Mastering is the penultimate stage of audio post-production. Mastering engineers balance levels, apply compression, and tweak the sound to achieve professional results. It is always necessary to master music prior to release. Some producers are skilled enough to master their own music but this is the exception, not the rule. Even when a producer possesses the technical know-how to master their own music it always helps to have another set of ears involved. In essence, mastering is that final layer of gloss and polish that needs to be applied to any piece of music intended for public consumption.
Mastering services usually comes at a cost–which poses a slight problem for those of us involved in the free music movement. Nevertheless, I cannot understate the importance of professional mastering for netlabels and independent artists. If you feel your music is worth hearing then it is certainly worth paying to have it sound as awesome as it possibly can. I feel so strongly about the quality of free music that I have made professional mastering (or its equivalent) one of the technical requirements that must be met before a release is considered for distribution via Ektoplazm.
What should you be looking for in a mastering studio? Opinions vary, but I look for clear communication, prompt delivery, proper qualifications, good references, and a competitive rate. If you already know exactly what you are doing some of these criteria may be irrelevant but I find it is often useful to go back and forth a few times to arrive at a final product that sounds just right. Of course, mastering isn’t miracle work–you need to provide a good mix down for the engineer to work with. New artists should be very careful to select a studio willing to offer tips and suggestions. Some studios will simply master whatever you send them–even if the source material is suboptimal. It is wise to ask just how interactive the process is going to be. If you think you might benefit from a little assistance from a pro I suggest you ask whether this could be included in the fee. Generally speaking, any mastering studio worth their salt will work with you to achieve the sort of sound you desire.
Standard rates for mastering in the psytrance scene usually range from 20€ to 40€ per track, with full albums costing about 250€ to 400€ depending on the studio. Some studios may offer a small discount for non-commercial releases but this varies. It might help to mention Ektoplazm when you enter into negotiations–we have some allies out there! Be sure to investigate a studio’s homepage for technical requirements and other production advice. Most studios have a page listing what file format and amount of headroom is needed to achieve the best results.
As always, caveat emptor (buyer beware). Before dropping a bunch of money on mastering be sure to scope out the options, ask your friends for testimonials and recommendations, check the forums (starting with Isratrance and Psynews), and investigate the specific services offered by whatever studio you are interested in.
Below I have prepared a directory of links to a number of different mastering services catering to the psytrance scene. There is no shortage of mastering studios on the web but I prefer to work within the psytrance subculture. (I figure that engineers familiar with the conventions of the genre will had a bit of an edge but you may find this to be unnecessary.) At any rate, here are some studios I have worked with and would recommend, in no particular order:
- Colin Bennun @ The Stooodio, Bristol, UK
- Kri @ Audiovalve, North Carolina, USA
- Akhentek @ Ilum Studios, B.C., Canada
- Jeremy @ Attitude Recordings, Montreal, Canada
- Dark Elf @ KGB Labs, Greece
- Liam Dorff @ InYourPhaze Mastering, Sweden
- Tim Schuldt @ 4CN Studios, Germany
- Jay/Southwild @ Trailer Park Studios, Toronto, Canada
- Makus (Overdream), Ukraine
Here are many more psytrance-friendly mastering services I have come across in my travels but have no personal experience with, roughly in alphabetical order:
- Analog Dimension, Slovakia
- Anti Logic Studio, Berlin, Germany
- David Jewer @ Audio Voodoo Mastering, Canada
- David Mostoller @ Foods Librarys Studio, USA
- Altar Records, Canada
- Electrypnose @ Intellinoise Studios, Switzerland
- Jake Perrine, USA
- Mind Distortion System @ Mad MaXstering, Belgium
- Manifold Studio, Russia (in Russian)
- Baba Yaga @ Mastering Online, Germany
- Jeremy Starseed @ Mothership Studio, Sweden
- Nectarios (Disco Hooligans) @ Martian Masters, Greece
- Tommi Sirkiä @ Planetaria Studio, Finland
- Charles Michaud @ Preference Mastering, France
- Breto @ Psyks Studios, Kosova
- Andreh Torres (Bash) @ Rotten’s Dungeon Studio, Brazil
- Sonic Vista Studios, Ibiza, Spain
- Syncmasters Studio, Russia
- Artifakt @ Timecode Records, South Africa
- Tim Larner (Sensient) @ Zenon Records, Australia
I am positive there are more mastering studios out there so I will be adding to this directory in the next few weeks. Testimonials, recommendations, suggestions, and horror stories are welcome in the comments! Have you worked with anyone you would strongly recommend? Let’s share this knowledge!
Photo credit: ‘Neve 8108 Mixing Console’ by johnnyalive.