An Introduction to Equalization - A Free Guide from Audio Masterclass

An Introduction to Compression: Basic Compression - A Free Guide from Audio Masterclass

Equipping Your Home Recording Studio - A Free Guide from Audio Masterclass

Readers' Letters: Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says YES you can!

A post by David Mellor
Thursday November 30, 2006
"A pro mastering engineer who is used to working at one of the finest studios in the world says that you can indeed master at home."
Readers' Letters: Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says YES you can!

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", Aki Atrill writes...

Fantastic advice! I could not agree more.

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", J.F. Remillard writes...

Great article, thanks for that! I was a bit tired of hearing that things cannot be done at home. But you summed it up. It is not the equipment so much but the person... For having tried mixing (not mastering) myself, I understand exactly what you mean because I do not know what I am looking (or listening rather) for... because I am not trained... Thanks again!

RP response: Yes, thanks to the author Jude Rawlins for that.

In response to The equipment you need to master at home, Tom Ghent writes...

I'm sure that the designers of the Mercedes CLK230 never intended it to be a hard-drive! T.G.

In response to When you are mixing, what is the first thing you should do? What is the last? (And what should you NOT do?), Barrett Slagle writes...

I was struggling with a particular record I was mixing. The recording process took a bit longer that I'm use to. So when mix time came around I had a hard time finding the essence of the song. Everything I did, I felt as though it was sounding worse and worse. So I e-mailed a producer friend of mine to get some advice. I simply asked him the question, "Are you every happy with a record you do."

He gave me some great advice. He said yes, eventually. "Make sure the song has found it's groove, and keep a good perspective on the vocals." That made so much sense to me. I focused on those two things, and everything else came into place. The band ended up being stoked on the record, and I got some great job opportunities from people that heard the record. Another technique I have adapted is, throughout the recording process (tracking, editing, mixing...) I listen to a recording of the band preforming live that I recorded with a simple mp3 player. Every morning before I get to the studio I listen and think to myself, "this is what I need to capture." It helps me stay focused on the true nature of the band. Our job is to capture magic that an artists has and share it with the world.

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", Eldric writes...

I really thank Mr. Rawlins for pointing out the major flaw with "mastering at home". Today's up and coming engineers have yet to learn how to use their ears and not their eyes when attenpting to mix, edit or master music. I grew up on the DJ end of the spectrum where your ears mean everything, so when I moved into recording and engineering I had developed an ear for the music that I was recording back then. With that said, we have to realize that as time goes on and as we move into new and different genres of music, we have to constantly train our ears for that particular style. Mixing Rock is different from mixing R&B. A waveform in protools can't show you how to mix a song but your ears can tell you how to mix a song.

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", Loren Dean writes...

Excellent article. I'm going to try it when I get some time, probably after I die.

In response to 'Whole Lotta Love' - the mysterious pre-echo explained. Sort of., David Of Daze writes...

I'm guessing (from experience) that it came originally from a vocal take in the wrong place ie 2 bars ahead-that played back in Mr Plant's headphones when he redid the take and the mike picked up the earlier track from the cans.

In response to Which monitors should I use in my home studio?, Jesse writes...

In my opinion, depending on what you have to spend, you could probably get a set of active monitors (like the Alesis M1 Active Monitors) and a sub to serve you well. This way you do not have to worry about coloring your sound with a separate amp and all those cables. But you would be looking at spending around $600.00 US for that set up. It really depends on what you want to spend. You can get a 2.1 Sampson set up for around 399US and most other entry level systems will probably be around that price. Or you can get a regular 2.1 system way cheaper and learn how these speakers act by mixing on them burning a CD of that mix and comparing it on other systems. Having access to some studio monitors really helps. Eventually you will be able to find out what frequencies the regular speakers are enhancing or not enhancing then you can mix accordingly. Personally I use a Creative Labs 2.1 system that cost about $80.00. It's not for studio at all but I really don't have the funds as of yet to buy a good set so I mixed on these for several months and burned my mixes to a cd, then played them on some of the systems here at the studio I work at. Now I can get pretty good results because I now my speakers shortcomings.

