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Why Is Mastering So Expensive

Why is mastering so expensive?
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Music production is not as it used to be. Now people are producing at home and just wanna get their music out as soon as possible. To compete with the rest of the songs in the ocean of this art, your music needs to have a certain criteria met.

Firstly, your song should be good and it should also “sound good” and for that, at the end of the production process, you need a solid professional Mastering. But every great thing comes at a cost! You get the point? Cool..

Why is Mastering so Expensive?

Broadly speaking, the cost of mastering depends mainly on three factors: experience of the engineer, equipment used and the type of song. The more experienced engineer will charge more and if he has worked with the established artists then his cost is gonna go way high. The equipment that is accessed by the engineer come at a price and hence determines what will you pay. The type of song you want to get mastered will take a different thought process and a different level of skill which further determines the mastering cost.

Another rare factor could be, the number of tracks done per day. If an engineer can do more tracks per day (if they don’t take that much effort), he may keep the costs comparatively lower.

Well this can not be necessarily true, but one of the mastering engineers I know, revealed this to me.

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This seems that this factor is mainly about time taken per song.

Furthermore, mastering is not only just making a song louder.

When a music producer works on his music trying to perfect it working day in and day out, his ears get used to the the sound of the song.

He is not able to judge it objectively by repeatedly hearing the same song!

This creates the need for a new set of ears and equipment to judge the harmonic balance of them song.

Lets look the factors in detail..

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Experience of The Engineer Affects The Mastering Cost

There goes a lot into a mastering engineer’s development process. A qualified mastering engineer studies the whole science of sound and how it behaves in the environment. He understands the “behind the curtain” qualities of the sound and how to manipulate it. Get experienced to all the equipment and how they modify the sound. It is a long process. Actually, the price we pay for is this years long study that he has done practically to apply to the songs and make them better! 

The mastering engineers also possess genre specific or work specific specializations like some do the edits for dialogues and some do the music specific edits etc.

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They may even possess specialization for different genres of music. These mastering engineers also might have the skills to produce the entire track which might give them an extra benefit to judge and correct the songs. 

The more skillful the mastering engineer is, the more value he will be able to add to your work by actually studying your music inside out and might very well understand the thought process of the producer behind making the song.

This skill is very much necessary to look for in a mastering engineer.

This obviously raises his fee but you reap better or possibly best results for sure! 

Also read – Should You Compress Your Master And How

Moreover, considering his professional life time, a mastering engineer invests in his relevant education to get his qualification as a mastering engineer and he trains intensively for the same.

Along with the curriculum, mastering engineers work hard by working as an assistant under professionals.

They study each equipment and take experience of it about how it works on the song. 

This might sound easy but it takes years to get trained to interpret these equipment.

By watching the masters at work, a mastering engineer gets to know how this surgery of sounds is done. 

The Equipment Used Affect The Mastering Cost

Almost every commercial mastering gig is performed in a top class studio. Every typical studio has a number of specialized audio signal processors and many other equipment which are preferred in hardware form. Some of the major equipment are:

  • Low distortion high bandwidth loudspeakers
  • Amplifiers that drive the loudspeakers
  • Soundproofing and acoustic treatment
  • Custom build processors (for signature sound)

Besides these, there are many more equipment in a mastering studio.

All these special equipment are build in order to provide the best possible sound that is a staple for the commercial records. 

When a seasoned mastering engineer makes use of such type of a studio, the cost of his service along with the studio time (mostly hourly) adds up.

Around $150 to $200 per song is charged by the average mastering engineers today for an online streaming platform or radio.

For the top artists, the charges per song starts from around $1200. 

More equipment make it easier for a mastering engineer to check the song on different mediums and make precise decisions about it.

Making these decisions helps the song to get translated well on all the playback systems which is the ultimate goal of the whole process.

So for a commercial song, its mandatory to get a song mastered by highly experienced top mastering engineers who have the luxury to work in the most facilitated studios.

The Song Type Affects The Mastering Cost

The effort put into mastering for different genres is different and hence the costs. In a nutshell, a song that has a simple production is easier to master and will be done quickly. The dynamics of that song will also be easy to handle due to its simple instrumentation. If a song’s production is complex and has varying dynamics, it will be trickier to work upon. This type of song will have more elements and the balance between them will be crucial to be maintained.

Hence the mastering engineer’s effort put into the type of song will further decide the cost. 

Also mastering for a genre like cinema is a whole lot different than traditional songs and music.

Cinema has surround sound which requires processing of multiple channels.

Its a different beast to be handled. 

In fact, the cinema mastering process though termed as mastering but surprisingly no mastering is applied to it at all, there is no compression and no limiting done what so ever.

Technically, cinema music is produced to sound as natural as possible having the quietest and the loudest moments. So it won’t be wrong to say that there is no such mastering process involved in the cinema field. 

For cinemas, mixing is done into three stems which are music, dialog and sound effects stems.

The printing of these three separate stems is termed as mastering.


Mastering for Online Streaming

I hardly remember when did I hear a song on a DVD or in my PC last time. Today most of the people hear songs on streaming platforms like Spotify or Soundcloud etc.

This has created new metrics for mastering. The streaming platforms treat the songs a bit differently. 

The storage capacity of the streaming services keep getting lesser and lesser due to each new song added on their servers.

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Hence the need for smaller size of the mastered file is high.

These platforms want to store more songs for more playback by their listeners.

The mastering engineers have turned towards mastering specifically for these platforms as it is the primary source of music consumption today.

This type of mastering costs lesser as compared to when it was done for CDs. The files are also of low quality due to compression. 

What is More Expensive – Mixing or Mastering 

To be precise, Mixing is more time consuming and more effort taking process. Mixing involves processing each layer of the song. Hence mix engineers charge more than the mastering engineers. The mixing process is the foundation for a good master. A great mixing can result in great mastering but if the mixing is done poorly, mastering cannot fix it and as a result it will be poor. 

Mastering on the other hand, requires lesser time.

If we think in terms of layers, a master is a single layer of audio to be worked upon. Hence the number of project any engineer can execute are more per day.

This reduces the cost of mastering comparatively.

Why is Mastering So Hard

There can be a wide range of factors that makes Mastering so challenging for beginners. They can be:

  • You lack ear training, as this is the first criteria to master a song professionally.
  • Your instruments are not meant for mastering. You need great studio monitors or headphones.
  • You are not meant for performing mastering or lack interest in learning it in depth.
  • You don’t start with fresh ears. To master perfectly, you need fresh ears.
  • You get a crappy mix in the first place.
  • You don’t consider specializing in a particular genre.
  • Your room/studio is not acoustically upto the mark.
  • You have good monitors but not placed perfectly.

There can be a number of other reasons as well but this is a checklist you should look at once if your master suffers every time and try to rectify your lacking.


The quality of your song greatly depends on the quality of post production involved in it.

The quality of post production depends on who is doing it and what tools and skills he has.

These skills come with experience and when there is experience, it enhances trust and the value of the work.

And none the less, the work speaks for itself! 

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