Limited mastering skills is one of the main setbacks for beginners who are trying to get their tracks signed. The problem lies in fact that the tracks are not properly prepared for commercial use. This article reveals 13 audio mastering techniques for beginner producers.
1. Diagnose audio problems early
Listen carefully to the mix-down you are about to master and try to diagnose audio problems from the outset. The whole mastering chain will depend on your conclusions at this point.
2. Begin with the input levels
Start by gently gaining the input levels. This allows you to raise the input volume going into another plugin in the mastering chain. The amount of gaining will be dependent on headroom space left in mix-down.
3. Leverage EQ plugins
Use EQ plugins like FabFilter Pro-Q 2 to cut off unnecessary frequencies. Usually frequencies below 30 and over 18000 Hz are unnecessary. Pay attention to the 400 Hz area as this is the area most likely to sound a bit muddy.
4. Compress for added punch
Compress your mix-down to get an extra punch. A track with great dynamic range feels exciting, not lifeless and fatiguing. Great compression plugins comes from Waves and Sonalksis.
5. Use stereo enhancement tools
Use 3D stereo tools to scan the stereo image of a track. If it’s not wide enough use stereo enchantment tools like S1 Stereo Enhancer. The top and upper-mid frequencies can be widened a little. Lower frequencies will usually stay centered.
6. Add extra color to your master
If necessary add an extra color to your final master. This is a very subjective concept based on individual perceptions. Use saturation plugins like FabFilter Saturn, SPL TwinTube or Sound Toys Decapitator.
7. Include limiter on master bus
Be sure to include limiter on master bus. Limiting is where you drive the signal, and that always comes at the end of the signal chain. Recommended limiters include Waves L2, FabFilter Pro L or UAD Maximizer.
8. Test, test and test again
Test your final master. Listen to it on different sound systems, invite some friends to listen as well and ask them what they think of the sound quality. Listen to some good quality tracks online and compare them to you own.
9. Export premium quality
Export the highest quality options you have. Go with a 24bit .wav or .aiff file as they are lossless. Exporting as 320kbps .mp3 is also fine, especially if you need a smaller file.
10. Leave room to work with
Your final master will depend purely on the quality of mix you are working with. Before mastering, make sure there is enough headroom (around 4-5db) to work with, and that individual elements sound smooth together.
11. Less is more
When it comes to mastering, the golden rule is not to overdo anything. Each and every element in the mastering chain should be carefully applied, based on casue and effect knowledge.
12. Take breaks
Never let your mastering session go all day. Rest your ears. Before you call your master finished, take a break and get a fresh perspective on final nuances.
13. Practice makes perfect
Mastering is the art of audio engineering and is a skill that comes with time and practice. Some tracks take weeks or even months to master properly.