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 20 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 some of the most popular posts I’ve written over the years to help get you started.

Topics include EQ & compression, mastering speakers, building a home mastering studio and loudness.

And, it’s all free !

So first:

What is mastering?

Here’s an overview:

Mastering is like Photoshop for Audio

- and here’s another one of my favourite posts on the subject

The heart and soul of mastering

Now to get into the details:

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. Many 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.

I recently set up a “home mastering studio” for myself, and posted a series of videos showing the process, talking a lot about monitoring. Take a look to find out how I got on:

Building a home mastering studio – Is it possible ?

And this post goes into more detail about choosing the right speakers for mastering

Mastering monitoring – how to choose speakers that are up to the challenge

Not all 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 this from a mixing perspective but it applies equally to mastering:

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 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 and videos:

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

How EQ can make your music sound louder – using LESS compression and limiting

How to sound loud on iTunes Radio – the surprising secret of U2′s new album

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 – it focuses on plugins but also offers an overview of my recommended mastering process on any system.

If you’d like more information, just enter your email in the box below and click the button !




Good luck !

So, there you go – I hope these posts helped you – if you liked them please share them with your friends. There are plenty more on my site and 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 in what ways. To find out more about working with me, click here.