The simplest way to find a mastering engineer is via a Google search. You can find examples of their work and ask them any questions you have. Looking at who mastered the music you like the sound of is also a great way to find a mastering engineer.
Finding The Right Mastering Engineer
You’re finally at the last stage of the music-making process! The mastering stage.
Now you need to find the right mastering engineer to take your music from finished to complete.
It’s important to consider what you need in a mastering engineer to support your creation further, on which you have spent so much time and energy.
In this article, I will tell you where to find mastering engineers, what to look for in them, and anything else you need to know.
Where To Find Mastering Engineers?
There are several places to find mastering engineers.
Sound Better is my personal go-to. It’s a great site to find any music professional, mastering engineers included. It allows you to talk to them and shows examples of their work. This is what I have used in the past to find mastering engineers.
There are also general freelance sites, such as Upwork and Fiverr. These aren’t just specific to music but will have music professionals on there.
Sites like Upwork allow you to put up a job that you want to be done, and freelancers can pitch themselves for it. Fiverr is more of a site where you can look at the different freelancers and choose who to hire without posting a job. Both are great and worth a look.
Using places like Facebook groups and Reddit is a great way to find a mastering engineer. You can also discuss with other creative people about mastering and mastering engineers.
If this is your first time using a mastering engineer, having conversations with others recently in your shoes about this can be valuable.
Another way I like to find mastering engineers is by looking at who mastered music that I enjoy, and that’s in a similar lane to my music. Once you have their name, whether you get it from Wikipedia or another source, a quick Google will reveal their contact information.
This way, you can work with someone who has worked with your favorite artists.
When working with a low budget, you could network with mastering engineers starting out or with limited experience. These people are trying to build a portfolio so that they will offer their services for a lower rate or even free.
You can find these people in Facebook groups, especially ones for local colleges or universities. Also, try Reddit and Discord channels (such as the Kenny Beats Discord).
How To Choose A Mastering Engineer?
There are three essential criteria for choosing a mastering engineer.
- Hearing their work
- Communication style
- How long will they take
If you’ve found a sound mastering engineer by looking at who mastered music, and you like the sound, then you are already familiar with their work. But if you found them through other means, you want to get a good sense of how their work sounds.
I recommend listening to examples of their work through the main ways you want your music to be heard. If your focus is on streaming platforms, then you want to know how their work sounds on these platforms next to other well-mastered songs.
It’s also essential that you feel comfortable with the mastering engineer. You want to express your opinion and for them to be helpful when translating your notes into the mastering process.
If a mastering engineer is only interested in how they want it to sound, then I wouldn’t go with them. They are there to get your music through the final stage, and while they should make suggestions, you are employing them for your music.
As well as a human mastering engineer, there are also AI mastering services, such as the online mastering service LANDR. These are changing the game in the music industry by allowing a monthly payment service for unlimited masters.
These use machine learning to replicate what a human mastering engineer would do. These are typically cheaper. Some of these services allow you to hear what your song will sound like once it’s mastered for free before downloading.
It always comes down to what is suitable for each artist.
Why Use A Professional Mastering Engineer?
Mastering is the last stage of the music production process before it is sent out to streaming platforms (such as Apple Music and Spotify) or to be burned to CDs. Even if you mix your music and know how to master it, having a set of fresh and experienced ears on the final stage of your music will help push it to the next level.
When Should You Hire A Mastering Engineer?
Once you’ve decided on a mastering engineer, you should only hire them when you have the final mix for however many songs you need mastering.
Mastering is not typically lengthy, so they will be ready to work shortly after you hire them. Hiring them after your mixes are prepared is completely fine.
Alternatively, I suggest that you set a date for the final mixes. In that case, you could hire a mastering engineer for a specific date after this.
When hiring a mastering engineer for multiple tracks, you want all the tracks to be mastered together for a consistent master across the project.
How Much Do Mastering Engineers Charge?
