By Jeff Strong

Whether to master your music yourself or to hire a professional may be one of your toughest music-making decisions. If you master your music yourself, you can have complete control from start to finish and save yourself some bucks.

On the other hand, if you hand your mixed music to a skilled professional, you have the added benefit of another person’s ears and advice, and you can end up with a finished product that far exceeds your expectations.

So how do you choose? Well, your first consideration is probably based on economics — do you have the money to spend on professional help (for your music, that is)? Mastering can cost from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars. A midline mastering engineer often charges around $500 to master your CD (about ten songs).

This may seem like a lot of money, but if you find the right engineer for your music, it can make the difference between a decent CD and a truly world-class one.

Another consideration for hiring out your mastering is how well you know your equipment and how capable it is of performing the mastering procedure.

To do mastering, you need at least one good (well, preferably great) multiband compressor, a limiter, and a great multiband parametric EQ. You also need to have a CD burner of some sort and the software to create a Red Book CD master.

Before you decide, take a look at other benefits of hiring a skilled professional to do your mastering:

  • You get a meticulously tuned room and top-notch monitors. This enables you to hear what your music actually sounds like.

  • The professional has equipment that’s specifically designed to handle the process of mastering. The EQs, compressors, and other gear that the mastering house uses can tweak your music so that it can sound its best.

  • You get a fresh set of professional ears that may be able to hear things in your mix that need fixing. You may be so close to the project that you have a hard time hearing your mix objectively. You may not even know what adjustments to make to your music so that it sounds its best.