In response to Keyboard Noise in the Vocal Audio... Aarg!, Jesse writes...

In my opinion your best option would be to apply a gate to gate out the noise of the clicking. Or you could try reducing the gain on your mic. Assuming you are using a condensor mic, this may not be the answer.

You could also try isolating the keyboard from your mic. (by placing something to absorb the sound between the keys and the mic) but this would cause you to not be able to see the keyboard when you play. You could also raise the mic higher, or try running a different pattern on your mic if it can be adjusted (change to a cardoid pattern rather than omni) Or you could find where the clicking sound sits in the EQ spectrum and try to remove most of it there.

In response to Warming Up My Sound, Jesse writes...

I use a saturation plug-in to add warmth. If this is still too digital for your taste, I have also ran my tracks through a Fender guitar amp (twin vibrolux circa, 1970?) using a nice mic to record it back. (it doesn't get the best results and you can only do one track at a time/ (re-amping) Hitting a nice tape machine pretty hard does the trick nicely if you have access to that kind of thing. I also had pretty good results using two (L and R) of those ART tube preamps routed out then back to seperate tracks. Just some things I've tried. But now I just use the plug-in, it's good enough (personal preference) for

In response to Who owns the song - artist or producer?, Jesse writes...

This is why we have to have contracts and legal papers involved. (geees)

Well sounds to me like the producer is trying to screw your friend. Unless your friend signed some kind of legal paperwork saying the producer has rights to the song, then I would say the producer would owe your friend some mechanical rights. Here where I work, we have to pay mechanical rights unless there is a deal made before hand and though a producer here has a right to be credited, and in some cases a right to some of the profit, he/she does not have rights to completely take a song and put it on some compilation without making a deal with the owner of the material first.

So as-far-as I know, unless the producer made a deal in writing with your friend stating he/she could put the track on a compilation, and that the money for the track is not the full amount (Is the producer is trying to recoup some hidden amount, that wasn't made clear in the beginning?) Then the producer has no right to just take the track, at least without offering your friend a chance to buy out by paying the recoupable fees. Or by getting permisson. Unless your friend signed something.

In response to When you are mixing, what is the first thing you should do? What is the last? (And what should you NOT do?), Jesse writes...

Well I'm new here, just discovered this site and it's really great to finally have some people to talk to other than my peers here at work. Not that they are bad at what they do, it's just exciting to hear from different backgrounds concerning the same subjects and ultimate goals. So that said. I've been working in a studio for about 9 years now and, I do projects at home mostly for fun.

That said, when I start out a session it really depends on the artist and what drives the song. On my own material the guitar is the main instrument and since I am performing all the parts myself, I usually start with the guitar. Then I add the drum track, bass track then the vocals.

This works well for me and also in some cases I have the basic idea of the track already recorded so I can re-write, re-structure and still go back and hear my original idea.

When I have to record a band though, it really depends on the artist and what they are capable of. An old guitarist friend of mine is great and can absolutely pull off some awesome material. But he cannot play with a click track or metronome to save his life. So, in his bands case, we had the whole band play while we recorded the bass and guitar straight in first. Then we tracked the drums vocals and lead guitar. (I like to do lead guitar last that way it compliments the vocals nicely, as well as any tambourine ect.)

To me, it really just depends on the situation. I do not believe in a rule that states you have to do one thing first over the others. I just make sure to use a click track or metronome if I start with something other than the rhythm section.

As far as my set up, though I am recording and producing my own stuff just for fun and my satisfaction, I do enjoy sharing it with others and learning throughout the process.

I am running Ableton Live with a quad core an EMU 404 soundcard until I can justify the funds to upgrade.

My monitors are actually a Creative Labs multimedia 2.1 set up (just regular consumer grade).

Monitors will be my next upgrade but these work okay.

