The influx of technology in the last twenty years has been staggering. Where once musicians would have to travel to a recording studio, lay down tracks, have the audio mixed at the studio, and eventually mastered, today nearly every musician has access to tools, technologies, and tutorials to do studio work in their bedroom. On the surface, this seems like a dream come true. But, it also brings up some very real drawbacks and concerns. Where once the market was limited to musicians who either A. Had the funds to create an album or B. Where good enough to have an album funded for them, the market is now extremely saturated by a barrage of weekend warriors and DIYers.
The reality is, that the professionals that musicians worked with were exactly that: Professionals. These individuals took years to perfect their craft and are themselves artists. While the technology is easily accessible, the “art” part of the equation is being lost, and the market continues to be filled with a lot of poorly constructed albums and demos.
The difference between getting your tracks heard and being thrown into the reject bin can hinge upon the nuances that come from a professional mastering. A properly mastered track allows the artist’s work to shine in ways that are subtle, but monumental. It is a confusing, intricate, and extremely complicated art form that tweaks the music in ways that make the sounds inherently better – all without changing the characteristics of the heart of the original artist. A poorly mastered track, however, can have the exact opposite effect. Subtle changes or large changes to the track that can make the music sound cheap, cheesy, or inauthentic. This kind of perception could spell the decline in sales and no further interest from music executives.
Mastering is more important than ever in today’s competitive market for several reasons, and while it might be something that one could attempt to accomplish on their own, it is still best left to the aforementioned professional artists. Why? Here are two big reasons. Firstly, where the music is played effects how it is heard. Not all sound systems are created alike. Cars, phones, stereos, in a club, streaming online – all of these methods of listening have different speakers and different mechanics that can change the way the music sounds. A professional mastering can make the music sound good across all venues.
However, the most important reason is this: You hear and perceive your music differently than others. For example, have you ever had a term paper that you spent hours and hours proofreading and editing for clarity, only to have it returned to you by your professor covered in red ink pointing out all of your mistakes? You were so vested in your work that you couldn’t see the obvious flaws that were easily detectible by a third party. Your music is the same way. You do not hear the audio in the same way your audience does, and mastering by a professional can find those obvious mistakes and be able to improve the music in ways that you might not have been able to see.
Mastering in a competitive market is a necessity. Not only does it improve the quality of your work, clarifies your vision, and allows your audience to connect more readily to the music, it also shows that you value your work and want it to be represented in the best way possible. In a saturated market, those who show the greatest dedication and respect to their art will be the ones that stand out.