Mixing studio mastering?

The band asks this question:  What would happen if we had our mix engineer also do the mastering?  This question is asked by most bands these days at some point.  Budgets are small and mixing engineers like the fact that doing their own mastering gives them greater control over the project.  Many times the mix engineer doesn’t charge too much for the mastering job, so money is not a primary motivation,  but often the mixing engineer doesn’t have access to a high quality and flexible mastering house they can work with, so for them, doing the job themselves is just the reality of the situation.  But if we assume that there is an affordable, high end mastering studio that is available, then the decision becomes a no-brainier.

From my point of view, because I operate one of these mastering studios, I view the decision of a mixing engineer to master their own mixes as an unfortunate one.  There are a number of reasons why mastering in the mixing studio can be a negative.

– The first reason is that recording and mixing equipment is not the same as mastering equipment.  Mastering gear is often built for a higher fidelity sound and crafted more for the job of mastering.

– The second reason is that mixing monitors are not the same kind of speakers that are used for mastering.  They are usually near-field speakers which are small and sitting close to the listener.  Mastering speakers are very large and installed in a far-field position.  Because of this, they have a deeper bass response and a much more accurate sound stage. Problems in the low end which are common, are easily fixed at the mastering stage because the bass response is there.

– The mastering studio is a specially built room that is free of excessive standing waves which can effect listener perception drastically.

– The mastering studio is operated by a specialized engineer who knows the art of mastering and is familiar with mastering techniques and mastering technology in general.

– Finally the mastering engineer can listen to the mixes with a fresh, objective set of ears.  He is not emotionally drained by the job of recording and mixing and can perform his job faster, more efficiently and without second guessing his decisions.  This may be one of the most important reasons to send out for mastering.

For all of those reasons, unless there is just no budget at all for mastering, or a mastering studio which is qualified cannot be found, I would always recommend that a band send their album out for mastering, whether that is through Imperial Mastering or another mastering studio.  It is a necessary final step.

Just to be balanced, if a mixing engineer were to decide that they wanted to do mastering in-house because they didn’t have access to an affordable, quality mastering studio, I would recommend that they only do so if they have more than 1500 cu. ft. minimum in the mixing room, that they invest in speakers which have at least 10-12 inch woofers and are positioned mid-field, and that they modify the room by installing bass traps and diffusers..  As far as mastering equipment goes, the mixing engineer is probably limited  to computer plug-ins for mastering but they are good enough quality to do a decent job if used properly and coupled with these other additions.