What does your music “say”?
I find it interesting to allow the music to tell me what it needs. Here are a couple ways that I do that.
I let the producer or artist describe their thoughts about their record to me. Who was it written for? How was it recorded? What are the ideals, goals and purpose in producing this music? I find that not everyone has thought this stuff through. Sometimes the purpose of making the record IS the making of the record. How the producer describes their goals will give me a lot of foundation to base my decisions on. This is really the art of the craft of mastering. Listening with an imagination. Not as often about achieving specific ideals of loud or bright, but finding out what can and should be done to help the music communicate those goals.
Instead of asking “who do you want your music to sound like,” ask “Who is your music composed for?” And “how would you like them to react to it?”
Initially, everyone wants their music to be everything, for everyone. But if the artist is experienced they can tell you why they made the music, where the emotional references come from and how the listener should relate to these emotions. Deep stuff right? But the answers to these questions lead you to a starting point that preserves the musicality of the record, and makes it stronger emotionally and justifies all of the hard work getting the recordings to this point.
There really is no shortcut for experience, but if you ask good questions you can hope to get good answers. I find that these answers put me in a state of mind — ready to listen. Turning the knobs is the easy part. Determining where to aim, where the “target” is takes a lot of thought, an open mind and careful listening. It is very easy to substitute my goals for the goals of the music. Listening carefully and asking the right questions is step one.
If you haven’t thought much about what your music is saying, try to answer these simple questions. I bet it will help you make decisions along the path of making your music.
- Who is your ideal fan / audience?
- How will they listen to this music? Engaged and absorbed? Or while working out? On a dancefloor? While driving?
- Is your audience tied closely to your live performances?
- What would your ideal fan expect you recording to sound like?
- Do you want to surprise your audience, either with variety of subject or sound?
And on the technical side:
- Do you really understand what happens to your music when you compete for level (loudness wars)?
If your project needs to be loud and “shout” then you really must address that issue in the composition, and in the recording and mixing stages. Mastering alone can not achieve all of that despite what the ads and equipment designers claim. Any project that was recorded with the goals clearly in mind, will almost master itself and have a much improved chance at success in the long run.
Listen to what your music is trying to “say.”