Attended Mastering Session Info
Before I stopped doing attended mastering sessions, I can’t tell you how many times a client showed up only to realize they had brought or sent me ahead of time the wrong file for a song or multiple songs. When this is discovered at the mastering session, this becomes a serious misuse of time for both parties.
There were also too many situations where an attended mastering session was booked, but then the mixing sessions took longer than expected and it becomes an unnecessarily stressful situation that can be easily avoided. Other unexpected scheduling conflicts or changes were also not uncommon resulting in too much juggling of projects, and less time actually working.
Now I work on a first come first serve basis which allows me to get projects done sooner, more affordably, and with more focus. There are special options for rush situations if needed.
Here is a typical EP or album project workflow:
First, I analyze and prep the files to make sure all is good and the files are ready for mastering. Sometimes new files are needed before I can start mastering which can and has complicated things with an attended session. Then I do the majority of the audio processing to all the songs to get them sounding their best, and working together as a group of songs. I often take ear breaks as needed before committing to anything. For most projects, the audio has to print through the analog gear in real-time, and this can result in a lot of downtime throughout the day. As a one-man business owner, I often take care of other tasks while things print in real-time. The ability to multi-task and be flexible allows me to keep rates as low as possible. With an attended session, you’re paying extra to hang out with me and be entertained while things process.
I often finish up the first version of the master the next morning (or later in the day for shorter projects) with fresh ears. This entails doing a focused listening session (with headphones) to catch any blemishes such as clicks, crackles, pops, ticks, and another noises that may have become more audible and may need to be removed after the main audio processing has been completed. Things like this can easily go unnoticed unless you are listening with 100% focus to every millisecond of audio. In mastering, we often raise the average loudness of the material quite a bit and also add clarity, which can cause these blemishes to become more apparent and/or unnaturally loud compared to how there were in the unmastered mix. So, part of why I don’t offer a lot of attended sessions is because many elements of the job require extreme focus which is something that is hard for me to do when others are present.
You only get one chance to hear your master for the first time.
Another reason why attended sessions are not as beneficial as you might think is because I have a very neutral, analytical, and accurate listening environment. I think it’s best for you to first listen to the master in the environment where you most often listen to music, and are most familiar with. You only get one chance to hear your master for the first time. I remember before I was a full-time mastering engineer I would sometimes go to the mastering session (usually out of necessity to drop off the analog tapes or the digital files before the Internet was fast enough to send large files), and while it usually sounded impressive in the mastering studio, I never knew what it actually sounded like because I was not familiar with listening to music in that room on those speakers. I was not in a position to make suggestions because it was a foreign listening environment.
Once the project is sequenced, finalized, and ready for listening, I have a very smooth, easy, and foolproof system for you to audition your master and any revisions remotely via your computer (Mac or PC), or if you have an iOS mobile device (iPhone or iPad). It’s very easy for everybody involved to listen remotely and provide feedback.
I understand the desire to be in the room, learn things, etc, while mastering your project, but to be honest, I don’t think there is a lot to be learned by simply watching me work, unless I also take time to explain everything which inherently adds more time to the project. Maybe not a lot, but over the course of a week, months, and years, that time can add up. It can also take me out of my element and cause focus issues.
My streamlined workflow helps keeps unattended session rates low:
As the music industry continues to be less profitable for bands, artists, and musicians, due to poor (or non-existent) income from streaming services, I understand the need to stay within a certain budget when making and releasing music. This is why I do my best to optimize and maximize my time and keep my rates as low as possible for unattended sessions. If I were to do all attended mastering sessions, I would have to raise my rates to account for the extra time and logistics involved.