AESTHETICS AND RATIONALE
Mastering and mixing are both an art form and there is not one authoritative studio or engineer – it is mostly all in the eye (or ears rather) of the beholder. As the saying goes: "there's more than one way to cook an egg."
There is a plethora of mastering and mixing services online. I've heard great masters done all digitally, amazing albums done fully analogue, and I've heard many great songs completely ruined by an overzealous or inexperienced engineer. It can be overwhelming to find a studio or engineer that suits your music, specially if you are starting out and not familiar with any of these processes. And even if you are a seasoned artist, it's still consuming finding the right place and entrusting your creations to another person. As an artist myself, I seldom master my own music. I relish having that extra pair of ears listen to my creations, opine, and give me some feedback. I think of it as a system of check and balances.
An impressive array of expensive equipment – sometimes a piece of gear that cost as much as a luxury car – means nothing if the engineer doesn't understand the content or the artist's intention. I wouldn't want, for example, the same engineer who worked on the latest EDM atrocity touching my music – it just wouldn't be right for me. Thus, I have built close relationships with a few engineers that suit my aesthetic, understand the vision behind my music and know how I intend it to sound.
As you've probably discovered by now while surfing the web: some studios charge more, others charge way less, there are many who work fully analogue, while others fully digital. I've seen some online mastering services advertise ridiculously low prices, some starting at $10 per song. Now ask yourself: does it make sense to invest hundred thousands of dollars in premium studio equipment and room treatments only to charge (and make) per hour less than minimum wage at a fast food restaurant? Unless the person is independently wealthy and/or doing it as a hobby, I doubt whomever offers such rates is working inside a proper listening environment with mastering-grade speakers, audio converters, and quality acoustic treatments. You really get what you pay for, but hey, if you are looking for cheap & quick, these days you don't even need an engineer (or a studio) anymore, you can have a computer algorithm master your tracks online. Who needs ears, right?
I'm extremely selective on the material I decide to work on, as I do not work on music I do not believe in or enjoy. How can anyone do a good job if they do not genuinely enjoy listening to the material they'll be mastering or mixing? I'm not interested in taking anyone's money while yet helping unleash another atrocious album into an already saturated music environment. There's a level of integrity and social responsibility in what I do, and I want to make sure my work doesn't contribute to the problem. I require to listen to the material before committing to the project. If I do not like the music, I will not work on it. Period.
If you are hiring me to work on your music, you are doing so understanding the value of what I'll bring to the equation and are familiar with my aesthetic. I will find a good balance between fidelity and audio levels across a multitude of sound systems. My goal, whenever I’m mastering or mixing, is to add a new perspective on how your music should sound, based on my own ethos, experience and musical taste.
Having said the above: I cannot do magic (I do however try to cast spells sometimes!). If your mix is subpar, your source material uninteresting or let along the track uninspired, mastering or analogue summing is not going to make it sound amazing. This is known in the studio industry as polishing a turd, which in layman's term mean: you can’t fix rubbish. If I find your tracks lackluster, or find areas that can be improved before it comes to me, I will just tell you so and not just take your hard earned money. I'll probably even tell you to go back to the drawing board and work on your compositions further if needed. There is no rush – take your time!
This is how I operate around here: with blunt honesty, not wanting to waste your time or money.
- Rafael Anton Irisarri, Black Knoll Studio (NY)