I will post one of my tracks here pretty soon or you are welcome to check it out on myspace at:



RP response: Thank you for your letter. Great to have you onboard!

In response to Q: "How can I record drums with just a two-channel audio interface?", Jesse writes...

I got good recordings using a Beta 52 Kick drum mic and a AKG condensor right above the drummer's head with an omni pattern. Pretty big sound and just two channels. You can test the overhead by having the drummer play the kit and put your ears in different places behind the kit to find a good spot for the overhead. Try this with a dedicated bass drum mic and a good condensor mic and I bet you'll be surprised!

In response to Behringer's Ultragain ADA8000 mic pre misses a trick, Darmen writes...

Behringer Ultragain ADA8000 is just great mic front in when You use Pro Tools with Adat Bridge 24, or other audio program with Toslink equiped card inside Your Mac or pc.I'm not saying that ADA 8000 sounds great, because i just don't know, but the idea is very elegant.Less cables is better!

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", S_a_ writes...

Loved it. Mix with your "Ears not with your Eyes", how eloquent, though it may take a lifetime for some, it can be done.

And we all "Will PAY the Piper" one way or the other, whether it's mixed professionally, do it yourself-soon, or do it yourself-later-years-later and of course the big one "Time is Money & Timing is Everything", as stated in this article.


In response to Behringer has fouled up - again!, Ron Painter writes...

From your description of the action by the FCC (I have not read the FCC report) I have to believe that the FCC's position was correct. If for no other reason than to even the commercial playing field.

The FCC rules of testing need to be applied to all that are manufacturing a product under the oversight of regulation if they are to be used in this country.

Gee, what competitive advantage would any manufacturer (Behringer) have over others that have to design, test and manufacture (Sure Brothers comes to mind) equipment that is within the tolerances adopted in this country?

It is also pretty unconcionable to believe any worldly reccognized manufacturer would claim to believe that a standard for one country (or continent)should automatically preclude it from the oversight of any other country or regulating body. Corporate stupidity? Or more like .. you think anybody will notice? How much $$ in testing, design, and rf hardening? Why bother.

We're not talking about a hardware hacker building a piece of prototype equipment together in his basement you know!

Now if we could only get the FCC to look closer at the Internet Over High tension like headach and the RF it is spewing!!!!

RF Spectral purity is a thing of the past I am afraid.

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", writes...

Couldn't agree more with the author's comments on more EARS and less EYES. We quite often see the horizontal Empire State effect in the material submitted to us.

There used to be a time when you'd turn up the volume to really enjoy the emotion of a powerful piece of music. These days you have to turn down the volume to stop the speakers from going into orbit.

Being a part of the en vogue crowd, having the right brand names and perpetuating the +dB wars is not wrong but, it's far from being creative.

We will continue to listen to what we are mastering, we will be considerate and use the least amount of compression possible, we will have no intention of

extending the scales on our meters to way beyond 7.

It's time to give the volume control back to the listener.

In response to Can you really master at home? Take 2..., Moose Lewis writes...

I am 54, and have been striving to be that all round musician/engineer/producer for most of my life through live performance and pro studio work (as a musician, engineer and producer). I have spent the last 4 years working in a home studio environment with increasingly satisfying results. I won't say I could compete one-on-one with the masters, but I am achieving results that wow the average listener. After all, getting your music out to people who's lives will be affected by it is the real issue.

If not, then it might be best to get in with an established studio to hone your engineering & mastering skills before you try to make a living selling studio time.

I agree wholeheartedly with saving the original unvarnished tracks before making permanent changes. I did not do that initially, and am paying the price by having to re-track some golden takes in order to match quality with my current mixes.

Music does not have to adhere to industry standards - it has to please the listener; and that can be accomplished in a home studio with decent gear and a practiced ear. Nothing is easy - experience just makes it look that way.

Thanks for all your great articles, David. Pros and cons.

