Mastering 101: What is Mastering?

We are kicking off the new year learning about mastering. This mastering guide is meant to give you the tools you need to get a decent master out of your track. However, if you are producing a professional release, it will be wise to send your tracks to a professional mastering engineer (many of them do work remotely now). This guide will educate you on the mastering process, enable you to effectively communicate with a mastering engineer, and get up to speed with the latest mastering techniques.

We are going to break down this guide into 6 different sections, each posted every Monday:

  1. What is mastering?
  2. Signal Flow & Metering
  3. EQ
  4. Compression
  5. Limiting
  6. Preparation

What is Mastering?

Mastering is the process of finalizing a song by applying subtle technical touches to allow it to compete commercially with other songs in the market. A mastering engineer is also responsible for preparing and submitting files to label and various digital domains for ingestion (ie: preparing a MASTER).

The Goals of Mastering

When coming up with a master, there are a few things you should look out for. Here are some tips:

  1. The master should play well on a wide range of systems (laptop speakers, earbuds, hi-fi, car).
  2. The master should sound like a finished product.
  3. The master should meet technical specifications by label / artists.
  4. The master should be able to compete commercially in the market.
  5. The master must not sound worse than the mix.

I can’t stress enough the importance of point 5. Many engineers and producers can get too carried away with mastering a track that they do not compare it against the mix. Ultimately, your master should supersede and enhance the sonic quality of the mix.

Rule of Thumb Stuff

Here’s some tips worth remembering when approaching to master a track:

  1. Try to master in a room that you are familiar with.
  2. If you are serious, invest into a good DAC (Digital to Analog Converter).
  3. A/B your master against your mix at matched levels. (Sample Magic‘s Magic AB is a great tool for this)
  4. Work fast and don’t spend more than 30mins on a single song.
  5. If you are tired or out of ideas, work on a new day.
  6. Do not over process. Mastering is about subtle touches and moves that go a long way.

Next week, Signal Flow & Metering.
Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions!

February 1, 2016

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice