This mastering guide is meant to give you the tools and knowledge you need to get a decent master out of your track.
However, if you’re producing a professional release, it might 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 you up to speed with the latest mastering techniques.
We’re going to break down this guide into 6 different sections:
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 domains for ingestion.
The goals of mastering
When coming up with a master, there are a few things you should look out for. Here are some tips:
- The master should play well across a wide range of systems (laptop speakers, earbuds, hi-fi, 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.
I can’t stress the importance of the last tip enough. Many engineers and producers can get too carried away with mastering a track that they don’t compare it against the mix. Ultimately, your master should supersede and enhance the sonic quality of the mix.
Here’s some tips worth remembering when approaching to master a track:
- 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 (Sample Magic‘s Magic AB is a great tool for this).
- Work fast and don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a single song.
- If you’re tired or out of ideas, 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.
February 1, 2016