Master, May I?
Most musicians I know have some kind of recording device at home. Whether it’s GarageBand, Pro Tools, Cubase or hardware digital recorders from the likes of Roland, Tascam and Korg, the modern guitarist usually desires and is expected to have some recording savvy. Even if you’re just cataloging your practice sessions or jamming over a backing track, making recordings is part of the guitar skill set and if you’re not participating, you should consider it.
Some of us are recording our ideas quickly into Garageband, while others are producing full-blown album projects. Both ends of the spectrum have an option that did not exist a few years ago.
With the rise of recording technology and hardware devices came a mini-revolution in mastering, the so-called “final creative endeavor” in a finished track. Mastering was traditionally the difference between a professional recording and a glorified demo. If you could afford to master your project, you were serious. The art of mastering was reserved for the studied and schooled practitioner, who piloted esoteric tools, making subtle adjustments that simply made the record Better.In addition, “another set of ears” taking a turn at listening critically to your project has certainly helped more tracks that it hurt.
We now have access to tools that nearly match those of the average mastering house. In today’s music scene, access to tools is a dicey thing. Dropping a pickup truck full of hardware onto my driveway does not make me a contractor. Nonetheless, we can use these tools to learn more about mixing and mastering.By trying to fix a bad mix in mastering, you can learn why the mix is bad.
Having your project professionally mastered – for most genres of music – must still be the first choice if at all possible. Hopefully it’s in your budget to do so, but it is rarely money poorly spent. Getting a pro involved in your project is a chance to learn from someone else’s experience, which is invaluable. You can certainly master your own work, but as the saying goes, “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”. I have a hard enough time removing myself from biased decisions on songs I wrote, performed, recorded and mixed. Getting fresh ears is worth it all by itself, learning and hearing and being audibly shown the solutions to the problems in your mix is a bonus. I believe creativity is also a learning process, as well as a productive labor.