For beginners, or even intermediate level music producers, the idea of learning how to master a song may seem like an overwhelmingly intricate, even contradictory process.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. Mastering audio is a serious science in and of itself.
There is a common misconception that mastering is an enchanted process full of mystery and wonder.
There is truth in saying that masters fit for radio are better done by a professional, such as the mastering service we offer here at Toolroom. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t master your own music to share with peers or road test on a club system.
With so many mastering tools now readily available in 2019, it’s never been easier to do it yourself! In fact, there are plenty of VSTs that are quite similar to high end, professional-grade equipment.
Side note: iZotope Ozone 8 is a plugin we suggest anyone who wants to understand mastering more fully pick up a copy of.
If learning how to master a song sounds like a skill you could brush up on, this article is for you!
One of the best pieces of advice that we can offer here is quite simple…
Invest more time into achieving a balance between clarity and loudness.
Loudness is great, but making sure you don’t compensate clarity for those desired RMS values is imperative.
Disregarding this golden rule and overdoing the common practice of “Loudness Maximising” will kill the dynamics of your track.
The only way to achieve a genuine balance between clarity and loudness is if the elements in your mix have the correct use of stereo space. Any clashing resonant frequencies in the mixdown can cause some real problems in your master.
And nobody wants to deal with that.
Balancing clarity and loudness, however, is only the beginning!
Compression is perhaps one of the most valuable tools you will have in your arsenal when it comes to mixing and mastering. Compression makes your song elements sound punchy, loud and clear. On top of that, compression provides a level of consistency in the levels of each element.
It sounds great…but there’s a catch.
If you push the levels too hard, then your mix will be at risk of “hyper-compression” which leads to a dull and choked sound. This dynamic squashing process not only makes punchy elements sound muffled and dry, but it also makes the listening experience tiring and even distracting.
Obviously, you don’t to deal with this!
Compression is hardly a topic that can be explained in a few paragraphs alone. If you’re serious about learning the ins and outs of it, we suggest checking out our five favorite music production books.
It’s always good practice to compare your master to a secondary reference track.
Everyone needs a reference point to compare their work with. Doing this with a similar “ideal” mix will often prevent you from overdoing EQ and loudness.
For example, you can A/B segments in your own master such as the low end. This allows you to keep them on par with tracks of the same style or genre.
This is super useful when first starting out!
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: reference!
Many new producers believe that the biggest hurdle to overcome in mastering is the low-end.
That doesn’t mean to say that you should ignore the mid to high range frequencies on the other end of the spectrum.
It is quite common for pesky high-end frequencies to cause some real issues, especially when it comes to the mastering chapter of your production timeline.
You may find it common for mixes to need a bit of shine or polish in the top end. When applied whilst mastering, this can lead to some unpleasant tonal resonances caused by uneven dynamic frequencies.
This phenomenon is called sibilance, and it tends to occur in vocals or high hats which have pronounced syllables like S, T, and Z. Prevention involves a little foresight during the mixing process.
Fortunately, the fix is easy – use a de-esser!
Modern DAWs offer an unlimited amount of track channels. As such, the temptation to record all of your sounds in stereo most certainly exists. We’re guilty of it ourselves, sometimes!
Unknown to many, this can cause phasing problems when it comes time to master.
Phase cancellation is the silent killer of many great mixes. Phasing is known to destroy bass impact and makes tracks sound thin and limp. In some cases, the bass will disappear altogether.
The best time to fix it is right at the start in the mixing stage. More often than not, a polarity flip will give you what you need.
With a few of the tips above, a little foresight, and a discerning ear, you’ll be well on your way to mastering your own tracks to a level not far off the professionals.
Best of all, we’re here to help!
Mastering is one of the many topics that is touched upon in Toolroom Academy’s 12 Week Production Certificate Program and our 1-1 Production Masterclass.
If you’re serious about enhancing your knowledge of audio as a whole, feel free to drop us a line!