Music Mastering: DIY vs. AI vs. Pro

Learn about the pros and cons of mastering your music going the DIY route, using an automated AI mastering service, and hiring a pro mastering engineer.

Mastering is the process of formatting a song for distribution. Most commonly, people want to get their music mastered for streaming services. You can either master your own songs, use an automated mastering service, or hire a mastering engineer—there are pros and cons to each solution.

The process of mastering is partially technical—it requires you to export a song using the correct settings. Although, it’s also a somewhat subjective process in which you have the opportunity to “sweeten” and “enhance” your mix using mastering plugins.

1. Master Your Own Songs

Many producers choose to master their music themselves. The obvious benefit in doing this is that it’s free. However, a poor mastering job can do more harm than good and make your mix sound worse.

I put together a free written mastering guide that will hold your hand throughout the mastering process, and provide you with some insight on how I approach mastering music.

If you want to dive into mastering music yourself even deeper, I definitely recommend checking out Justin Colletti’s video mastering course called Mastering Demystified. I scouted out this course myself after it was recommended by a friend, and it reveals most of the information I paid thousands of dollars for at music production school.

To deal with really difficult mixes, you may need to use specialized mastering plugins. In the following video, I introduce you to my top three secret mastering plugins that will allow you to reduce harsh resonance, shape transients, and increase loudness.

2. Use an Automated Mastering Service

If you can’t be bothered to master your own music, and you prefer to spend your time focusing on the songwriting element of the production process, an automated mastering service like LANDR could be a viable option.

This service uses AI and machine learning to master tracks. It analyzes, processes, and renders songs instantly. Since LANDR is an automated service, it’s quite affordable, but the big question is, does it work?

From a technical standpoint, yes. It’s going to format your songs appropriately. From a subjective standpoint, it depends. If you like how the masters sound, then yes, it works.

Automated mastering services like LANDR, unsurprisingly, get a lot of flak from mastering engineers—this service is a direct competitor of theirs. The most common claim is that since there’s no human involved in the process, the results won’t be as “good” as the results produced by a human.

This is obviously a faulty argument because it depends on what the AI algorithm spits out, in addition to the skill, experience, and preferences of the mastering engineer.

I’m of the opinion that if it sounds good, it is good. It doesn’t matter who mastered the track or how the track got mastered. Either you like the results LANDR provides and it works for you, or you don’t like the results and you find another solution. You can try out LANDR for free so there’s no risk involved.

3. Hire a Mastering Engineer

Hiring a mastering engineer is by far the most expensive option and it will typically take a few days to get your masters back, but it has the potential to provide the most consistent and reliable results—assuming you find a skilled mastering engineer whose taste aligns with yours.

Depending on the location and demand for the mastering engineer in question, you can expect to pay anywhere from $29-199+ per song—this can be quite a hefty expense so you need to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

If a quick and dirty home-mastering job is the reason your music keeps getting rejected by labels, you’ve been granted a production budget, or you simply want to develop your songs to their full potential for intrinsic reasons, it might be worth hiring a pro.

You can hit up a local studio in your area and get them to master your songs for you. They’ll often let you sit in on the session, which can be quite a fun learning experience. Alternatively, if you want to hire me to master your music, I’m always available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *