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How does one become a mastering engineer?
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666666
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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How does one become a mastering engineer?

How does one become a mastering engineer???

For those of you who are reputable and successful "mastering engineers" conducting business as such, how did you get started, what steps did you take to get to where you are now? What officially allows you to do business as a legitimate mastering engineer?

We of course see a lot of folks out there "pretending" to be mastering engineers, they have no experience whatsoever, they have a couple of cheap DAW processors on their computer in their tiny untreated basement room with crappy monitors and they advertise and sell "mastering" services just to make a few quick bucks. Many here have been very vocal about this issue, I agree that this is a bad thing... but then how does one actually BECOME a "legitimate" mastering engineer?

Are there schools, courses, training programs specifically for mastering? Or perhaps one just needs to read Bob Katz's book three times and take an online exam?

In my personal opinion, mastering is the type of thing you either have a special talent for... or not... period. Those with the talent can still always learn more and sharpen their ears and skills... and those who do NOT have loads of inherent talent can potentially be trained to at least dabble on some level but might never be that great... and some have no talent, think they know everything and make no effort to improve but yet still do lots of mastering for cash. How do we officially distinguish between these different levels?

A lot of mastering engineers often speak in an authoritive tone as if part of an elite society. I've heard doctors speak in this way, but they have doctorate degrees. Mastering engineers... do they have any "official" certifications, degrees, etc? Of course, having lots of experience and having a resume of truly excellent work I'd say is all that is necessary... the proof is in the pudding... but then again, WHO is to say the work is excellent?

I am seeing "known" mastering engineers that range from excellent to terrible... and I base this on the quality of the work I hear personally. There are big name guys that are great, there are big name guys that yield crap. Now you could say, who am I to make these judgments? But this is exactly my point. Who's to say one could / should be a mastering engineer or not? I'm getting the feeling that anyone can just hang a sign on their door that says "mastering"... and while that is generally a crime, who's to say who can hang the sign and who should not?

Then there are guys that are big on the gear... some guys have the best mastering gear on the planet, amazing room, amazing monitors, super-duper custom mastering console, tons of top-end processing... but that surely does NOT make one qualified to be a mastering engineer. I am big on gear myself as I feel that certain tools ARE needed to get to where you need to go, but owning the stuff isn't a license to master.

I am not making this post to cause any friction, I'm truly curious. I know that many here feel very strongly about those who wake up one morning and decide to just start a mastering business on a whim with no experience etc... so then, what WOULD be the correct path for those people to take if they truly wanted to become a mastering engineer in the most correct acceptable legitimate manner?

DominicWyeth
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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I have asked a similar question recently and mostly the answers were its just hard work and time.

set yourself up start doing work
practice makes perfect
and then in a few years hopefully you will have some clients
some knowledge
and some gear

at least thats how I am doing it anyway

I dont think there is an easy answer for your question as it the circumstances differ so much world wide and person to person. Some people do it because the studio they were working at needed it. some people do it becuase it was a natural progression and become a passion from what they were doing.

I would suggest reading (bob katz, Bob Olhsson and other forums - careful of forums though, you need to take them with an open mind and a grain of salt as you may be reading a 3 year olds response).

mastering audio the art and science and also the mastering engineers handbook are an awesome place to start though as well as there are some uself tips and people on this forum. Check out jack the bear, matthew gray, rick (I list them cause they are aussie, professional, knowlegable and avid members of this forum)

other than that check out someone in your area - you might be lucky enough to make them coffee for a week or two and watch em work. its what I did when I wanted to know more than just what was in books and it rocked.
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 666666 View Post
How does one become a mastering engineer???



To be an average ME you just go buy yourself a DAW and some software...bingo you're a ME....

To be a High End ME...you buy a $10,000 converter, clip it all the time, run that through some software, apply some non musical eq and Bingo...you're a High End ME....



Sorry to all the legitimate guys.....I couldn't resist!
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21st September 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickynicknick View Post
To be an average ME you just go buy yourself a DAW and some software...bingo you're a ME....

To be a High End ME...you buy a $10,000 converter, clip it all the time, run that through some software, apply some non musical eq and Bingo...you're a High End ME....



Sorry to all the legitimate guys.....I couldn't resist!
Don't forget your custom designed purpose built mastering room, high quality, full range speaker system and all that lovely but expensive outboard gear!

Then add in the experience of mastering a few thousand projects. And don't forget that not only do you need a high-end ADC (to clip, if that's the way you roll) but also the equivalent DAC for the front of the analog loop plus the expensive DAC as the room converter.

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

But seriously, you start small, work away by listening, reading, apprenticing (if possible) work for nothing or very little, get feedback from mix engineers and clients, grow and keep growing. If you have an aptitude for it and an open mind, you will get better and better.

Build up your studio as you can afford it, one piece at time, and maybe 15 years later, you will have a steady clientele that keeps you working most days of the year.
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Bob Olhsson
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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Most of the folks I know started out working at a record label, a pressing plant or, more recently, a dedicated mastering facility under the supervision of somebody having lots of experience. Many of us can trace our teachers and teachers' teachers right back to Victor and Edison.
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21st September 2008
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Excellent thread...thumbsup

Quote:
Originally Posted by 666666 View Post

In my personal opinion, mastering is the type of thing you either have a special talent for... or not... period. Those with the talent can still always learn more and sharpen their ears and skills... and those who do NOT have loads of inherent talent can potentially be trained to at least dabble on some level but might never be that great... and some have no talent, think they know everything and make no effort to improve but yet still do lots of mastering for cash. How do we officially distinguish between these different levels?
At least in this forum you can easily identify these people; those who directly attack other users because they don't agree with you on something which is a product of their own insecurity.

Quote:
Then there are guys that are big on the gear... some guys have the best mastering gear on the planet, amazing room, amazing monitors, super-duper custom mastering console, tons of top-end processing... but that surely does NOT make one qualified to be a mastering engineer.
Even if you manage to run a banner at GearSlutz.com advertising mastering services, that still doesn't make you a great mastering engineer...
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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start mastering?

i think it should be obvious.

if you want to learn a thing, then do it. there's plenty of crappy bands that'll be pleased to let you practice on their crap recordings.

enjoy.
kiss.
Thomas W. Bethe
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21st September 2008
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A couple of thoughts on how to get started in mastering.

Start doing mastering for friends or acquaintances. You will probably for have to do it for free or at very reduced rates.

As you get better get more word of mouth advertising from your current clients.

As your mastering improves raise your rates.

When you can afford it upgrade your equipment and your monitoring environment.

Continue to get referrals from current clients and build on that client base. Start doing some advertising on the Internet and locally in clubs and music stores.

After a couple of years you should start to see repeat business and a more consistent income. Raise your rates as your skills increase and you get more and more satisfied clients.

You will eventually find that people are coming to you for your ears and skill in mastering. They are NOT coming to you for the impressive racks of equipment and blinking lights so try and watch the amount of money you spend for the esoteric equipment (I know this amounts to heresy on the GEARSLUTZ FORUM BUT...). Esoteric high dollar equipment is nice to have but may in fact be too costly for what your clients want or need. If you get to the point where you are cash poor but equipment rich you may have gone to far. If most of your clients are happy with the product that you produce and are comfortable paying the going rate for your services they may NOT be happy if you start buying a lot of un-needed equipment and raise your rates to compensate. Most clients want results and don't really care what you are using as long as their stuff sounds the way they want it to sound. There maybe a couple of gear heads around who say they want only the best equipment but they are few and far between. It does not make sense to cater to them and spend a lot on esoteric equipment that only you and a few of them can appreciate. If you are buying equipment buy the best you can afford without going into debt. Buying and using the best you can afford will always pay off in the end.

Try to find your niche and fill that niche. Maybe you are great at hip hop but not so good at jazz so go after what you feel comfortable mastering.

Have fun with what you do and it will be very rewarding and instead of being bone tired at the end of the day you will be energized with the knowledge that you have helped someone realize their dream and have gotten paid for doing it.

Best of luck!

WTCW and YMMV
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Masterer
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21st September 2008
Old 21st September 2008
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Spend 7 years or so working at a group home for mentally handicapped adults.


Worked for me.








Why the hell would anyone want to be a mastering engineer anyway?
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21st September 2008
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i think you have to spend ten years as a "cutting engineer" wait for a format change then when all of the big studio systems breakdown and the audio geeks of the world still need to believe in audio heroes you will get promoted by proxie to a "mastering engineer"
suddenly bands will remember your name the labels will remember to put your name on the record cover and your name at the door for the album launch gig.

i think its the strangest thing that when i started i got the job only because nobody else that applied knew what "the galavanic " was.
( yes that was a question ! so was how many grooves on the average 12"33 record side !)

really i think you just start anywhere you can , this forum seems a good enough place to get yourself on the trail.

one day you will find out it takes ten years to figure out it takes ten years

never seen a "qualified" mastering engineer myself
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21st September 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer View Post
Why the hell would anyone want to be a mastering engineer anyway?
Point.

Personally, I was "dragged" in. To keep my job, I worked at it hard and applied what I picked up from attending so many mastering sessions. Thankfully, I actually started to enjoy it to some extent and found that it "fit" me better anyway.
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21st September 2008
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I guess that would explain the sense of humor....




Thor



Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer View Post
Spend 7 years or so working at a group home for mentally handicapped adults.


Worked for me.








Why the hell would anyone want to be a mastering engineer anyway?

42?
666666
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21st September 2008
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Well, I guess this is the type of thing that, "if you have to ask, you'll never know".

