Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced music maker who’s been doing this for years, mastering your own music is generally not a recommended practice for many reasons.
By understanding the process, however, there are ways in which you can improve your music production and engineering skills considerably, whether you end up doing regular audio mastering or not.
Mastering your own music
You may or may not have heard of artists like Brian Transeau or Moritz Von Oswald who have mixed and mastered their own records, but these unicorn-like examples are more often found in music movements with a DIY sentiment and sure don’t make it any easier for the rest of us.
Of course, audio mastering is an entirely different creative process to mixing or creating music for that matter, so a particular set of skills are required to achieve decent results.
Rather than creating sounds or summing multiple audio tracks, the focus of mastering revolves around preparing audio for different listening formats and platforms.
This means mastering for multichannel immersive audio formats, a physical medium such as vinyl, or a digital platform like Spotify is each its own specialized discipline with specific regulations and standards to adhere to.
Techniques may vary in each case, but one of the core aspects which is constant throughout is playback systems and ensuring that audio translates properly regardless of how it’s being consumed, from AirPods to car systems, laptop speakers to vintage hi-fi systems.
Today, there are so many options available to us that revolve around convenience. From simple all-in-one wizard-like plug-in interfaces like iZotope Ozone Elements to online instant mastering solutions, where buzzwords like AI are thrown around freely.
You could get decent results this way, provided your starting point is a great mix and it’s especially useful when dealing with a high volume of files. The only drawback is the lack of transparency with this method.
The process is as remote as it gets, often with little to no info on how exactly your audio is being altered or enhanced. So if you have no interest in learning about how audio mastering works, this might be for you.
iZotope Ozone 10 Elements Download
Whether you use native DAW plug-ins or a chain of specialized 3rd-party software processors, you still need to get to grips with the processes at play, and this is easier to get started with than you might think.
Start with the presets you like most and slowly deconstruct them until you’re proficient enough to create your own. Mastering plug-ins with modular interfaces allow you to add or remove sections from the signal path, and this is a great way to learn.
The more advanced professional-level software from Universal Audio, Flux, brainworx, and Zynaptiq starts to get expensive, and at anything between $100 – $400 per plug-in, this can be an unnecessary spending trap worth avoiding.
Here are some personal recommendations from my mastering chain:
Flux Solera v3 Download
Learning From A Pro
Building a relationship with an experienced engineer is the most effective way to gain insight into the best way to approach mastering your own music. Even if you have to save up to have one of your demos mastered, the experience is invaluable.
You’ll get an idea of the engineer’s tools, their creative process, and they will be able to provide some critique on how to improve the overall impact of your music production, from beginning to end.
If you can sit in on your mastering session, observe and ask a few questions. Otherwise, simply study the mastered audio file in relation to the one you originally sent off, and compare this to the quick masters you’ve done in your DAW.
Capitol Mastering Compressor
From metering to processing, dedicated hardware remains the best way to master audio. Professionals might use specialized mastering DAW systems, like Sadie and Sequoia in combination with their favourite bus processors.
As audio equipment goes, mastering tools from Manley, Crane Song, Shadow Hills, and SPL are some of the most expensive per unit you’ll find, even in 500-series format. What’s more, an amateur user on high-end gear is still only capable of mediocre results.
Hardware will teach you to use your ears faster, however, and the incredible resale value makes it a much lower-risk purchase compared to taking the plug-in route in the longterm.
Shadow Hills Industries Dual Vandergraph
More about mastering your own music:
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- PMC remains one of the most respected names in mastering loudspeakers.: PMC
- Frederic Stader of Music Matters Mastering source: Berlin ISM: Berlin ISM
- Mastering hardware from Dangerous Music, Tegeler Audio, and Maselec.: Sebastian Pociecha / Unsplash
- UAD_Capitol_Mastering_Compressor-widget: Plugin Boutique
- pb: Plugin Boutique