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Choosing online mastering

Choosing online mastering can be a challenge with so many services on offer. You need clear and helpful advice to make good decisions. This text gives important pointers to help with that decision making process.

Choosing your mastering engineer online can bring a number of challenges for a producer, musician or a record distribution label. The model for mastering has been subject to a number of changes over recent years. Many mastering studios now operate on the internet and it is clear that there are very different price points. Mastering used to be an exclusively expensive affair and you would normally be paying $100.00 per track and this was fairly standard for professional mastering. Now you can find people suggesting that they can master track for as little as $18.00. So my opinion is that when a musician or record label is looking for online mastering they should make common sense decisions.
Firstly there is a wide range of pricing from expensive to very cheap. Now common sense suggests that there could be reasons for this. To make an informed decision  what pricing both high quality and value lies, consider these points. Typically a professional audio engineers hourly rate would be approx $35.00 per hour this helps understand roughly what labour costs are involved. It does vary that is a fact but this gives a typical average hourly rate for a freelance audio engineer doing either pro live sound, recording or mix work.

When you choose your online mastering studio please make sure that the website you choose has realistic photo's of equipment, loudspeakers and room relative to the price. In addition be wary of websites that show no pictures at all and are purely graphics based affairs. I cannot think of any good reason why a mastering facility (online or otherwise) would not want to show you some nice pictures of their high class equipment, can you? Well I suggest avoiding sites who don't show photo's for very obvious reasons, irrelevant of the written text on the web pages. Pictures prove equipment exists, that acoustic treatment exists, it is too easy for anyone to set up a website and offer online mastering without being completely honest. 

In mastering it is very important that the engineer has had plenty of well balanced professional audio engineering experience over a long period of time. Your engineer needs to be trusted for his judgements on your music. You do not want a beginner, an audio school fresher or recent graduate guessing or experimenting with your music. Choose an engineer with a pro background and with an extensive recent clients list and proven record to be able to master music. If the site does not list recent clients then there probably have not been any, alarm bells should ring in your mind. In addition if you see reasonable priced mastering from a recently established facility with big label names (major record labels) then enquire further. Check to see if the mastering studio did actual mastering work, you may be surprised that the truth has been stretched. 

Many online mastering studios offer free test mastering or free mastering preview. This is a good way to ensure your selected mastering studio has the ability to do what he suggests and you can compare the results against other studios. Always send a full length track for preview services though (not just a cut out section). The music should be 24 bitArticle Submission, no limiter on stereo bus and no clipping in the file with at least 2 dB of headroom.

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Barry Gardner is the mastering engineer at SafeandSound Mastering, a low cost high end online mastering studio that offers free previews (time permitting).

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