As a mixing engineer that works most of the time online these days, I often get the following message: "Hey bro, how much is a mixmaster?" and damn, it stresses me out when people offer mixing AND mastering by default. I know these days it's often driven by monetary reasons, or because people don't even think about it, but it’s one of the worst things you can do for your music, and I have an instant distrust of anyone who does this because it does not serve the art. Here's my top five reasons to use the right person for the job and make a better record!
If you’re trying to master a song in the same room a song is mixed in, you can’t compensate for any EQ issues that may exist because of your room. The same even applies to people who try to mix on headphones, there’s always a sonic signature to deal with even if you use some kind of correction software. Rather than fix EQ problems, we often make them worse. A great mastering room will be superbly tuned and have immaculate monitoring, plus a human - the most important part!
It's you, not me
Apart from our environment - we all just hear a certain way and tend to lean towards making the same choices if we take on both roles; I like a big bottom and I can not lie. Mastering engineers tend to listen to hundreds - if not thousands of tracks a year in exactly the same room on the same speakers so over time that burns in a certain set of parameters that work out there in the commercial world that they can then apply to our work.
Too many options
We do too much! That might sound strange, but pro mastering engineers often make very, very small changes. One db on an EQ is a lot in mastering. Even if we don't have mastering grade analog gear, we'll surely not only have a ton of amazing emulations of analog gear, but also have multi-band compressors, dynamic EQ’s, a ton of amazing tools, and the temptation is great to go wild whereas, when not fixing a specific issue, mastering engineers tend to be very conservative with what they do. Whenever I read about some online guy doing 10 things to a track to master it...I shudder. If they need to make huge changes, your mix probably sucks. This brings me to...
Upping your game
One of the best things over the years for me as a mixer is working with a mastering engineer is asking them to help up my mixing game. They don’t generally offer advice...but I ASK! "What did you have to do? How was the bass?" Over the years I’ve used their suggestions to get better and better - so they have to do less and less. Maybe it sounds really weird that I WANT them to do almost nothing, but that's the goal!
Letting go is good. When you’ve been working on something for a long time, it’s hard to maintain perspective. That’s why it's great for a producer to find a great mixing engineer to take it to the next level. Everyone’s rough, or not-so-rough mix sounds just fine in isolation - until they hear it next to mine, which is why I get hired, and the work succeeds. Of course, the next step then applies to the mixes I just spent days on and why it's THEN great to use a great mastering engineer to add that final, objective quality control and make any tweaks that may be needed.
I want it all!
Now, there’s nothing wrong with learning how each part of the process works, or even studying obsessively if it’s a path you want to take, but as an artist you simply have to ask yourself what you are good at, where your energy is best spent and dig deep to become the best you can possibly be at it, and that may involve taking the wants of your ego and putting it in check. I know there are always budgetary considerations, but there's a reason the process that's been used to make great records exists, and the beauty of being alive today is that it's available to everyone, everywhere.
If you need an online mixing engineer, you can hire me to mix your next record at mixedbyadam.com, and please - hit me up if you need me to refer to a mastering engineer. I know some truly great guys, in several budget ranges. In the meantime, happy music making and feel free to say hi or ask questions, anytime.