By Erik M., originally published at Inner Portal Studio and reposted here with kind permission. Download the complete guide here.
I’m writing this because I have always seen the same questions asked again and again, “How do I master my song?” or “Can anyone recommend some good mastering plug ins?” More and more people are learning the ins and outs of their home studios, and they eventually start to finish songs and realize that they don’t sound as good, or as “polished” as what they hear when they buy a CD or download tunes online.
So, what is mastering? Surprisingly it can be many things, depending on your needs or the format you intend to release your music on. Some examples of things that commonly are done during the mastering process include:
- Making all the songs on a CD sound cohesive.
- Preparing the song so that it is not too quiet, and more importantly these days, not too loud.
- The final quality control for projects going to a replication house.
- An experienced, fresh set of ears to help achieve the overall balance of frequencies in a song.
- And more recently, a chance to interact with an experienced audio engineer and get feedback on the sonic qualities of your productions as they get close to completion.
In general however, I think what most people want to achieve when it comes to mastering their own songs is two-fold: Get the overall level of the song right (how loud or quiet it is), and achieve a good balance of frequencies in the song (making sure it’s not too bright or too bass-heavy for instance).
Of course, as someone who makes their living mastering other people’s music, my first suggestion on the easiest way to achieve this is to let someone with the right gear and the lots of experience handle these issues. A professional mastering engineer not only has accurate monitoring and and an acoustically treated studio dedicated to mastering, but more importantly experience and an unbiased opinion. For many people nowadays, it’s the only time from the start of the song to it’s release where they will get to work with someone who can offer a critical second set of ears to help them shape and present their music in the best way possible.
But, if you’re reading this, then chances are you really want to do this on your own, or you can’t afford professional mastering. How then, do you go about mastering your own work, and which tools do you really need to get the job done?
I think it goes without saying that two things will always remain true when it comes to music mastering:
- Specialized mastering equipment will almost always give you better results than what comes with your DAW (Digital Audio Work station). Audio processing tools designed for mastering will likely sound clearer and introduce less artifacts than a free or a bundled plug in. There’s always exceptions, I’m just saying in general.
- Experience and trained ears will always get you better results than just the right gear. That is, an experienced mastering engineer will be able to get very, very good results no matter what gear they use.
To me, this means one thing. Becoming good at mastering (or anything really) will take practice and lots of it, and having good quality tools at hand will help as well. Lacking these two things, there’s one final way to approach the situation, and that’s through trial and error. To me it is a form of practice as well however, which means ultimately there is no magic tool that will make your productions shine. If you want your tracks to compete with with professionally produced songs, then you need to be ready to invest not only in the right tools, but also in TRULY learning when and how to use them.
Where to start then?
This is only the beginning. Read and download the complete (and really, really informative) pdf guide here.