Digital Mastering: Perfecting your sound
If you've finished recording and mixing your track and you're happy with the result, it's time to move on to mastering. You can choose to master your track on your own, or with the help of a professional. In this article, we'll share some tips to help you master your track effectively and prepare your audio files for a proper digital release.
What does mastering mean?
Once you have finished the recording and production of your track, the next step is usually mixing. This involves editing and blending the individual tracks to create an overall sound. Mastering is the final step in "polishing" and finalizing the entire track. It adds the finishing touches and ensures that the track is well-balanced both frequency- but also volume-wise. During mastering, various questions need to be addressed such as whether elements need to be emphasized, if the track sounds balanced, and if the mastered audio will sound powerful on all types of speaker systems. The ultimate goal of mastering is to bring out the full potential of the track.
Making the right decision
If you have a sufficient budget and can afford to hire a professional mastering engineer, then that's the easiest route to take. We recommend getting professional mastering always done by a sound engineer, which can start from as little as 20€ per track. As an artist make sure you thoroughly research and choose a mastering engineer that meets your sound and expectations. Ask for samples of their work and discuss your expectations before getting them onboard. If you're not 100% convinced, consider finding another sound- or mastering engineer or choose to do it by yourself. However, if you choose the DIY route, you need to be aware that you will need to invest time, money, develop your skills and abilities, and have lots of patience. After spending so much time listening to the song during the recording and production phase, it's helpful to have some distance before moving ahead to the mastering process. If you decide to take on the mastering yourself, be sure to get a second opinion from another musician, music producer, or sound engineer. Ultimately, whether you choose to master your track yourself or hire a sound engineer, it's your music, and you should decide beforehand how you want your track and release to sound.
Prepare your track for mastering
Before you start the mastering process, consider changing parts of your production or mixing. Not all issues can be fixed in the mastering process, so it's crucial to plan ahead. Record your song with the highest resolution possible (24 Bit/48 kHz) and mix it at the same resolution. You can always downscale later.
Less is sometimes more when it comes to mixing. If you over-compress your track during mixing, it may become difficult to retain any dynamics, as during mastering usually the track gets compressed and limited even more. Avoid making hasty decisions, and seek assistance if you are unsure about what you're doing.
Being prepared is crucial
Before embarking on mastering a digital track or enlisting the help of a sound engineer, it is crucial to carefully listen to and analyze the mix of the track.
- Are the individual components sounding good?
- Do you wish to enhance or clarify them?
- Is the intended emphasis coming through?
- Is the volume of the single instruments properly balanced?
- Where is more punch required?
- How do you envision the sound ultimately being - loud, driving, dynamic, and powerful, or atmospheric, light, and gentle?
- Is there any distortion present in the mix?
Guidelines for mastering digital releases
When you release your music on the major streaming, download, and social media platforms, it's vital to adhere to their specific guidelines. Failure to do so could result in your track being rejected or altered. To ensure your music sounds exactly as you intended during the mastering process, it's important to understand the platform requirements from the outset.
Your distributor, the company responsible for releasing your music, can assist you in selecting the correct specifications for your audio file. For example, dig dis! has compiled a summary of the requirements for your mastered audio file, allowing you to meet the standards of all platforms:
- File format: WAV
- Sample size: 16-bit
- Sample rate: 44.1 kHz
DIY Mastering: What do you need?
Overview of required tools
If you're considering trying your hand at DIY mastering, there are a few tools you'll need to get started. The tools you require will depend on your level of experience, your expectations and your song. Alongside your digital audio workstation (DAW) and high-quality speakers, a digital mastering software is particularly essential for beginners. iZotope Ozone, Waves Masters and FabFilter, are some of the most popular mastering tools out there, which provide numerous options for adding the final touches to your tracks, including equalizers and compressors. However most DAW’s already provide great built-in plugins such as compressors, equalizers or limiters, so especially when starting out, you don’t necessarily require pricy mastering plugins to get a proper master for your track.
Less is More
As a beginner, it's best to avoid using too many tools simultaneously in your mastering suite. Experimenting is great, but keep the end product in mind with each step. Changes that sound good on their own may not work together in the final product. Proceed step by step and check whether the adjustments you make are right for your track and the release as a whole.
Especially if you're a beginner in mastering, presets are a great option. However, make sure to choose presets that fit well with your genre and style, and use them judiciously. Depending on the variations between your tracks, it may not be appropriate to use a different preset for each one.
Utilize visual tools
Good mastering software offers tools that allow you to visualize your audio. This feature enables you to spot peaks and valleys more easily. Your eyes can help you identify irregularities that your ears may not detect immediately, depending on the playback source. Additionally, you can compare the sound of multiple tracks in a release by visually examining their sound profiles and identifying differences in highs, lows, dynamics, etc. However in the end you should use your ears rather than the visual components of plugins. If it sounds good, it sounds good, period.
Use an equalizer
A built-in equalizer can be found in most mastering suites. Use it to adjust your individual frequency levels, balance them, and emphasize what you want to hear in your final product. Digital equalizers allow you to analyze and adjust your track's frequency levels not only by ear but also graphically.
Use a compressor
Compressors are essential for gaining better dynamic control over your entire track and for bringing up the overall volume of your track. You can find them in digital mastering tools or purchase them as stand alone plugins. As a beginner, you're better off with an all-in-one mastering software that includes a compressor rather than trying to navigate through the vast world of compressor plugins.
Additionally there are various different tutorials available on YouTube about how to master a track properly, which run you through every step of a mastering process. We hope that you found our tips and tricks for mastering helpful. If you've applied them to your track, we'd love to hear the final result! Don't hesitate to share your finished track by signing up with us and uploading it here. We can't wait to listen to it!