My name is James Bell and I run a company called House of Lyra. I am primarily a musician and, like many musicians, I make my living in a number of different ways. I make library music, I’m an artistic director for my local folk festival, and I run a number of local music events — but much though I love live performance, I have always been most at home in the studio.
When I was 13 I started recording songs in my bedroom on a little 4-track cassette recorder, and it pained me so much that my recordings sounded so amateur. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have the proper equipment (which of course I didn’t), it was that even if I had the right equipment I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Since then I have become completely obsessed with frequency spectrums and compression attack rates and all things studio-geeky.
After I attended my first a mixing and mastering course I started mastering my friends’ albums just to test out my new equipment and software, and as the years passed I decided that maybe I should take it a bit more seriously.
What sort of service do I provide?
I try to price myself much cheaper than average, because I am working out of a home studio and not a bespoke £100,000+ mastering studio (like the one pictured above).
The advantage that I hope I bring to mastering is that I am a musician who has been working on all stages of music production for decades: from songwriting to arranging, performing to engineering, producing, mixing, mastering, packaging, marketing and promoting. This makes it easy for me to empathise with all of the people involved in creating the mixes I get, and identifying (a) what they intended to create and (b) how, if at all, it can be made better.
I am also from the ‘client is always right’ school of mastering. While I can’t promise I can turn any mix into a chart-topping hit, if a client knows their mind and wants something that some mastering engineers might simply refuse to provide (e.g. an unusually squashed or bass-heavy master), I am happy to do my best to provide it.
Having said all of this, however, this still might not be the service that suits you, so it’s definitely worth considering the alternatives.
What are some of the other options?
At the cheaper end…
In the age of straight-to-SoundCloud recording, there are many automated online mastering websites that are definitely worth considering. These are systems that are based on analysing many thousands of commercially released tracks and determining what a professional mastered sound generally sounds like. If your genre suits their algorithms and you use them right, you can get really solid results.
You can find out more about what they are and how they work in this article from May 2016:
What these Artificial Intelligence systems are not so good at is for music that breaks the rules.
Unusual musical instruments or arrangements or production techniques can lead the robots to misjudge what the artists were intending. Whereas a human can tell straight away why the rule-breaking works, and can use the tricks of mastering to make it sound even better.
At the more expensive end…
Personally, if I wanted to spend serious money to get a track mastered professionally, I would go to the mighty Abbey Road – spiritual home to The Beatles and many many more of the world’s most successful artists.
Getting an album mastered at Abbey Road might not exactly be cheap, but it’s actually a lot more reasonably priced than you might expect, and they also provide an online system for managing the process.
On top of that, you get to choose which of the award-winning mastering engineers you want to work on your track, which is quite a selling point.