This is a difficult question to give a definitive answer to. It depends on the experience of the engineer, their credits, their connections, their setup, and the list goes on.
An experienced mastering engineer may also use analog gear for effects like compression in a recording studio or mastering studio.
However, this doesn’t necessarily equal better. Fantastic mastering engineers master entirely in the box in a digital audio workstation such as Pro Tools.
You can get mastering done for free by people looking to build their portfolio. Give them a chance. They could be unique and need a chance.
The upper end of hiring a very experienced and highly acclaimed mastering engineer can be $600 or more per track.
Some mastering engineers may master multiple tracks at a discount for a more significant amount of guaranteed work.
Do Mastering Engineers Get Royalties?
Typically, no. You will pay a fee for their service, and that will be it. Specific mastering engineers may offer cheaper rates with some percentage of royalties, but this depends on the individual.
How To Prepare Your Mix For Mastering
My rule for preparing my mix for mastering is the same for every stage of the music production process. Get it sounding the best it possibly can at this stage before moving on, and don’t rely on the next step to fix any issues.
This means that I will only move on from songwriting once it sounds the best it can as it is. The same can be applied to music production, recording, etc.
Reference your mix on every set of speakers and headphones you have while referencing it against a track you want to sound mix/master-wise.
Obviously, against fully mastered tracks, it will sound less fully finished, but the closer you get to that sound, the better.
If you’re using a mixing engineer, they will already know this, and you won’t have to worry about it. Some mixing engineers also do music mastering, so make sure they know that you’re using a different mastering service.
What Do You Send To A Mastering Engineer?
As well as the wav audio file of your track, sending a reference track is recommended. Typically the mastering engineer will tell you exactly what they need. You may get a discount for the same mastering service on alternate mixes if you have alternate mixes.
You don’t need to send the stems/individual tracks for the mastering session.
How To Assess Your Finished Master
Referencing your finished master as much as possible is critical to confirm that it is ready to release. Listen to it in whatever you can, whether in the car, through good speakers, through bad speakers, studio headphones, consumer headphones, and your phone.
Listen to it against the reference tracks you have chosen in every setup you have. Does your song have a similar loudness? Are the frequencies balanced the same? Should the vocals be louder? Is the master too compressed?
Listen very carefully to every detail. Once satisfied with this, your master will sound great, no matter the setup.
It’s one thing to make a master sound great in a studio, but most people will listen to your music everywhere but the studio.
What qualifications do you need to be a mastering engineer?
There are courses out there for this, but what I would focus on is their portfolio. If you can talk to artists they have worked with before, then even better. It’s all about the music and rapport with the mastering engineer.
What to expect from mastering?
You should expect your song to be the correct loudness for distribution, streaming, etc. It should be similar in frequency balance, compression, and loudness to your reference track. It should be a polish of the track.
What’s the difference between mixing and mastering?
Mixing is where you process the individual tracks using effects to make the song more cohesive and clear. In the mixing stage, you can also use effects to add character and embellish parts. It’s a specialized form of engineering.
Mastering is where you process the final mix as one audio file. Typically this would be on the more clinical side. You are getting everything to that absolute standard before distributing.
What Should I Ask A Mastering Engineer?
It would be best if you first asked for an example of their work. Ask for a before and after audio of their mastering work would help to see how they work. I suggest asking about the time it will take to receive it, the cost, and their process.
Why Master With A Professional Mastering Engineer?
Mastering is the final stage before shipping off your music to the public. It’s the last chance to bring it up to that ‘radio-friendly’ level. Having a professional mastering engineer means that you have someone to bring your track up to the standards that are expected these days.
Also, having a fresh pair of well-trained ears on your track will reveal things you can’t notice as you have been listening to this track for so long.
I enjoy working with a professional mastering engineer, even though I can perform the mastering myself. What it does for me is provide a fresh set of ears to listen to my music and make decisions based on that new perspective. A perspective that I no longer have after working on the music for so much time.