Mastering may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of music production. If you’ve even heard of it, chances are you’re not quite sure exactly what it means. So what is mastering all about? Here’s a quick overview.
As digital music production has grown, many artists produce their own music. They may even have a great mix on their own. It sounds great when they play it back in their DAW. The problem arises when they publish it.
So you’ve finished recording and mixing your track. You’ve even figured out how to upload it to streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. It’s finally released, and you play it on your favorite music platform. If you were listening to commercial music before you played your own song, you’re hit with a sad realization. All of a sudden that big, powerful track you thought you created sounds a bit weak and thin compared to the commercial release. What happened? You didn’t pay enough attention to mastering. If you’re asking yourself “what is mastering, anyway?”, you should keep reading.
Mastering is the final process before your track is released. There’s a lot of technical stuff that goes along with it. Some examples are equalization (EQ), compression/limiting, multi-band processing, mid/side processing, saturation, de-essing and more. These are all fairly standard audio engineering tools. What makes the difference is the application.
The goal of mastering is to make the music sound bigger, louder and more exciting. Mastering is also the final checkpoint to make sure there are no errors with your music, and everything works nicely together. For entire albums, mastering can be the secret to making all of your songs sound cohesive, like they are truly part of a collection.
A great master is the result of a lot of little things. A little shift here and a little tweak there, multiple times can add up to a major difference. A good Mastering Engineer uses their knowledge and creativity to make subtle changes to the track, which add up to make it sound louder, bigger and more exciting. If you get too heavy handed with a single tool, it can cause collateral damage. Careful consideration and mastery of the tools is necessary to get a truly great result. There’s a reason surgeons use scalpels and not machetes when they operate on someone. The same rule applies to mastering.
You wouldn’t have a computer write your music for you, would you? Why would you let it control the final stage of your production?
There are a lot of plugins out there that claim they can give you a preset to master your track for you. Even worse, there are even AI computer programs that claim to master your tracks. The problem with these “solutions” is that they don’t have the creativity and judgement of a real mastering engineer. They can’t feel anything and they can’t understand what makes a song move your soul. They also don’t care about the integrity of your song or mix.
While a shortcut may be better than nothing, it really helps to have someone who can partner with you and your music. It’s also tempting to try and get your music released as quickly as possible. You may be thinking, “It already sounds great, what is mastering going to change?” It is very easy to develop “demo-itis”, where you get too used to your own song and start getting attached to the way it is. It’s like Stockholm syndrome, but with music.
Nothing can replace having a fresh pair of trained ears on your song. This also gives you time to get away from the music and let your own ears take a rest. When you get your mastered song back, you’ll be glad you waited.
If you’re interested in having your tracks mastered, fill out our quote form. We will even give you a free sample of your mastered song to guarantee you’ll be happy.