George Marino on Professional Mastering

January 1, 2005

Considering all the easy and affordable mastering options available, why should an independent artist consider a pro facility?

Nowadays, even people with limited experience can do things at home, but it’s unlikely they are going to have a setup comparable to Sterling Sound [in New York]. Our room is so true-sounding that sometimes people rent it for that reason alone. Another key aspect of mastering is to have the highest quality gear you can get your hands on so there is no signal degradation in the process, and as much enhancement as possible.

How much does the mastering engineer factor in the decision to take one’s recordings to a pro facility?

I’m finding that the more recording and mixing becomes an independent process, the more people really want to come to a professional mastering environment to get that last chance at an outside opinion during the final stage of the process. The big advantage for someone like myself, who has been doing this for years on a professional level, is that I have a track record, and an understanding of how music should sound. Also, we get a tremendous amount of feedback as to what the general public considers to be a very good-sounding record.

What’s the best way to assess whether pro mastering will really improve my project?

Call a mastering place and ask them to do one song at the most affordable price they can offer an independent artist. Then compare what they do to what you can do yourself.

Do you have any advice for folks who decide to master at home?

The most important thing is to have a true-sounding or familiar room so that you can make reliable and accurate judgments. Then, pick a number of great-sounding records in your genre, and try to emulate them with the processing available to you. Listen to your music and those other records in various places, and ensure what you’re hearing in your mastering environment is telling you the truth. Make sure the sound translates to your car, your friend’s home-stereo system, and so on. That’s your safest guideline to feeling secure that your record will compete in the real world.

What do you notice most about records that are not mastered professionally?

The fidelity is simply not as good. Lots of people can make records sound loud and hyped up, but that’s not necessarily high quality—it’s a hamburger instead of a steak. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a good hamburger!

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