In response to Mastering at home - a PRO mastering engineer says, "Yes you can!", Geoffbarnard writes...

oh yes oh yes oh yes.

thank you thank you thank you.

you must be a uk person.

at long last some one who knows.

absolutely right on the mark.

no waffling about self self self importance.

no ego ego, me me me me. my my my.

just straight truth.

never mind the flim flam of the market

trends and this gadget this gizmo. just use what you have naturally.

simple effective efficient expressive.

thanks for the truth.

best of luck stay happy


In response to Don't suffocate in your soundproof studio!, Dan Nims writes...

How to bring in outside air without outside noise is a challenge. A photographer's darkroom can let in air without bringing in light, but how do you "scrub" the noise out of the fresh air in a soundproof studio? I have an idea that I wonder if anyone has tried. Create a duct, say 14 inches square and maybe 5 feet long. Inside put baffles so the air must travel a serpentine course. My theory is that the baffles (which could be made of sound absorbent material) would create a "muffler" effect as the air passed through. The room I'm using is about 8x12 and there is a closet off to one side. I thought if I placed the described duct in this space near the floor it could draw in outside air that would then seep into the room through openings in the closet doors.

What do you think? Will it work? Is there a mathmatical formula designing a muffler? Is trial and error the only practical means of building it?

I've even considered mounting a very small whisper fan on the lower intake side of the duct to help the fresh air go through the maze. Of course this could put more air in the room creating positive pressure which I figure would then leak out going back through the duct. That's why I thought it should be at least 14 inches square or perhaps larger.

Has anybody done this? I don't want to re-invent the wheel so if anyone has experience in bringing noise-free fresh air into a small room, I would appreciate hearing from you!

Dan Nims

28203 Clear Lake Road

Eugene, Oregon 97402 USA

RP response: This technique is actually used. There is also the acoustic plenum where a larger chamber that is lined with absorbant material slows down the air flow and gives more time for sound to be absorbed.

In response to Can you get a great vocal sound from a $200 mic? (Hint... Yes you can!) With AUDIO!, Geoff Barnard writes...

Oh yes oh yes oh yes. again

You guys are beginning to shed and spread the light.



Its called human emotion, expression of temperment. naturall soulful feeling.

and yes this is what real sound music is about.

So kiss goodbye you techno none starter money minds. Simply listen. The sounds that eminate toward silence are actually the only accurate bench mark measure's. listen to the stuff thats lost under the cloud of noise.

Or look at it as ; why do younger players enjoy playing every thing louder and faster.? Apart from youthfull energy.

It is easy to hide skill levels in noise and thrash.

Faster louder dont really mean much at the end of the day.

Wake up guys.

Get real yeh the guys in studios do suberb mixing mastering ect.

but hey , thats the nature of the beast or the joy.

But how quiet can they make it. and still hide the lack of performance skill and true talent.

Time moves on music becomes more important. Not oldie fashion, just more truth, full, rich and honest.

Thanks Audio Masterclass thanks all you guys.


Stay happy.

ps hey lets apply some real loud sound to some real rock.

Set it up quietly, record . master then let the listner audience play it loud.

Dont just keep feeding the public loud loud and louder. let them decide on the volume when they decide to play it.

In response to Can you get a great vocal sound from a $200 mic? (Hint... Yes you can!) With AUDIO!, Ken Webb writes...

I am very inspired by this article, partly because i am familiar with his current studio set-up. Even though my studio has very limited equipment caps, I still get good quality sound from it. My mastering techniques are getting better by letting my ears do the work.

I really appreciate Richard for sharing this tid-bit. Peace and God Bless them both.

In response to What is the ONE thing you MOST need to know to make great recordings?, Ken Webb writes...

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

RP response: Thank you!

In response to Recording Tips: Should I use a capacitor microphone for recording vocals?, Chris T Johns, writes...

