I want to say from the outset I'm not a mastering engineer, so I have no skin in the game, but I think it's about time we stopped calling the insertion of a plugin on a mix and reducing the dynamic range 'mastering'.
Am I saying you can't use plugins to master? Not at all, there are plenty of plugins which are perfect to assist in the process of mastering.
Am I saying you can't master your own tracks? Again, not at all, most people given the right information and training, should be able to learn how to master their tracks.
So what's my problem? Didn't I write about this just last week, is this an axe I need to keep grinding? It seems so, and let me explain why.
I'm guessing that most people reading this consider themselves to have skills in either sound engineering or production. Let's imagine some bright spark released a plug-in called 'Audio Engineer' or 'Producer' with the promise that throwing it across your mix would magically do what you have spent months, years or decades learning to do. Now some people would be stupid enough to believe it was possible to condense the skills of an engineer or producer into a plug-in, but most rational people would think not.
So why do we allow the same to happen in the realm of mastering, in most cases reducing the task to nothing more than squeezing as much volume out of a track as we can, you can read my rant about this last week.
For fear of repeating myself, actually screw that as it seems to need repeating, sticking a plug-in on your mix is not the same as the skill and art of mastering.
Dan wrote an excellent article 'Avoid These 8 Common Mastering Mistakes That Can Damage The Quality Of Your Final Masters' which had a couple of comments from the community that led me to write today's article.
"When I started out the job of the mastering engineer was to fit the mix onto a disc ALTERING IT AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. It was really the responsibility of the studio mix people to do things like putting the bass in the middle. We did it with a little limiting & eq but mostly with swapping out leadscrews on the lathes. Later variable pitch lathes helped a lot.
When tape came along, we no longer had length limitations so we did very little to alter the mix. We did have to apply Dolby B and make 4 track masters with half the program recorded backward for the duplicators, but we did little or nothing to alter the mix.
When CDs came along, mastering involved making a 3/4” videotape cartridge of the mix but still aside from level setting, hands-off was the rule.
Somehow these days squeezing some loudness out of a mix is called, ‘mastering.’ That’s OK, but I would like to see another name for it."
The comment received this reply;
"There is a name for it. It’s called “stupid”.
I had to chuckle but it does lead me to wonder should there be a name for this modern practice, a name that does not undermine the dedication and skill of professional mastering engineers? Is the onus on the plug-in company who sell loudness plug-ins and call them mastering plug-ins? All the companies that partner with us spend a lot of time creating educational resources to support the plug-ins they make, but perhaps it's a case of those buying the plugins don't watch the tutorials and just hit a preset and declare the track is mastered.
Again, I want to repeat; I'm not here to keep mastering engineers in work, the ones I know are so good at what they do don't need my help to get clients, their track record speaks for itself. What I am here to do is to say there is a skill and art to mastering, you can learn to do it with the tools I've talked about until you do don't call it mastering... after all, it's a skill and not just a process.