Mastering your music is the final technical step in audio production before releasing your creation to the world. A mastering engineer ensures that your mix is balanced for tone, consistent in dynamics, and adheres to loudness standards set by the recording industry.
Even though your mastering engineer handles all of the heavy lifting to get your music sounding its best, here are seven things you can do to ensure you get the most out of mastering.
1. Is your mix master-ready?
Having a solid mix is the key to getting a great master. After all, your mastering engineer can only work with the audio you provide. As such, take the time to get a balanced mix before looking for mastering services.
If you don’t feel confident in your mixing ability or you lack the tools, contact a mixing engineer. Your mixing engineer may also be able to work with your mastering engineer to ensure that all technical bases are covered to get the best result.
2. Utilise a reference track
A reference track in the mastering process is a professionally produced track that is used as a goal and a guide. Basically, a reference track is something that you can compare your mix or master against to see how things measure up.
When you provide your mastering engineer with a reference track, you’re more likely to get the results you want faster. Your mastering engineer can use the reference to shape your own music and allow similarities to shine through. Keep in mind that your reference track needs to be within the same genre or close to it in order to be effective.
3. Speak up and ask questions
Before, during, and after the mastering process, make sure you communicate with your engineer. Ask questions often and communicate how you feel. While your engineer is an experienced, trained professional, they won’t be able to help you get the sound you want if you don’t communicate.
Virtually all professionals in the mastering industry will be more than happy to offer guidance and answer questions. They want you to be happy and for your music to sound its best.
4. Get a mastering sample
It’s also a good idea to get a mastering sample before choosing an engineer to work on your project. Many mastering services offer a free sample, but some rely on generic samples that have already been completed for other customers. This isn’t a bad thing, and it does allow you to hear their work, but it’s not going to let you hear how your own music will be treated.
Instead, look for an engineer who will be willing to master a sample of your own music. It doesn’t have to be a long section, but it should be enough to give you an idea as to the possibilities.
5. Check your master on different speakers
It’s always a good idea to check your final master on different speakers in different environments. This means listening on headphones, TV speakers, car stereo speakers, Bluetooth speakers, and pretty much any other speakers you can get your hands on.
The reason you want to do this is to ensure that your music sounds great no matter where someone hears it. Different speaker types have a tendency to color sound in different listening environments. Also, small details should be able to be heard in different listening environments. Realize that you never know where someone will listen to your music, so it’s a good idea to test out your master in as many places as possible.
6. Compare the mix and master at the same volume
You’re also encouraged to compare your final mix and your final master against one another to hear the changes mastering has made. When you do this, however, you need to match the gain. This means that both versions of the track should be turned up or down to match one another in terms of loudness.
Your master will likely be louder in terms of relative volume due to processes like compression and limiting. These are tools your mastering engineer uses to push energy into your track. Your mix may sound quieter, but it should still demonstrate a cohesive blend of audio even at a lower volume than your master.
To compare your mix and master at the same level of gain, try listening on a system that lets you visually see the audio through a loudness meter. You may need to adjust the volume knob on your stereo for your mix and your master, but your goal is to have both reach the same level on the meter when listening.
7. Let your mastering engineer help you
Finally, you may feel overwhelmed by the recording, mixing, and mastering processes. After all, there’s a lot of technical stuff going on there.
The real key to getting the most out of mastering is to let your engineer help you. A mastering engineer’s job is to make your music sound its best, so you’re encouraged to take direction while also feeling free to speak up and give input.
This is your music, so you make the final call, but a mastering engineer will have the knowledge and experience to present new possibilities to take your music to the next level.