering Useless?

Is Mastering Useless?

by

Is Mastering Useless?

by Andre Gonsalves

by Andre Gonsalves

Mastering as a push-button profession has been disrupted. Independent artists just can’t justify the expense, particularly the younger generation.

Secondly, consumers just don’t care nor do they have the audio systems or the ears to hear the difference. For example, in hip hop the majority of hit songs start of as “unmastered” and appear on free mixtapes or youtube videos. If they become big and a label gets involved they are sent off to be mastered professionally, and re-released on a major label album.

The thing is, this kind of mastering ruins the song, not necessarily sonically, but because the audience has already got use to the way the song sounded from the free mixtape/youtube video.

Thirdly and more importantly, the artist/producer/whoevermixedit didn’t envision the song sounding like the labeled mastered version because then it would already sound like that. It’s an artistic choice.

Fourthly, if a song that isn’t “professionally mastered” has already proven itself in the marketplace (i.e. 1000s of free downloads, youtube views, the artists is doing shows), then there’s no point in mastering.

Fifthly, there are many songs in which I’ve enjoyed the mixtape sound over the professionally mastered album sound because the mastering engineer didn’t “get” the sound. I don’t know how it is in other genres, but in hip hop and EDM, because they are evolving so quickly, the subtleties in sound can make for a huge difference in whether or not a song is successful or not. A 50 year old dude, whose been mastering “classic rock” his whole life is not going to get the sound the 17 year old “emo-new-wav-dub-trap” producer is going for and likely no one is: other than the artist and producer(s) themselves.

Having said all that: mastering will not die as a profession, but will become what the most successful mastering engineers already do and have done for forever and that is become more of an “artistic partnership”. A mastering engineer that understands your particularly sound can act like a second pair of ears, because no mater how long you’ve been making music, it is always nice to have a second set of ears, particularly of someone in your genre telling what they think of your sound. Keyword here is someone who knows your genre. Wouldn’t you love for Skrillex to critique the mix on your song?

Having said all that: just do whatever sounds the best to YOU. It’s your vision. It’s your art. Someone mentioned mastering is like having a final safety test done on a car before it leaves the plant. I certainly hope this is not your approach to making art.

Did Picasso have some so called expert check over his paintings? No. What if he did? They probably wouldn’t look or be as successful as they are, because when you make art by committee it drains the life out of the art. It smooths out all the rough edges, but the thing is the rough edges is what make it art. If you have no idea what I’m talking about just ask any artist how they feel when their manager starts re-writing lyrics for them.

Art is different from baby seats, because it doesn’t require anyone checking it over and in fact someone checking it over can ruin the subtleties (i.e. the artistic choices) the artist was going for.

I am not saying “mastering is useless”. What I am saying is if you’re 100% happy with your mix and you believe mastering is useless than don’t get your song mastered. It’s totally up to you. It’s your art. No one is forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do.

Andre is the head audio engineer at ADG Mastering. When he’s not in front of a mixing board with his eyes closed, he’s having impromptu dance parties with his son and daughter: ages 2 and 4.

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