I often check things in Youtube, there’s wonderful tutorials on new products (or even old ones of course), some insights on how to do things, videos about music industry, about music theory (for instance check out Rick Beato’s videos, they are amazing!) etc. you get the point. Of course I also check videos about mastering. What really strikes me the most that most of these videos are about how to use certain processor for mastering, or how to master your song at home. Usually always about the technical side of mastering and mostly aimed at the prosumer/consumer market, for people who want to master their tracks by themselves, or know what a mastering engineer does. There’s nice title’s on the videos, how they will reveal you the secrets of how to make a great master. Just today I saw in Facebook advertisement where some online magazine advertised ‘which are the best plugin limiters’ or something in similar lines, the first comment was of course somebody telling how the article is indeed credible because the included his favorite limiter plugin… For me that tells a lot how people understand mastering. They see it only as maximazing the volume while squashing the living hell out the track, they see mastering only as processing the audio. Which is just one part of being a mastering engineer.
I think I should let you on to a one big secret about mastering… those people are mostly trying to sell their snake oil to you. Of course there is great videos on how to use equalizer or compression, etc. but there is no ‘secret mastering formula’ or any other fast track. Some of these videos even mention critical listening, which is a nice touch. However they very rarely mention that developing critical listening skills is usually extremely time consuming. It doesn’t happen overnight. There’s not magic EQ trick that will make your tracks sound great. There is no universal compressor or limiter setting that will automatically make your track sound great.
Yes, I agree that learning how compressor works and how it should be applied into different situations is a good thing. Everyone who aspire to be in any technical position in music production should learn that. Yes, I agree that learning to use an equalizer is also very good thing for those people. When you learn the principles how these tools work, you can implement them into your work, no matter are you doing mastering, recording or mixing. It still doesn’t change the fact that mastering is supposed to be the ‘last inspection’ by a professional in a listening environment specifically designed to be an ‘audio microscope’. It’s not supposed to be using limiter x to squash your sound to the maximum volume, it’s not about using a multiband compressor just because some online tutorial told you so. In a way it defeats the whole purpose of mastering to master your own songs. You’re going to do it in the same room (probably which was not designed and build for audio production) with same speakers that you used in the production of the song. You can’t hear the problems in the mix, since it’s done in the same room where it was mixed. You are at least forced to go to listen to it on different systems and hear how it translates in different listening environments.
As I said, I’m definitely not against learning. Learning is always good, and learning to use the tools to make your mixes sound great is by all means good and recommendable. Just don’t get fooled by the sales men when they are trying to sell you the secret of great master. Like the secret in all greatness, it’s actually just hard work and right tools. If you really want to learn about mastering I suggest Bob Katz’s Mastering Audio as it is one of the best books on the subject.