Mastering music is the final step in the recording process. It’s also the one step that still mystifies people many musicians choose to get outside help with completing.

On Facebook we asked, do you master your own tracks or send your mixes out to be mastered?

We received a wide range or answers to this mastering question:

  • “I need help on mastering lol…”
  • “Master my own as a test mix for label submission then let the real pros master it.”
  • “Master my own. UAD plugins are the best!”
  • “Master my own!”
  • “To me mastering is like proof reading. It’s difficult to catch your own mistakes and best left to somebody with more skill than yourself.”

While some artists enjoy mastering their own tracks, many others prefer to bring in outside help for mastering since it is an important step that benefits from expertise and experience. We believe that at the very least it is a good idea to get a second set of ears in on the mix to catch anything you might miss.

What is mastering?

Mastering is the last step in audio post-production. It’s the final step in recording a song that some people like to explain to newbies as Photoshop for audio.

Mastering is meant to balance sonic elements of a stereo mix and optimize the playback quality across all systems and media formation. It creates a master copy from which all copies and duplications come from for distribution. Those copies from the master are then distributed in different formats like vinyl, CD’s, streaming services like Spotify, Soundcloud, and more. Sometimes different masters are also done depending on the format like “Mastered for iTunes” or “Re-mastered for CD.”

Mastering also ensures consistency and uniformity between the multiple tracks of an album giving your music a clean and cohesive feeling.

What does mastering do?

Mastering is a complex process that includes many different techniques:

  • Audio restoration
  • Stereo enhancement
  • EQ
  • Compression
  • Loudness
  • Bit depth reduction & sample rate conversion
  • Sequencing & spacing
  • Embedding metadata like IRC codes

After completing all these processes and techniques on your audio it will sound uniform, professional and balanced.

Mastering is necessary to make sure your tracks are fully prepared for commercial duplication and distribution. This step is crucial if you plan to share your music widely and want listeners to have a positive and consistent experience no matter how they listen to your music.

What mastering options do you have?

Because mastering is such a complex process with multiple techniques involved, many people choose to outsource this step of the recording process rather than handle it on their own. However, there are some artists who also love to handle the mastering process as well.

Once you are ready to master a track you need to consider which mastering approach to take. Below we consider four different mastering options you have for mastering your tracks.

Analog Hardware

A traditional approach to mastering involves using hardware that uses analog circuitry to process tracks. This creates a vintage sounding master full of analog character and warmth.

This approach is most often done best by locating a local studio with the gear you need and renting space and time for mastering. A mastering engineer at the studio can give you tips on the gear you’re working with to master your tracks.

Mastering Digital Software

Modern technology advances have helped give many artists the ability to master tracks from their home studio with digital software.

Mastering plugins and programs like iZotope Ozone allow you to create high quality masters from your home studio for much less cost than buying hardware or renting a professional mastering studio. Digital mastering is a solid option for artists comfortable with their knowledge of the mastering process.

Online Mastering Services

A new option for mastering has become popular in the last few years as several online mastering services like LANDR and WaveMod have popped up.

These online mastering services let you automatically master your tracks by uploading them to their websites. These mastering services process your tracks automatically with complex algorithms that give you instant results at a much cheaper price than studio mastering.

Mastering Professional

Studio mastering is still an option for those that simply don’t enjoy or don’t want to master their tracks alone or through an automated services.

Working with an audio mastering engineer in a studio either locally or remotely can be a great option if you’d like a professional to give your music more attention during mastering. These professionals will not only work on mastering but help identify any other problems with production or mixing.

Find What Works For You

There are many mastering options available for musicians today. Once you learn more about mastering and demystify the process it is easier to figure out which methods work best for you.

These mastering options can be used together and tested out until you find the one that works for you with your workflow and music.