023 MixCoach Minute – Ears over Gear – How to pick a mastering engineer

How do you pick a mastering engineer? Will they actually improve the song? Are they worth the money? I answer this and more in this episode of the MixCoach Minute!

Raw Transcript:

Hey guys. It’s Kevin again with MixCoach for yet another episode of the
MixCoach Minute. Thank you guys for tuning in every day. And I hope some of
what I’m talking to you about is helping you learn to become a more well-
rounded, better mixer.

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So anyway, today’s question is from Bob Weber. He says, “Mastering
engin…” Well, let me read it off of this computer here. He says that,
“Mastering engineers always criticize those of us who do our own mastering.
They say that we can’t do the mixing and mastering since we’re too close to
the subject or too close to the music to be objective. They also state that
that mastering with off-the-shelf hardware and software will result in
lesser quality sounds. It appears that you do your own mastering with Ozone
and your mixes are over the top.” Thank you. I appreciate it. “Could you
explain why you do it yourself instead of going to a mastering house?”

I can tell you why I do it. Usually because my budget doesn’t allow me to
have a mastering engineer. But let me tell you this, Bob, mastering
engineers are not defined by the kind of gear they have. Because I have
seen mastering engineers that would work with barely any plug-ins, any
hardware, and they can make a mix sound better.

On the other hand, I’ve seen guys who have the latest and greatest $10,000
Weiss EQ and Compressor and can totally kill a mix. And I’ve had situations
before where I had sent it to a mastering engineer and it came back so bad
that I really was trying to find out how I could get my name taken off of a
record. It was that bad. And this guy had some really good gear.

So mastering engineers, their worth is not based on the kind of gear they
have. And as a matter of fact, one of my go-to guys, Alan Silverman in New
York City, when I had to ask him what kind of software should I use if I
have to do my own mastering, he said Ozone. He said, I have done, He writes
for recording magazines, the guy does reviews of this stuff and he said, “I
put it through [spaces] and Ozone is phenomenal. It does a great job.”

So the worth of a mastering engineer is not in how much gear they have
although it is important if you trust the guy. This is the important part
of having a mastering engineer, is having a mastering engineer in your
corner is more about relationships and how much do you trust that person’s
ear. Because I’ve found the kind of mastering engineers that I like are the
kind of mastering engineers who, not that they ever have, but that they
would say, “I don’t know what I could do to this mix to improve it.” Now
like I said, that’s never happened before, but you want a mastering
engineer who is not prideful on what they do and they think that your
career is made by what they do and they’re saving your hind end all the
time.

You want somebody who’s going to tell you the truth, shoot straight with
you and not be, you’re going to have a relationship where they can come
back to you and say, “These vocals are a little bit buried compared to all
the other songs. Do you mind running me another mix of the vocal up a dB?”
That kind of statement and that kind of interaction with a mastering
engineer is built on relationship.

So the guy who’s telling you that you can’t get good quality mastering with
plug-ins and it’s going to be lesser quality may not be a person that you
can trust, to tell you the truth. Because that’s not necessarily true.
Because a lot of mastering engineers these days are using software, mostly
software. I prefer the guys who use analog and monitors that I don’t have,
but you want to just make sure that you’re using a mastering engineer that
you trust and who will tell you the truth.

So let me make sure I got everything that you’re wanting. “They criticize
those of us who do our own mastering.” A lot of mastering engineers can do
a better job than the mixer because they have a different objective but
it’s not the gear they have. It’s the ear they have. Hey, I think I just
coined a phrase. It’s not the gear they have, it’s the ear they have. You
heard it here first.

So you want to find somebody who has a good ear and if you’re going to pay
them a lot of money, it would be nice if they would have really nice
sounding monitors or, the ear they have trumps all the gear. So that’s
another phrase. You heard it here first. The ear trumps the gear, all the
time.

So, “Could you explain why you do it yourself instead of going to a
mastering house?” That’s usually a budget issue. It’s usually the matter
that we’ve tapped out all the resources for the record and usually the buck
stops with me but I do master it, but I master it myself.

Bob, I hope that answers your question. I hope you will find a great
mastering engineer that will help you. But in the meantime, keep mastering
your own stuff and let the mastering engineers deserve to mix your projects
earn your trust first, okay? And not tell you that you can’t do it as well
as they can. Because they have to prove that sort of thing.

Okay, this has been an episode of the MixCoach Minute. I hope you guys had
a great week and I will see you next week. Bye.

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