I've worked with a handful of mastering engineers but have always been rushed with deadlines to really slow down and learn and listen in a way that has ever made me feel really excited about the mastering. So this time I asked three different ME's to do the same song on spec.
We got these three versions back about two weeks ago. I listened to them every other day, sent them out to collaborators, had some other studio guys around here listen. There was no real strong consensus which was best. Each had their own good things going on. So when in doubt, I just decided to go with the ME who had done more records that I've bought and listened to and enjoy.
Funny thing is that after all this process, I guess I came off as high maintenance and the ME I picked asked to back out. It seemed to him that I had pretty high expectations. Yep! I sure do have high expectations when I'm spending almost $1k.
Part of what I was trying to discern in all my interactions with each ME was not just sound quality but also how they would communicate and take direction and be wiling to collaborate. The mixes have been completed at various stages over the past year. There was no default tracking techniques. It's not a totally avant record, but it is sonically diverse. I was curious how the ME might work to bring some cohesion to the overall sound scape from beginning to end.
After that experience, I wasn't incredibly excited about going back to either of the other two MEs. So i've ended up hiring the ME that I really really wanted in the first place, but who i thought was a bit more expensive for my humble little project. He'll be another $4-500. I have not spent a dime on mixing. I can afford the extra money anyway. What I'm paying for now is the opportunity of never having to wonder what the record could sound like if only this particular ME could do it. The record is getting scheduled with him.
If I'm going to hand this project over to someone carte blanche with one pass, it feels like a relief to give it to this ME.
Going through the work of bothering the other three to do songs on spec might seem like a hassle, but the experience showed me that what i really want is the chance to use this more experienced (and more expensive) ME.
Now the best part is that he is asking for some detailed direction like I've been wanting to offer in the first place. This is from the form I'm filling out for submission:
Items 4,5 and 8 are exactly the kinds of things I've always expected an ME to ask me, but have never been asked this explicitly. This is from a guy who has been doing this for 20 years who could just assume that we should trust his work blind without such input.4. List bands which may have influenced you while making this album:
5. What would you like to gain from the mastering?:
6. (if applicable) List ISRC Codes:
7. (if applicable) List CD Text (band name, album title, song names) EXACTLY as you want them to appear:
SPECIFIC NOTES ABOUT INDIVIDUAL SONGS AND/OR ISSUES WITH YOUR MIXES THAT YOU'D LIKE US TO PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO:
8. List here:
Maybe some end up as MEs because they have good ears but don't have the patience to work day in and day out with the artist, but it seems to me an ME needs to be able to handle a bit of the artist's drama. A form like the one above is a simple and easy way to give the artist or mixer a chance to offer some input. When it all comes down to it, I'm surrendering the project to the ME because of his many years and solid work. I suspect that if I'm not pleased with what I get back from him, it'll be more of a reflection on me than on him. And that is also something I've wanted to learn at the mastering stage. To see the masters as a kind of report card for how what I did right and wrong on a record. A few of the best MEs I've worked with in the past have been gracious enough to talk with me on the phone and explain to me what they were concerned about.
Anyway. I'm excited. Believe it or not, I still love these songs after all this time.