Mastering of None

There’s a new devil in the recording world.

It’s not A/D converters, or mp3s, or cheap, Chinese condenser mics.

No, the new devil in the recording world is… MASTERING!?!

Well, not mastering as a whole, but more specifically, cheap mastering from inexperienced engineers.


Once upon a time, mastering was thought of as a mysterious process completed by a very busy, Wizard of Oz-like character. He’d take your finished mixes, and magically make them sound more full, less harsh, a little louder, and somehow, better overall. But soon, home recording spread like wildfire and aspiring engineers started wondering, ‘If I tracked it, why can’t I master it, too? What’s so special about the mastering guy?’

While I support that kind of curiosity (it’s what led me to recording), I’ve found that mastering is a process that is best left to a reputable expert from a dedicated facility.

I bring this up because I am seeing a lot of these “Master your album for $50” ads popping up on craigslist and in print. But BEWARE! Bad mastering can turn even great mixes into super-harsh, distorted, un-enjoyable monstrosities.

So, be wary of online mastering services that offer the cheapest rate. While many of them do offer risk free samples. I’ve found that some of  the best mastering work is consistently done by CD duplication and distribution facilities like Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. I’ve also been impressed by a smaller facility called Mullholland Music. They mastered a mostly acoustic album I worked on, which was recorded at several studios, and I was impressed by the way they brought everything together, sonically.

Mastering is the polish on your recorded work and it is an often misunderstood process.

If you don’t fully understand it, you have an even better reason to let an experienced professional take your album to completion! (And you should watch the video below!)

Yes, quality mastering is more expensive, but what you’re renting is a pair of very experienced ears, a room built for critical listening, audiophile speakers that reveal flaws in the mixes, and top-of-the-line, task-specific, time-tested, outboard gear.

This kind of mastering may not be in the budget, or even necessary, for every project. But for those of us who love sound, it just doesn’t make sense  to spend time and money on guitars and other gear, and then writing, tracking, and mixing only to have the quality of the work diminished by a one-plug-in-fits-all, cookie cutter, mastering “solution”.

When it comes to mastering, cheap is worse than cheap. Cheap is the devil.

– Randall Sena, Recording & Mixing Engineer, Teacher & Angel at

The mysterious mastering process, explained in 10 minutes:

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