Mastering is the final step to finish your song or album, in which you’ll put the final adjustments on a stereo mix to make sure it becomes ready for distribution platforms and all media formats and, in the case of an album, consistent with all other songs of the album. However, if you do it incorrectly, it can break your song, and to avoid that, this is what I’ve learned over the years about it:
4 THOUGHTS FROM ME
1. Mix your track with your mastering chain on! I often used to mix my tracks without my master chain on and mastered in a different project, but that just leads you to multiple revisions since your master chain can interfere in your mix sounds like (e.g., how bright or how bass-driven your mix is) and make you go back and forth with your mixing. Therefore, the moment you start mixing, turn your mastering chain on so you can mix your track with the vision of what your mastering will be like from the beginning. This will save you time adjusting little things that may get loose/loud if you turn your master only when you finish mixing.
2. If you have loudness problems, try to find the answer in your mix! Producers often complain that mastering is hard because they can’t get the mix loud enough when compared to a reference track, but, hardly ever the mix is considered to be the one with issues. However, problems with loudness in the master often come from a lack of room in your mix, and that’s why you should look into your mix first. Start by investigating your low end, which more than 50% of the time will be the culprit, and make sure the kick and the bass are not getting on top of each other or aren’t too loud, which you can check how to do it in this video or in this post. Make sure your sidechain is tight across all elements and make sure you’re not crowding any specific region of the spectrum, which could also cause clipping. If you use the same mastering chain and you have problems with only one song, it’s not the chain… it’s the mix.
3. You MUST use reference tracks. Again, you MUST use reference tracks, as mentioned in this post, since they will be crucial for you to understand if your mix and master are OK. For example, with references, you can check (1) how loud you need to go, (2) if you have any EQ inconsistencies in the low end, mid-range, or high end of your song, and (3) if your song is too mono or too stereo, among many other things. If you’re not using one right now, pick a song that is similar to yours in sound and elements, and constantly A/B your song with the reference. If it lacks bass or stereo width, or anything else, adjust it right away.
4. If you need to make your master ‘bassier’ or wider, avoid doing major adjustments in the master. If your song needs to be brighter because it’s lacking it when you compare it to the reference track, adjust it in your buses or directly on your elements, and not on your master chain. Doing it this way will help you understand the issue and learn how to solve it, which will make you avoid it from the beginning for future tracks. If you do it on the master, it can be a quick fix, but one that you might not be able to replicate in the future, and one that might create other issues that you might not even perceive. Therefore, go to the culprit and adjust it directly!
1 QUESTION FOR YOU
What are your favorite mastering plugins? Here are a few of mine:
1. Izotope Ozone (all of them) – I’ve tested many limiters, but the cleanest I’ve found is Ozone’s Maximizer;
2. Cytomic The Glue – Similar to Waves and UAD’s SSL Comp, I’ve tried five of them and liked the Cytomic better. It’s the one that you like the most that matters, not necessarily the one that is closer to the original SSL Compressor;
3. Any volume adjustment tool – I can’t live without automating the volume and width of the master right before drops. A trick that I often do is make it quieter and ‘monoer’ before the drop so the drop feels wider and louder when it hits, which you can see how it’s done in this video.