A lot of people, when they hear the words “audio mastering” immediately imagine this quintessential scene: A female pop recording artist, standing in a felt-padded, oak-paneled room, is facing the glass partition that separates her from 2-3 middle-aged sound managers, holding headphones over one ear ear with one hand, the other hand swerving around her in melodramatic circles as she belts out a soulful melody. To me, and I hope also to everyone else, this is a pretty annoying image. It’s annoying to think about if you’re someone who has ever had anything to do with recording any kind of music. If you have, then you probably know recording is messy, and it likely happens in a room with countless 1/4 inch cords laced across the floor, and red solo cups lining every windowsill and available table space. You would know that more often than you would expect, recording it doesn’t take place in an idyllic oak-paneled room with production staff.
More and more, people are making records at home. They’re making them in their basements, their garages, their bedrooms, hell, they’re making records in their closets. These days, the kinds of music you can make on lower budgets is getting better and better.A lot of musicians that are making music at home, who aren’t the pop singer in an oak-paneled studio, believe that there’s some sort of mutual exclusivity between “professionally mastered” music and “professionally recorded” music, that they can’t have music professionally mastered that was recorded at home or in a garage. Either that or they think themselves really “punk” or “DIY” or something of that nature and decline to use it because it’s incoherent with their personal musical aesthetic
I learned the hard way that that’s not necessarily true. When I was younger, I recorded my first album with some friends, using a Tascam DP-24 24-track recorder. There wasn’t really much “mastering” to it. We just sort of said to ourselves, “Yeah, pan that guitar right, that one left, center the bass, center the vocals, and turn down the drums” and we were done. About a year later, a close friend of mine who had been studying to become a sound engineer came to me and asked if I had any raw audio I could give him to practice working with, so I sent him some of the raw tracks from my earlier recordings, thinking that whatever he brought back would sound just like what I had made earlier. When he brought them back to me, I was absolutely shocked by the brand new, near-perfect sounds I was hearing in my own music. I was pretty much ashamed that I had ever even released them into the public in their previous state. I’ve recorded two albums since then, both in my home, utilizing my same lo-fi approach, but would later take them to be professionally mastered, and I’ve never regretted it.
There’s nothing un-DIY about having a second (and slightly more experienced) set of ears to listen and finely tune to your home-recorded music.