That was a straight forward explanation of how microphones work for a beginner, the only slight grumble I had was I thought it might be worth adding a few other brands as well as Neumann. I do agree that Neumann make awesome mic's (I have used a U87 and a BCM104 before) but there are cheaper alternatives that will achieve a relatively similar sound at a reduced cost, which might be useful to a beginner reading this article. The Se Gemini is a decent mic which can be found a little bit cheaper than a Neumann. Studio Projects do a decent range of budget mics which are quite impressive, something like the Tb1 is great value for money. ADk also have some really cheap but decent sounding Mics, the A51tt, is a great piece of kit at a decent price, you only need ot read the testamonials about Adk to know they are serious contenders in making great microphones.

In response to Broadcast practice - why should faders work the wrong way round?, Barry Gorman writes...

I was told by an old BBC guy that the problem arose because the faders were often caught by the cuffs of the dinner jacket, which was obligatory for evening shows in Reith's day, in case royalty called in whilst passing.

In response to Can you get a great vocal sound from a $200 mic? (Hint... Yes you can!) With AUDIO!, Richard Marks writes...

It's a credit to all concerned, including the microphone.

In response to How can you get a home-made CD to look like the genuine article?, Jesse McKamey writes...

The best way would be to use a thermal transfer printer but, assuming that you do not want to spend the 4 to 8 thousand dollar price, I will tell you how you can get a good result from an inkjet printer. Specialized units are available from a few manufacturers but the average price will run 1000 and up (USD).

So, here is the secret on how to get a good result from a regular inkjet printer: You have to use CD-Rs that are made for inkjet printers. There is an adapter too that holds the CD in place (not available for all printers though). You should never use stick on labels. I know that some will disagree but let me give you some sure advice on this. Stick on labels not only mess with the balance of the CD-R or DVD-R, they can also come off of the medium inside the player, possibly causing damage. You don't want that especially if you are demoing, you do not want to ruin the A&R persons player!

Let me give you a site to check out, you can look at the different systems available here and see what you are getting into.

Keep in mind that you can also use a lightscribe burner to get pretty good results and for short runs like you are talking about, that would probably be the easiest way to go.

Check this site out and if you find anything or have any questions ask for Patrick McBride. He will take care of you!

BTW, since I am a new reader here, here is some background on me:

I have been running the duplication department in a professional studio for around 9 years now.

I also, master, mix and produce my own stuff. (for about 6 years now)

In response to When you try to play your recording in two years' time, what will you hear? Nothing?, Jesse McKamey writes...

This is not exactly accurate. A dat cassettes longevity depends widely ont he environment. If you had DATs from 10 years ago that actually play with no errors then consider yourself lucky. I would assume that you just recorded the DAT put it in it's case and stored it and never actually used the DAT until later. Here, where I work, we used DATs and have just finished transfering all of them to our server for a project we are working on. Some of the DATs would not play and others were in terrible shape introducing pops, cracks and chearps.

This was caused from regular use of the DATs. Everytime you open a DAT or move a DAT you run the risk of bumping the molecules around on the tape and causeing errors. As well as a risk of crystalization. So you see, in my experience, this would not be the case. We have CD-Rs (in CDa as well as CD-Rom) that are still working great 15 years later. The trick is to use a player that can run the rating of that disc. (like 4x for instance) You can dig up an old player, or we have even loaded the material into the computer and re-burned it on new medium.

RP response: Thank you for your comment. I would point out that the article refects my personal experience, as was stated, and of course is an accurate refection of that. It is certainly good to learn about other people's experiences too. DM

In response to Software instruments - not as good as the real thing?, an anonymous respondent writes...

I agree with this article. The lag on computers when trying to create a production is frustrating. I use the computer as an end means as well. Can't rely on a machine that has system crashes out the blue.

In response to Nagra ARES-PII+ - how could you not want one?, Kenny Eaves writes...

I remember several years ago, there was an article in Recording or EQ or whatever magazine. It was about a portable digital recorder shaped like a microphone that was actually meant to be a toy. It was sold in the toy department for around sixty U.S dollars.

