Audio mastering is the final step before you release your track to the world. This is the stage where all minor flaws are corrected, the track is leveled up for commercial release standards and ensures that all the tracks play at the same volume.
It’s a process with a lot of history. 3M introduced the first mastering tape in 1962.
But can you master songs if you’re not a qualified engineer? Is audio mastering something you can do yourself?
The answer is yes! You can do your own mastering even if you’re not a mastering engineer. Read on to learn more.
1. Don’t Mix and Master at the Same Time
You want your final mix to sound like you’ve mastered it. But don’t try to mix and master at the same time.
Finish your mix and wait a day before you try to do your audio mastering. That way, you’ll hear things you need to fix that you might otherwise miss.
2. Create an Optimized Listening Space
You need an optimized space to listen to your track while mastering it. If you can, install acoustic panels to balance the sound in your room. If space is a concern, you can check your mix with a quality set of headphones, although speakers will always be better.
Or just choose a good pair of headphones. This means you can easily master your audio at home.
3. Check Where Your Track Will Be Used
Many platforms like YouTube and Spotify use loudness normalization. This means they raise or lower the volume on uploaded tracks. That means the tracks all match.
Check your meters while you’re mastering to make sure you’re in the right range for your chosen platform.
4. Use Meters
Meters give a more professional result to your sound quality.
At the very least, use a LUF meter (LUFS – Loudness units relative to Full Scale. This is a loudness standard designed to enable normalization of audio levels. Loudness Units (or LU) is an additional unit. It describes loudness without direct absolute reference and therefore describes loudness level differences. (i.e., the maximum level a system can handle) This will tell you how loud your track is. You’ll need to know this to check its volume across the mix.
Using the right loudness lets you hit the requirements of streaming platforms.
5. Avoid Any Clipping
You may not notice digital distortion when you’re mixing. But it becomes apparent when you’re mastering.
Before you export your mix, check nothing is clipping in any of the faders. Before exporting the mix, make sure that you are leaving around 6db’s of headroom and that at no point the signal is going over 0 on the meters.
6. Always Use Reference Tracks
It may sound odd to say reference tracks can make or break your final product.
But they give you something great to compare your mix to. Listen to other professionally mastered music while you’re working on yours.
That way, your track can hold its own alongside these other mixes.
7. Make Notes the First Time You Listen
We recommended you take at least a day between finishing your mix and starting your master.
When you finally get to listen to your track, make notes. Write down anything that stands out as being off or annoying.
You’ll pick up most of the problems during this first listen. That makes them easier to iron out.
8. Listen in Different Spaces
We advised you to optimize your listening space. But it’s also important to ‘test’ your track in a range of spaces.
That’s because people will listen on their phone, in their car, or through speakers.
Listen to your mix in these spaces too. Remember to listen to your reference tracks in the same spaces for better insights into how yours should sound.
9. Keep Audio Mastering Simple
You’ll find plenty of tools in your software. But keeping things simple results in cleaner tracks.
Restrict yourself to three tools: Compressor, EQ, Limiter – Start with your EQ and try to find out if anything needs boosting or cutting. If the mix is already compressed, adding more compression might be a bad idea. After you have everything leveled out, pay attention to how loud the material is and if it needs some limiting.
10. Use the Right Export Settings
Before you start mastering, export your mix at the same sample rate and bit as the session. Use lossless formats like .wav or .aiff. Never use a compressed file format like mp3 at this stage.
When you export your master, export at 16 bits and 44.1 kHz. These are standard rates in the industry. Use both a lossless format and something like mp3.
Learn to Master like a Pro
There’s a lot to remember when you start audio mastering yourself.
It’s fulfilling but there’s also a learning curve while you get used to the terminology. At the end of the day, and to always achieve professional results, you will always want to hire a seasoned engineer, since he/ she will bring years of experience and judgement to the table. If you’re serious about your music (and I know you are) you will learn a lot more by going this route.
Why not submit a track and get a free mastering sample? We would love to help you out!