Posted: 11 October 2018
Last week we shared our 5 handy pointers for DIY recording the raw ingredients to a killer track, but what comes next? Well before the song is ready to take on the world it needs to be mixed, mastered and readied for release.
Mixing is almost a never-ending task. Just as you feel you’re pretty much finished and happy then you will inevitably spot else something to tweak and another rabbit hole to keep you occupied for days on end. In the end you know the sound you are after and it will take repeated attempts and a lot of trial and error to get the recording matching what’s in your head.
The key to mixing tracks is to remain objective. Think of how the listener will be enjoying your music and trial it in that environment. It may be on headphones at a low volume, blasting out your car radio or at home on your stereo. Ultimately you want a mix that works across all environments, so use your ears and don’t get blinded by your love for the track.
An invaluable lesson to learn is that you can never save too much! What sounds good to you at one time may not work as part of the overall mix. So, saving at different stages of the process means you can flit back to a previous cut for comparison and can even work on multiple mixes of the same song at the same time. Songs will evolve naturally as you work on them and this allows you to follow each track down the path and decide if that version is worth pursuing.
Also, by storing your work you are damn near guaranteeing that if something unthinkable happens you will be able to revert back to a slightly earlier version. It’s better to lose an hour’s work than weeks’ worth.
Keep this mantra throughout the mastering process too. It’s amazing how different songs can sound on different hardware.
Your track is down, you’ve spent days mixing it. and it’s all coming together nicely. Why doesn’t it sound as punchy as you pictured? Well that’s down to the mastering. In its simplest terms, the aim of mixing is to balance all the elements in the track, whereas the aim of mastering is to get a good shape and level for the track overall. Mastering does require a certain amount of trial and error to get to a point that you are happy with, so don’t expect to nail it first time.
When getting started your best bet is to clearly plan out what you are aiming for. Listen to other tracks that have a similar sound to what you are after and make note of how they have achieved this. Even flick back to commercial tracks as a comparison, and an instant guide for what to work on next.
The key thing to remember when mastering is to not overdo it. It is difficult to make a track during mastering but very easy to break it. You should be aiming to let your track breathe and allow each element of the song to compliment each other. Balance each input whilst ensuring there is a level of variety to keep listeners interested.
In addition, always look at the bigger picture when evaluating your song. You are mastering just one track but it may ultimately form part of an EP or album so keep in mind the overall feel you want of the full release.
The simple option is to get a professional engineer to take the reins. Cost wise this is likely to be a few hundred pounds. However, most engineers will be able to turn your track round quickly and to a level where you will be satisfied.
We asked round the Marshall office and the advice that kept coming up, no matter what style of music you play, is that professional mastering is well worth considering.
There’s no sure fire way to create the perfect song. It could take months or minutes, you could spend shedloads or small change, but ultimately if you DIY then you’re the boss. How much of a boss you decide to be comes down to the time you put in, but if you’re willing to work, then you might have just what it takes.