Mastering 101: What is mastering?

As the final step before a track gets released, the importance of mastering can’t be understated.

It’s worth nothing that if you’re producing a professional release, it may be wise to send your tracks to a professional mastering engineer (many of them do work remotely now). That said, whether you’re looking to take on mastering yourself or want to understand how to communicate better to an engineer as a client, this introductory guide will give you the tools and knowledge you need to get a solid master out of your track.

We’re going to break down ou guide into six different chapters:

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

Let’s kick things off by asking ourselves the obvious (but important) question: What is mastering?

What is mastering?

Mastering is the process of finalizing a song by applying subtle technical touches that allow it to compete commercially with other songs in the market. A mastering engineer is also responsible for preparing and submitting files to labels and various digital stores and platforms for ingestion.

The goals of mastering

When creating a master, there are a few things you should look out for. Here are some key points:

  • The master should sound good across a wide range of systems (laptop speakers, earbuds, hi-fi systems, etc.).
  • The master should sound like a finished product.
  • The master should meet technical specifications presented by labels / artists.
  • The master should be able to compete commercially in the market.
  • The master must not sound worse than the mix.

The last point can’t be stressed enough. Many engineers and producers can get so carried away with mastering a track that they don’t compare it against the mix. Ultimately, your master should exceed and enhance the quality of the mix.

Rule-of-thumb practices

Here are some tips worth remembering when approaching mastering:

  • Try to master in a room that you’re familiar with.
  • If you’re serious, invest in a good DAC (digital-to-analog converter).
  • A/B your master against your mix at matched levels.
  • Work fast (don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a single song).
  • If you’re tired or out of ideas, take a break and revisit the work on a new day.
  • Don’t over-process; mastering is about subtle touches that go a long way.

Now that we have a broad understanding of mastering, let’s dive into signal flow and metering.

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December 22, 2019

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice