Unfortunately, the process of making music does not end when a song is written and recorded. Far too many songs never see the light of day because they never get produced. Music is a very creative art, but mixing and mastering requires technical skill that scares off many artists.
So should you try mixing and mastering your own songs? Or hire a pro to do it for you? In this article, I want to discuss both options so you can make a choice and get your songs done.
Should You Mix and Master Your Songs Yourself?
If you possess a basic understanding of audio production, then yes: you should at least try mixing and mastering your own songs whenever possible.
If you lack the fundamental skills for the task and need a song done right now, then I recommend hiring a producer or engineer in the mean time. Even then, it’s in your best interest to learn mixing and mastering for future releases. Being your own producer will save money in the long term and grant you more control over the final sound of your tracks.
Mixing and mastering is not a skill you can pick up in a day or two. You don’t need an audio engineering degree to accomplish a decent mix, but it will require some basic production knowledge.
When Should You Mix and Master On Your Own?
Every situation and song is different. But I recommend that you start producing songs on your own as soon as you reach proficiency in basic audio engineering. But every situation (and every track you make) will be different. Here are some common situations when you should produce (i.e. level, mix, and master) on your own:
- You can’t afford a professional
- You don’t expect to make any money from your music
- You’re just posting the song on social media
- You know the basics on how to mix and master audio
- You want maximum control over the final sound of your mix
1. You’re Broke
This is obvious, but if you don’t have the money for a professional producer then you’ll want to try it yourself. Production work at a studio can cost $100 or more…for one song. For most hobby musicians and totally independents artists, that is not exactly a feasible expense. Especially if you produce a lot of music.
Cheaper producers can be found on Fiverr but, in general, a high quality audio engineer will cost you something. Sites like Landr and BandLab offer AI-based algorithmic mastering services but these tools usually won’t provide any human input during the process and may lack nuance.
2. Non-Commercial Expectation
If we’re being real, we have to admit that most songs will not go multi-platinum. And if you are just starting out, it may take many songs and months of promotion to build a fanbase.
So, from a utilitarian perspective, it may not be practical to pay for professional (read, expensive) audio production when you probably won’t turn a profit from a single song. But that doesn’t mean you should just slap out tracks with no edits or polishing. In such a situation, it makes more sense to learn production and apply the needed studio polish yourself.
3. Purely Social Intent
Perhaps your tracks are meant for promotion on social media, or just sharing with your friends. It’s probably unnecessary to hire a studio for a song like that. A 30-second TikTok song will probably sound just fine with some simple D.I.Y. mastering.
4. You Got the Basics
Why pay someone else to do something you can do yourself? Obviously, this ethos does not hold true for everyone, but you are reading this article on a D.I.Y. indie musician website, after all.
If you have some experience with producing music, it’s a lot cheaper to buy a few plugins once then to pay an engineer every time you want to distribute a song.
5. Control Freak
Audio engineer sounds like a very analytical and soulless activity to outsiders, but production really does require creative decision-making. What’s more, it can actually shape the sound of your songs dramatically. A producer’s choice of arrangement, tone coloration, and equalization can have a noticeable impact on the final mix.
If you want to have the most control of all these production aspects, you’ll likely want to administer them yourself.
When Should You Hire a Professional To Mix and Master?
There are some circumstances when hiring a professional is the best course of action. The most common instances would be:
- Fast Turnaround – you need a “radio friendly” mix done quickly and you don’t have the skills or tools to do it yourself yet,
- Limitations – you cannot get the sound you want with your own limited gear or experience,
- Overwhelmed – the technical side of production overwhelms you and you rather pay someone else to do it, allowing you to focus on the songwriting and composition.
Is Mixing and Mastering a Song Hard? Can I Do It Myself?
Mixing/mastering can be done by yourself, but it takes a lot of trial and error to find what works. I’d say the basic concepts are quite easy to understand, but getting good at it requires a lot of practice.
Especially because music is so subjective. Production is not a one-size-fits-all task: a single song could be mixed any number of ways and any of those mixes could sound good.
I would break down the task of mixing/mastering into 2 learning components:
- The objective knowledge (what effects to use, how to fix specific issues, etc),
- The subjective instinct (what techniques will sound best for this type of song, etc)
A poorly-mixed song is easy to spot, but learning the bare essentials to fix it is not that hard. Once you understand how a compressor operates or what a limiter does, you’ll know when to use them and how to apply them; that’s like riding a bike.
The difficulty lies is the intuitive choices you must make during the mixing/master processes; i.e., how to shape the sound of your song into a final polished production. This includes decision-making on which frequencies to shape for each instrument, how much reverb/delay to apply aesthetically, etc.
These selections are more like painting a landscape: you could technically be finished with the painting at any time, but you must decide how much or how little detail you want to add before it’s finally considered complete.
There are situations when mixing and mastering can be done at home, and times when a professional engineer makes the most sense. You must decide which route makes the most sense for you. Regardless, I believe that every indie musician should learn how to apply basic engineering techniques to their songs.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you found this article useful. If so, then here are a few more topics you may like: