Free mastering?

What is audio mastering | What is mastering
Choosing the best online mastering
Stem mastering
Free mastering
Mastering plugins or online mastering ?
Mastering engineer questions and answers
Advantages of online mastering
The case for professional mastering
Mastering prices
Preparing for mastering

What is free mastering ? 

Well this is one question of which I would like to know the answer. It seems there are numerous Internet searches for "free mastering". I try to understand what the person who searches for free mastering is trying to find. On one hand I think it might be that they are literally looking for a mastering service where there is no need to pay for skilled engineering. If this is the intention lets try and imagine what might be on offer for free when it comes to quality online audio mastering.

In the first instance we can probably ditch the word professional, it is incredibly unlikely any professional audio mastering engineer will put skill, high quality equipment inventory's and effort into free mastering without payment. The reason is that a professional audio mastering engineer will have invested considerable time and money in their knowledge and equipment. Often this will amass to a significant proportion of the engineer's working and academic life. Of this you can be certain. However you might find a post graduate individual who has just left college.It may be they found online mixing a little too complex to start as a business model. This student of audio engineering may offer his or her services for free but can this be defined as professional mastering? Mastering is no place for guessing, no place for experimentation and no place for practicing. The student will not know what he is doing because he has had no real world professional experience. Someone offering free mastering will be incapable of discerning what good judgments are and is very unlikely to know what tools to choose and apply in any given situation.The Internet is a place where information is often freely shared and that is truly a wonderful thing. However, it would be easy for them to mistake long term practical engineering skills in a professional environment with reading a few technical articles and random, anonymous forum posts on the Internet.This could be one outcome from free mastering services. It is suggested that the potential client looking for online mastering delve into the professional audio engineering experiences of the mastering engineer in question. 

Occasionally you may find an engineer who will do free mastering for one track, in such instances you will often find the engineer is using monitoring equipment that is no better than the equipment (or acoustics) that the artist or producer has in their own studio. It does beckon the question as to whether such equipment choices by the "engineer" are representative of the overall game plan for their personal mastering business. As a potential client you have to ask yourself: How is such a person going to improve your music with free mastering based on the fact he or she cannot resolve any further detail from the music mix than you can ?
"What is audio mastering?" fact : Whilst a mastering engineer should have acute hearing, he or she will be unable to make the right assessments if the audio information is not being adequately resolved by substandard monitoring arrangements.Is an engineer offering free mastering likely to have high resolution monitors ?
When you look for a mastering engineer common sense should apply apply when choosing, especially when free mastering is offered. If you choose someone with unbelievably low rates for the first track or free mastering of a track, you may not get a professional engineer at all. The engineers equipment choices will give you an insight as to what both the engineers plans are and the capacity for enhancement and correction of audio is. Sure the "first track free"  is a great marketing gimmick along with a cut price rate for your first track. However gimmicks to me suggest an engineer who maybe incapable of penetrating the market within which he is operating because the work is not up to scratch compared with peers.A free mastering preview is more usual.
However, in saying this you can find low cost uncompromised mastering with a skilled engineer, informed equipment choices and exceptional service if you do your research. Do not rush in on free mastering for your first track, or discount rates for your first track, consider the longer term best option for your music. A relationship with a quality online mastering studio will be invaluable in the future and free mastering and cut price first tracks soon reveal themselves to be more expensive than they first appear.
A more reasoned proposition that you might find is a professional mastering engineer who is willing to create a free preview for you. Now this takes time so it will be of secondary importance to paid work going through the studio. Simply put professional mastering engineers direct their time towards their paying clientele. It should come as no surprise and is the correct way to treat paying clients and operate a small business, which after all is normally what online mastering studios are. However if there are gaps in schedules which are common, a studio will often produce a short, free mastering sample of their work as a promotional tool for securing new clients. It is a sure way of displaying the skills and quality of work to a prospective client. As a mastering engineer myself I use the free mastering preview to demonstrate that my own mastering is as good or better than those charging significantly higher rates. So it is a method which can be of benefit to both musicians, record labels and mastering engineers alike.

When you upload a sample of work for a free mastering preview send the full track. As an operator of an online mastering studio myself I offer a free preview but this is subject to time being available. I keep a list of inquiries who require a preview master and fit them in to the schedule in the order in which the enquiries were received. When you use an Internet upload site it is courteous and informative to send a short email message as well so the engineer can tie up the file with contact details.Free mastering previews remain a common feature in online mastering.
With this in mind consider what is best in the longer term for your musical output, gimmicks or consistent quality, professional engineering experience and permanent reasonable prices.Hopefully this explains the likely results of free mastering.
If you have further questions about free mastering previews do not hesitate to contact the author, mastering engineer Barry Gardner by email : safeandsound123 at googlemail.com (@)  or phone +44 (0) 7810 271371

Written by Barry Gardner
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