If you’ve ever mastered your own mixes, you might be familiar with the sense of confusion you have for trying to make something better that you already think is pretty kick-ass.
I mean…you mixed it and you’re happy with the mix so you don’t really know exactly what you’re supposed to do?
Maybe some multi-band compression? Some limiting maybe?
The thing is…the value a mastering engineer brings to the table isn’t a second set of EQs and limiters. It’s their ears.
You hear things your way, and they hear things their way.
You combine those two and your music benefits.
Or…at least some of the time. Sometimes you just end up with a shitty mastering engineer that doesn’t return phonecalls and refuses to do revisions.
My friend Chris Graham of ChrisGrahamMastering.com is not one of those engineers. In fact, he has a completely different philosophy when it comes to finding a mastering engineer for your music and I think you’ll love what he has to say.
Here’s a story he wrote for you guys that I want to share with you.
Take it away Chris:
Steve and Julian both have home studios. They both produced their own albums this year, but only one of them was proud of how their album sounds.
Let’s start with Julian’s story.
Julian owns the best home studio in town. He has expensive gear, amazing vintage instruments, a stocked mini-fridge, and heck, he even has a fancy Italian espresso machine in the studio.
Julian spent hundreds of hours making the album of his dreams and hired a professional mastering engineer to put the finishing touches on his mixes. When he got the masters back, he HATED them. His mastering engineer had HUGE credits and cost a small fortune.
How could the masters sound so bad?
Julian called his mastering engineer a few times, but he didn’t pick up. Finally, Julian received a 4-word text message:
“I’ll do a revision.”
Nearly a month later, he received new masters that sounded only slightly better. He called the mastering engineer a few more times but never heard back from him.
Super frustrating, right?
Julian’s friend Steve has a different story.
Steve made a record in his home studio and mixed it himself too. His gear wasn’t as nice as Julian’s, but like Julian, he had always dreamed of making an album he could be proud of.
When Steve finished his mixes, he tried to master them himself. Steve’s masters sounded great in his studio, but no matter what he did, they always sounded weird in his car. After hearing about Julian’s mastering nightmare, Steve decided to do his homework before hiring someone to master his mixes.
Steve read that many of the best producers have a mastering contest before hiring a mastering engineer, so he decided to give it a try. He found 5 professional mastering engineers online with good reviews and sent each of them the same song for a free mastering sample.
He even asked Julian’s mastering engineer for a sample as well, but never heard back from him.
He evaluated each mastering engineer based on 4 criteria:
- How responsive are they to email and phone contact?
- Do they offer mixing advice before mastering?
- Do they have a refund and revision policy?
- Did their mastering sample sound good?
Once Steve received all of the mastering samples back, he did some A/B listening tests and couldn’t believe how different each sample sounded. Steve picked his mastering engineer based on the criteria above, and sent him his whole album to be mastered.
Steve was delighted when the mastering engineer reached out with a few mixing tips to improve the songs before mastering. The mixing tips were very helpful, and Steve could already hear that his mixes were sounding better. When he finished uploading his new mixes for mastering, he breathed a sigh of relief as he turned off his studio monitors and went to bed.
The next morning, he received an email back from his mastering engineer:
“These mixes sound great! What a huge improvement! Way to go Steve! I’ll have masters back for you in a week. : )”
Six days later, Steve got an email from his mastering engineer with a download link.
Steve eagerly downloaded the masters, and pressed play on the first song. He was so surprised at how alive and “3D” his mixes sounded, that he jumped out of his chair and made an embarrassingly loud squeal.
Suddenly, he heard his wife behind him say:
“Wow! Steve this sounds AMAZING!”
He didn’t know it, but she had come running when she heard Steve squeal, because well…Steve wasn’t a squealer.
Steve grinned and said,
“Let’s give these masters the real test and see how they sound in the car.”
Steve and his wife walked out to their car and listened in silence to the whole album. After the last note faded out, Steve’s wife said,
“Honey, I can’t believe you made this! It’s amazing! You sound like a rockstar!”
Steve was so proud that he released his album to his fans the next day and immediately began recording new songs. A few days later, Julian called and said,
“Steve, your record sounds ridiculously good. Honestly man, I’m jealous. How much would it cost to have you produce my next record?”
I love this story! Thanks Chris!
As you may suspect, Chris stands behind this story wholeheartedly and offers everybody who’s looking to use his services a free mastering sample of one song.
If your mix is giving you trouble, Chris also includes a free mix evaluation video with every mastering with project to help you get your mixes sounding as amazing as possible before mastering.
You might be thinking…why am I recommending this other guy for mastering instead of offering my own services? Well…the fact of the matter is that Chris is actually one of my go-to mastering guys. If I’ve mixed a record I avoid mastering it myself. I know that getting a second set of ears on the songs will ultimately benefit the art and I’d rather make good art than a quick buck.
So if you’ve been slaving over your songs and are ready to finish your mixes with a quick mastering job, consider checking out my buddy Chris instead. Your mixes will thank you for it.