I had an aha moment just after working on a song for an artist. The song was a pretty good song from a technical point of view. It had guitars, singing, drums, clapping and was overall a good song to listen to (You wont believe how good it feels to listen to a good song after listening to a lot of crap). So what was wrong with it? Well after I mastered it, here’s what the artist said to me.
[blockquote]Sounds great! Louder, fuller and more polished![/blockquote]
And that’s when it hit me. This is really what mastering is and I don’t mean making a song necessarily louder, fuller and more polished. I mean mastering is about fixing the issues with a mix (as best as possible) that make that song better from an artistic point of view. If your mix needs more punch, mastering will make it more punchy. If your mix needs more brightness, mastering will make it more bright. If your mix needs to be more fuller, mastering will make it more fuller. However, mastering is not just adding stuff. If your mix has too much bass, mastering can lower the bass as well. Mastering is all these things, yes, but it isn’t necessarily a scientific process. It’s an artistic one.
The point I am trying to make is when you hire me to master your song and especially when you hire me to mix your song (or any audio engineer for that matter), you’re not so much hiring my equipment as you are hiring my ears (which are still my equipment ha!) and my taste. You are hiring my upbringing. You are hiring all the music I’ve ever listened to. You are hiring all the songs I’ve ever mixed and mastered. You are hiring my passion for making stuff sound better.
Hiring an audio engineer isn’t like hiring a mechanic (unless a mechanic sees his work as art). An audio engineer can’t just put a “new engine” in your song and make it sound better. What does even “sound better?” sound like? It’s meaningless. That’s why I say I try to make your song sound better from an artistic point of view. An aggressive rap song should have a mix that sounds like an aggressive rap song. Just as a soft love ballad should have a mix that sounds like a heartfelt love ballad. Your audio engineer is an artist as well, just in a different way than you are – Treat them like you would any other artist you are collaborating with.