I personally feel I can hear very deeply into any given mix / master and am very critical about every microscopic detail as well as the overall picture. I feel quite confident about instantly detecting aspects of audio that make a program any less than "stellar fidelity". The fact that I feel I can hear, assess and critique audio so well makes me wonder if I could potentially become a legitimate mastering engineer one day. I do understand though that hearing, while perhaps most impotant, is only part of the equation... and the other part is knowing HOW to "repair" the "problems" you are hearing.

Like an auto mechanic... first you need to know how to trouble-shoot and pinpoint a problem... that can be hard and can take a lot of experience and skill... but once the problem is found, you then need to FIX it... and that's a whole other project.

Well, it's not like I wish to become a mastering engineer tomorrow, I was really more interested in how existing engineers got to where they are and how / why they are entitled to remain on their thrones when some of them yield very poor work. I do believe there are a lot of MEs out there who have names and have gear but just don't have the ears. Just my opinion.

Hats off to those MEs who actually do excellent work... I have much respect for you.

I'd love to perhaps sit in on top-end mastering sessions in the name of learning more. Do top-name mastering engineers allow "interns" to hang out and watch / hear whats' going on? I'd love to do this. I don't have time for a second full-time job, but I could perhaps do a part time thing. Has anyone ever been able to do this in recent times? If so, where?

I would not be interested in looking into this at all if I didn't think I could really HEAR. I think I do have the ears and audio assessment skills... it's just the logistics / repair skills / mastering gear manipulation etc that I would find very interesting to become more aquainted with. By the way I've been a professional musician for the past 25 years and have done extensive pro audio work for the past almost ten years now... so, I DO have some experience.

Well, can't blame me for wanting to go out there and attempt to do good work when I keep hearing distorted crackling masters coming out all the time. We need to put an end to this crap. If I was an ME, I would NEVER allow a master to leave my hands with my name on it that was crunching and crackling with digital distortion... I don't care how much business I might lose or how many important people / accounts I might lose... so be it.

Yeah, money talks, money pays the bills, I know, but we need more people out there trying to uphold audio integrity, otherwise soon there will simply be no good audio left to listen to. I can't even sit down and enjoy a new Metallica album for instance... it's not like they put out new albums every 5 minutes... life is short, we can't allow this to keep going on. Great art is getting ruined... forever.

And again, for those MEs out there who agree with this and do ultra precision top-notch work, more power to you... I have much respect. Hats off!!!

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22nd September 2008
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Tough One

I'm the wannabe guy with the untreated room and all who does cheap mastering, point of ref.

Um... how can you tell the difference, or how can you become one? Two distinctly different things.

Equipment: Yep, makes a big difference. There are not many people with 50k+ dollar rooms that don't take their job seriously and haven't built a reputation. And yeah, the 10,000 dollar converter is gonna beat the hell out of that mbox.

yEars: experience. not too many MEs my age or younger. Usually, you need to have a good history of working with sound. Looking deeper into the music is a true art that blends instinct and technical know-how.

Why would anyone want to be a masterer anyway? Cause it's freakin' awesome.
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22nd September 2008
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A little OT. I LOVE ANALOG The feeling of the knobs, the tube warming wait for its calibration, you know the whole experience. But, I've always wanted to test a theory by a good friend of mine; that 100% digital domain mastering in the hands of an experienced engineer, can be or IS more important than all the gear in the world. Does anybody like to do a test? My guess is that if both MEs have good skills, the results should be equal only the analog processed master should have a certain "color" with a big sound while the all digital one should sound like the original mix only "bigger". Any volunteers (You need to own expensive analog gear)?....
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22nd September 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joerod View Post
I LOVE ANALOG The feeling of the knobs, the tube warming wait for its calibration, you know the whole experience. But, I've always wanted to test a theory by a good friend of mine; that 100% digital domain mastering in the hands of an experienced engineer, can be or IS more important than all the gear in the world. Does anybody like to do a test? My guess is that if both MEs have good skills, the results should be equal only the analog processed master should have a certain "color" with a big sound while the all digital one should sound like the original mix only "bigger". Any volunteers (You need to own expensive analog gear)?....
Why not just be yourself ?
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22nd September 2008
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Quote:
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Why not just be yourself ?
What do you mean Nicky?
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23rd September 2008
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Hiya 666666

If you skipped 3 of the 6s you might become a hell of a ME.

best wishes
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23rd September 2008
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What do you mean Nicky?
I mean stop pretending to be something you are not....a mastering engineer....just go be one instead pretending.
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23rd September 2008
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How does one become a mastering engineer?

...when you can snatch this pebble from my hand grasshopper...
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23rd September 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickynicknick View Post
I mean stop pretending to be something you are not....a mastering engineer....just go be one instead pretending.
But he's stated, over and over, that he's not a mastering engineer.
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11th October 2008
Old 11th October 2008
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Working at it for many years CONSISTENTLY (at least 5). I can imagine this can be a daunting task for many to accomplish ---
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