How To Master Your Own Music

When you think of a mastering engineer, you think of someone tucked away in a studio filled with hardware and expensive equipment. To many, mastering can seem like a dark art. With the advancements made with music production tools, all you need is a set of basic plugins that your DAW offers and a few guidelines on how to tackle the mastering process. In this article, I am going to go over a step-by-step process on how you can use your native DAW plugins to master your own tracks.

Pick a reference track

Before you even begin to start to master your song, you need to pick out a reference track.

Mastering is all about making small adjustments to the entire mix. When you make these small adjustments, it can be difficult to see the overall picture of how you want your track to sound like. Having this reference track gives you a chance to check to see if the processes that you are doing to your song are helping you get closer to the sound that you want. 

So first, pick out a song that is in the same style or genre as the tracks that you are working on and load this track up in your DAW along with the track you want to master.

EQ

First up on our mastering chain is going to be an EQ. 

We want to make sure our mix is tonally balanced before we do any other processing on the master channel as this will have a direct impact on the other processing that we are going to do. Listen for any frequencies that are poking out in the mix and that are dominating the song. 

If you hear any of these troublesome frequencies,  EQ them out. 

A little goes a long way in mastering. -0.2 dB to -2 dB EQ cuts will have a big impact on your track. If you are finding yourself needing to EQ more than -2 dB then you need to go back to your mix to make these adjustments. 

Multiband compressor

Next up on the mastering chain is the multiband compressor. This will be used to level out the different frequency ranges in your track. EQing will permanently remove certain frequencies when applied. 

A multiband compressor only engages when a certain volume threshold is hit and it will compress the sound according to the settings you have on the compressor. This allows for more dynamic-specific taming of the certain frequency ranges of your track. 

Again, we are going to look for areas that appear unbalanced and could use a bit of volume reduction. Common frequency ranges that could often use a little multiband compression are the low frequency range (30 Hz to 250 Hz) and high frequency range (10 kHz and up).

Just like the EQ, a little goes a long way.

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Compressor

Next we will be using a standard compressor.

The purpose of having this compressor on is to glue the entire track together. The EQing and multiband compression processing that you have done may have shifted the dynamics of your track around a bit and this compression will make sure it reigns in those shifted dynamics. Any standard compressor will work here. Look to gain reduce from around 1-3 dB with the compressor.

Limiter

Finally we have the limiter.

Up to this point in your processing chain, you have tonally balanced your track and glued the entire song together. Now it is time to bring the songs volume up to commercial loudness. Apply a limiter to the end of the chain and turn up the gain until you get around 2-4 dB of gain reduction or right before the song starts to distort. The amount of limiting you apply to your track will depend on how loud you want your song to sound. 

Evaluate your mastering

Now that you have finished your mastering, it is time to evaluate the mastering processing you have just applied. 

Listen back to your reference track and see if the processing you have just applied makes your track sound similar sonically to the reference track. Also, compare the mastered version to the unmastered version. This will help you understand if the processing you have just applied has made a positive impact on your track. 

Be sure to play the unmastered and mastered tracks at similar volume levels when doing this comparison as the large difference in volumes between these two tracks will distort your perception of what impact your processing has actually made. 

Conclusion

By applying a few simple processors to your track, you can tonally and dynamically balance your track, and bring it up to commercial loudness. With the mastering chain laid out above and with a little trial and error, you will be able to successfully master your track.

Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.

JamesHow To Master Your Own Music

15 comments

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  • Darrell - August 21, 2019 reply

    Thank’s Daniel APPRECIATE your expertise !

    Daniel Strongin - August 27, 2019 reply

    Thanks for checking out the article Darrell! I appreciate it!
    If you like this article then I definitely recommend checking out all the in-depth tutorials that I have up on my website, https://www.soundshockaudio.com/tutorials/
    I go over all of the most important music production topics and most of them have videos!
    Thanks again Darrell!

  • Marc Ludeman - August 22, 2019 reply

    Good advice

    Daniel Strongin - August 27, 2019 reply

    Thanks for taking the time to read the article Marc! I appreciate it!
    If you like this article then I definitely recommend checking out all the in-depth tutorials that I have up on my website, https://www.soundshockaudio.com/tutorials/
    I go over all of the most important music production topics and most of them have videos!
    Thanks again!

  • Matt Allan - August 22, 2019 reply

    Yes! Get’s to the heart of the mixdown.

  • JayTay - August 23, 2019 reply

    This was surprising insightful, “correct,” and useful. Thanks!

    Daniel Strongin - August 27, 2019 reply

    Hey Jay Tay! I am happy to hear you enjoyed the article!
    If you like this article then I definitely recommend checking out all the in-depth tutorials that I have up on my website, https://www.soundshockaudio.com/tutorials/
    I go over all of the most important music production topics and most of them have videos!

  • Garry - August 23, 2019 reply

    GREAT information here!

  • Mark Sullivan - August 23, 2019 reply

    Nice Daniel… I never realized that mastering could done using standard commercial plug-ins. I can’t wait to give it a try. Using a reference track makes sense, I always use one to EQ my system when doing live shows.

    Daniel Strongin - August 27, 2019 reply

    Yes! It definitely can be done with commercial plugins!
    Yeah, a reference track is absolutely necessary.
    Feel free to check out all these free mastering plugins that I have up on my site if you are looking for other plugins to use as well as you standard commercial ones!
    https://www.soundshockaudio.com/mastering/

  • Sidnei Falanga - August 23, 2019 reply

    Muito obrigado por essas dicas, são realmente muito boas e precisas!
    Valeu vou seguir as suas dicas!

  • DeVora Cohen - August 24, 2019 reply

    Could you show the EQ’s on a graph so I can learn how to read the actual graph?

  • John Chatman - August 24, 2019 reply

    Great info when I’m doing my music I almost always have a problem with EQ thanks so much for the info.🔥

    Daniel Strongin - August 27, 2019 reply

    Thanks for checking out the article John! I appreciate it!
    If you like this article then I definitely recommend checking out all the in-depth tutorials that I have up on my website, https://www.soundshockaudio.com/tutorials/
    I go over all of the most important music production topics and most of them have videos!
    Thanks again John!

  • Lolo Rollins - September 2, 2019 reply

    Thanks for sharing such important information Daniel. You have made it so simple and clear.
    Lolo

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