Kim Lajoie's blog

How to be a mastering engineer. Or, how to be a master

by Kim Lajoie on August 2, 2013

Ian Shepherd:

The answer is me.

My ears, my experience, my perspective, my skill.

Me. I’m the mastering engineer.

Pretty arrogant, right ?

Tongue-in-cheek contextless quoting aside, Ian makes a really good point. And it’s one that I make frequently to singer/songwriters who ask me for advice about recording their next release in their home studio.

I’m all for people having a go and learning new skills. I’m also all for people making informed choices.

So I usually break it down to two scenarios: recording demos and recording commercial (i.e. good enough to charge for) releases.

For demos, I say go for it. Recording tools are more accessible than they’ve ever been. If you’ve already got a computer, you’re just a DAW, mic, audio interface and headphones or speakers away from having a home studio. For some electronica, you might not even need the mic. Don’t get too caught up in the technology (Garageband is better than most people give it credit for). Just get your ideas down. You can even record a demo on your phone these days.

For commercial releases, things start to get a bit more complicated. You want to produce something that you’re proud of, that’s exciting enough to promote, that’s good enough to charge for. So the conversation usually goes something like this:

Artist: “I’m thinking of recording the EP/album/whatever in my home studio. Do you think that’s a good idea?

Me: “Are you a professional producer or recording engineer?”

Artist: “No”

Me: “Do you have over a decade of experience in making recordings?”

Artist: “No”

Me: “Do you have a well-equipped studio with plenty of sonic options that you know how to use?”

Artist: “Kinda…”

Me: “So, your release isn’t going to sound like it was recorded by an experienced professional in an appropriate studio. If you’re ok with that, go ahead. If you’re not ok with that, you probably need to hire a professional.”

The other misunderstanding some artists have is that recording it themselves will be cheaper or cost less. For demos, that’s half true (it’ll usually cost less). For a high quality release, it’ll cost more to buy the gear and take longer to learn how to get good results than it would to simply hire a studio. These days, you can record a decent EP within $2k and a few days if you’re well-rehearsed. Tell me you can build a home studio that’ll produce similar results with $2k and a few days to learn it.

The exception is artists who are actually interested in developing their skills and capabilities as recording engineers and/or producers. For them, it absolutely makes sense to go the DIY route. Most producers I know (myself included) cut their teeth on their own solo projects before working with other artists.

-Kim.

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