How to master your own music – the basics

Resources and information to get started now

Can you master your own music ?

Ian Shepherd

I’ve worked as a professional mastering engineer for over 15 years now, and my honest opinion is that with the technology available now, the answer is “Yes”.

Of course, as a mastering engineer I’d always recommend you take your music to a pro ! But I also realise that you may not want to – perhaps you want to learn how to master yourself, you may not have the budget for mastering – or maybe you even want to learn how to be a mastering engineer yourself.

And in that case I’d much rather you had the right information to do a great job of mastering your music. There’s a lot of advice out there – some of it is great, some of it is OK,and a lot of it is just terrible !

So, here are some links to “how to master” posts I’ve written over the years to help get you started. And, it’s all free !

So first:

What is mastering?

Here’s an overview:

Mastering is like Photoshop for Audio

- and here’s another, more detailed attempt to answer the same question:

What Is Mastering?

To cover some more detailed topics:

Monitoring

Perhaps the most crucial element of any mastering setup is the monitoring – the speakers and room you use to listen to your music in. Most professional mastering studios have speakers that cost as much as a large family car – and a room that has had several times that much spent on the acoustics alone.

Does that mean you can’t master your own stuff, without a speakers and room like that? No. But you do need to accept that monitoring is critical.

Not many of us have the luxury of a dedicated mastering setup, though. That’s OK – the most important thing is to learn how your monitoring sounds. Luckily that’s straightforward to do – I wrote a post that talks about it.

It talks about mixing but the idea is the same:

Learn what your monitoring sounds like

As an addition or alternative to this strategy, if you have a high-quality audio system where you listen to most of your music for pleasure – in your living-room, say – you could consider using a laptop to master there.

The key is to find a place where you have “gut instincts” about how your music should sound, and in some ways the distance you get by working on a different system can be valuable.

Compression and EQ

As well as understanding the ideas and goals of mastering, you’ll also need to understand normal, “single-band” compression and EQ. If you fancy a refresher, here are two articles to help.

Using compression to add punch, warmth and power to your mix

7 crucial EQ bands to help balance your mix

And this post describes the way I think and feel about compression, and how to decide what the settings should be.

Compression – The Punchbag Analogy

Mastering engineers sometimes use a particular type of compression known as multiband compression – it’s a complicated subject, but there’s a free webinar with an introduction to the subject here.

Multiband compression for mastering

Loudness

Loudness is a hot topic in mastering at the moment, and I’ve written a lot about the subject – here are a few example posts:

Measuring loudness – Avoid over-compressing your mix

How to master a song loud (and the price you pay)

Learn the Loudness War secret that will give YOUR music an edge

Mastering with plugins

I’m often asked if it’s possible to master your own music with just plugins, and the answer is Yes – if you know what you’re doing. I’ve created a free email “Quickstart” course to help get you started with this – if you’d like more information, click here.

Good luck !

So, there you go – I hope these posts helped you – if you liked them please share them with your friends. I’d love to know what you think, so please drop me a line and say Hello!

You can find me on Twitter (@prodAdvice), Facebook and Google+

I’ll look forward to talking to you !

PS

If all of this is actually starting to feel more like work than fun – that’s OK ! You have to be a little strange to want to be a mastering engineer anyway : ) Feel free to get in touch for a free assessment of your music. I’ll give you an honest opinion about how much your mixes would benefit from mastering, and maybe even do a demo for you, if you like. To find out more about working with me, click here.