Top 5 Mastering Tips

Are you a producer, artist or songwriter that’s struggling with mastering?

Well, I have good news for you: We’ve grouped together our top 5 ideas for getting better home masters.  All you need are a few tools and your sensitive ears.

We’d always advise using a professional mastering studio but sometimes you just need to get your track to an acceptable volume, are in a rush to get a track tested that night or just short on cash - we’ve all been there!


Here are 5 proven ways to master your songs:


1.   Use references to your advantage

A reference song or track is a song that is similar in sonic qualities to what you want your song to sound like.

This includes loudness, dynamic range, and the overall frequency distribution. You can also choose a reference that’s in the same genre as the song you’re working with. The more similarities between the reference and your song, the better.

Remember that this is the mastering stage, so while listening to your references, you should focus on the finished aesthetic as well as the interaction between the individual parts.


2.   Use appropriate meters

If you’re not an experienced mastering engineer, you may need visual cues that would assist your judgment.

These visual cues or representations are called meters. There are different kinds of meters that can assist you. First, do not rely on the meter on your master channel. It may . not give enough accurate information.

A LUFS meter displays the loudness level of your sound. It shows the levels both at the moment and the average loudness level of the whole song.

The average loudness level is important for the different platforms you wish to put your music on. Each platform has its average loudness requirements.


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3.   Use spectrum analyzers

This is important if your ears are not very sensitive to frequencies or your room is not very well treated.

The frequencies you may not hear will be displayed using the visual spectrum analyzer.  You can analyze the frequencies of your reference track and compare it with yours. A good frequency analyzer will point you to potential issues that you may not hear.

For the best experience, use animated analyzers that show the frequency response as the music progresses.  This way, you can see the distribution in different sections of the song.

Compare this distribution to your reference track and see where you need to make changes.


Note: As amazing as visualisers can be, it's worth noting they should be used in conjunction with your ears.  The perfect visual shape may not be the perfect sound for your track.


4.   Learn to love your limiter.

A lot of producers struggle with concept of limiting and feel it will ‘crush’ their mix.  While this tool has the potential to do that, it is also a crucial element in controlling peaks and adding gain to your final master.

The limiters role (or any compressor with a ratio of 100:1) is to stop any peaks passing above our 0dB threshold, preventing clipping.

Obviously if we have a really loud snare that’s almost at 0dB then without the limiter we wouldn’t be able to add any more gain without clipping.


In this situation, pushing into the limiter would tuck in those really fast snare transients and in turn add some more gain to our overall level – Our track gets louder.


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5.   Listen across different systems

This is one of the oldest rules in the book.

Since your listeners will be using different listening devices to play your song, you should test your master across those different channels.

This is why a lot of producers talk about the “car test”, which simply means playing your mix with the car stereo to hear how it sounds.  Most people know their car system inside out so that familiarity can be incredibly helpful.

You should also test your sound on consumer speakers, bookshelf speakers, headphones, and even home theatre systems.  On the headphone front, the options have now become endless including high fidelity planar magnetic options.


Note: I often use my laptop speakers to check just how bright a mix is.  Laptop speakers are also a great way check out vocal levels but we’ll save that for another article.


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Of course, this is not all you need to know about mastering, but it is a good starting point, especially if you’re a beginner.

It's probably worth noting that sometimes problems in your mix can directly  effect headroom and the quality of your master.    We explored bass mixing recently which can have a huge effect on this - Check that blog article HERE

Words by Jennifer Max & Touch Loops.