They did a review on it,and said it worked great for samples. They said the sound quality was very good for the money. It recorded in stereo, and ran on batteries. They recorded samples or noises or whatever, then recorded that into a computer to be manipulated however they wanted,and turned that into samples.Has anyone ever heard of this? I would like to know what it was called to try and find one,like on e-bay or a backyard sale,or maybe a thrift shop.

RP response: Good Q. Does anyone know the answer?

In response to "Walk Away Renn'e" by Eran Phillips, Esa Lehti writes...

The song is timeless and will always remain unique in its style. Eran's interpretation does it justice and kicks up the energy level. The sound quality of the recording is very good too.

In response to The MP3 player is dead - here's what is about to replace it, Darin Pierce writes...

I actually have this unit. I brought it into work to play a song for my boss and someone opened the door and asked us to turn it down. Good Luck.

RP response: And the player operates completely without electricity!

In response to It's official - Apple is moving to Windows! (actually, it's not official, yet), Aaron writes...

Complete rubbish! I am a Windows and a Mac user and this article is total tosh. Oh yeah, the difference between Windows and Mac OS X is just a difference in what they "look like". Windows could "easily" be "skinned" to look like Mac OS. What planet is this writer on? Seriousl, does he/she know ANYTHING about computers? At all?

In response to Why the Digidesign ICON mixing console is the new SSL, Charles Mauk, Raise Up Entertainment writes...

It's not that the ICON replaces it as far as quality, it's just that Pro Tools, and the like hardware is quickly becoming the standard in many Class A Studios. This all goes back to the arguement - analog or digital? Waves makes a SSL plug in that sounds damned near identical to SSL consoles as far as their unique transparency, colorization qualities, etc. Many argue that it's not the same, and of course it won't be, but myself, I'm a PT user, and I think the SSL plugins are great. If it sounds good, it IS good.

In response to Do you really NEED a Pro Tools HD system in your studio?, Charles Mauk, Raise Up Entertainment writes...

It depends what you're doing. If you are a self-produced artist, and you are the ONLY vocalist on a tracks, LE with a good amount of plugins works just fine. I prefer HD because as a professional producer it's way more flexible, and need be I can throw a lot of tracks on a session without the PC breaking a sweat. The biggest session I've done so far was 21 Aux inputs, and 48 audio tracks. There were five total vocalists, along with scratches of a turntable, and live saxophone and trombone tracks. That's about as ridiculous as I've ever got. Usually for instrumentals I'll use Reason.

So "need" depends on a) what you're doing, b) what quality you want, like the difference between 24/96 and 24/192, and c) if you can afford it. HD is an expensive jump, but it's well worth it.

In response to Can you really master at home? Take 2..., Edmund Brown writes...

I find your information very relevent to what I am doing in my home studio. In regard to mastering at home, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm hearing. When I figure that out, then I'll tackle what to do about it. I've been a professional nurse for over 30 years; I can likely give some helpful advice about heart problems. But to get professional help, you need a cardiologist. Yet, there are countless individuals who take care of their problems at the local health food store.

In response to How can I get my drums to sound bigger? With audio!, Chris Ansell writes...

I would disagree completely with the idea that you need a massive room to get a huge sounding kit. Looking at your photo, I can see right away what the problem is: your room mic is picking up all of the direct sound of the kit, and therefor not capturing any of the natural reflections of the room properly. It's as easy as placing a baffle between the U87 and the kit. Aim the room mic towards outer wall surfaces, and you will notice a huge improvement in the "size" of the kit and room. Also, using reverb and delays works well to recreate these reflections. Hope this cures any headaches youve been having. Cheers!

RP response: Pointing an ambience mic away from the sound source will make it possible to mix in as much or as little ambience as is desired at the mixing stage. Pointing the room mic (or mics) at the sound source and finding exactly the right mic position to capture the sound of the 'source in the room' is more time-consuming, but has merit as an equally valid sound texture. Try both but, as Chris suggests, the pointing-away orientation is likely to be better in a small room. But definitely optimize the mics before adding artificial reverb.

A post by David Mellor
Thursday November 30, 2006 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)