This is a big question for a lot of us, let’s weight it out.
1 – Cost
A good mastering envier will cost you between 20 and 5000 per track. while high end mastering studio still charge these amount they can only charge them to big labels who have a set budget to albums ect.
Most of the time i would say it’s between 50 and 100. I paid 200$ to get two track mastered at abbey road in London and i do not regret it. They brought some life and some superb low end into the master, these are some of my best selling tracks to date.
Cost does not always equal quality here, genre is very important, do not send a EDM track to a rock engineer, he will be confused.
Online mastering pricing is very diverse, Landr charges ?? and you can get unlimited for a sub. Some charge by songs, album etc, for the matter we will only look into automated systems and there pricing.
DYI: Free but…
If you have proper equipment this can be done well, i personally use a mastering chain (Available here) this chain is flexible and can be reuse on most songs with minimum adjustments. I the past i also used a combination of LANDR at a low setting for pre mastering and then i used my own chain give the feel and loudness i was looking for.
Another issue here is that if you made the song, you will be biased about the material to start with, unless you have a lot of experience i would not recommend doing your own mastering.
If you still want to do it, make sure you have at least three sources where you can verify the material, example: Studio Monitors, Loudspeakers, Car Sound system, and 1 or two headphones, Notebooks and mobiles can also be used here. Then i would suggest using one or two reference tracks when you are in the mastering session you can compare and make sure you are not going to far with compression, and the EQ is comparable.
Using tools you know well is also important here, just slapping some cool compressors and saturators on a mastering channel is not the way to go here… A deep knowledge of compression method and ration, knowing the character of your equalisers, understanding gain staging between plugins, having a good notion of stereo imaging will all influence the result.
2 – Efficiency
If you do it yourself and you have your setup ready, it’s a big win here! Master is ready in minutes.
Online mastering services are also relatively fast, a big win here.
The mastering engineer or service can be relatively fast but no where near the two other options.
3 – Quality
If you do it yourself, you might satisfy your needs but will t be up to the industry standard?
Online mastering quality is excellent most of the time, however it does not bring the best of a track like a good engineer will.
A good engineer will make the best of your track, and knowing he is doing this for a living should give you confidence on the quality here.
4 – Your mix down
This is critical mostly in EDM, most producers don’t have a clue how to mix a track, i will no go into details here but the basic rule is no compression or limiting on the main out when mixing.
5 – Loudness VS dynamic range?
In the three scenario this is at the choice of the user, you can easily slam the track and everything will be LOUD! Or you ca be moderate and leave space for the elements to breath.
DYI wins here, you can make your own sound your way if you know how. Online mastering offers very little tweaks. Your mastering engineer should be your friend here and recommend what’s best depending on the music you wish to master.
6 – Wrapping up,
Mastering is an art form, do not underestimate the power of putting your music into the right hands. Think about the fact that the song you will make will live on past your lifetime..