15 mastering tips from pros
Now that you’re done composing and recording, it’s time to take on the final step: Mastering. Let these experts share with you their mastering tips and tricks.
Once considered a dark art, we’ve done our utmost to illuminate the mastering process in these pages over the last few years. Here’s some of our best advice…
Wired Masters was established in 2003 and specialises in advanced mastering techniques, including stem mastering. Cass is one of the co-founders of the innovative studio.
Top Tip “If you’re making future house and trying to make a track like Lucas & Steve, get a Lucas & Steve track, drop the volume to the same level as yours and compare them. Ask yourself if they’re in the same ballpark, or if they’re worlds apart. If they are worlds apart, perhaps mastering is not an option yet and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and have a look at your mix again.”
Read our full interview with Cassian here.
Leon is a mastering engineer with an impressive resume that includes working on projects for the likes of Pink, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Beastie Boys and Willie Nelson.
Top Tip “Learn about music. It’s not all about mastering, it’s about music. Learn different styles of music. Learn what the people want to hear and really try to identify yourself with that style of music. And then definitely try to do as much work as you can.”
The prolific mastering engineer has worked on over 4,000 different projects from within The Lodge studio, including Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Beck, Morrissey, Foo Fighters and Dolly Parton.
Top Tip “I think that the most common mistakes in mastering can actually be traced back many years to an issue commonly referred to as the ‘Loudness Wars’ – when source mixes are delivered to each stage at an exceedingly loud volume, each stage tries to ‘beat’ the stage that came before it. This trend adds distortion, reduces audio fidelity as a whole and, for some listeners, creates a completely unenjoyable experience.”
Read our full interview with Emily here.
MusicTech’s go-to mastering expert and scribe, Mike, is currently working as one of Metropolis Studios’ integral mastering personnel.
Top Tip “Patience and a keen ear for detail. Mixing is all about ego and big bold moves. Mastering is the opposite. You have to leave your ego at the door and focus on tiny details. We work in 1/2dB or sometimes even smaller steps, making dozens of changes that, on their own, are almost indiscernible, but together make a good mix into something special.”
Read our full interview with Mike here.
Andrew has been a mastering engineer for 14 years. Working out of Studio 301, he has worked on projects for Matt Corby, 5 Seconds Of Summer and The Kite String Tangle.
Top Tip “If you’re starting out as a mastering engineer, you need to consider services like Landr as an absolute baseline, above which you can have a successful career in terms of quality. You cannot succeed as a mastering engineer if you’re producing results that are lower quality than Landr, so you can actually use it as a training tool to make your own masters better and therefore make your career more successful.”
One of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most respected producers and mastering engineers, Mark Pistel has had a career spanning over three decades and has worked with a vast range of artists, including Grace Jones.
Top Tip “One of the main issues I find when listening to other masters is that some people make tracks louder than they need to be and over-limit – this goes for artists too – delivering tracks that are simply too hot. There’s nowhere to go from there but down. Do yourself and your mastering engineer a favor and get rid of that digital master buss compression on your mix!”
Read our full interview with Mark here.
The Abbey Road mastering engineer has worked there since the age of 19, and has since been responsible for mastering and vinyl cutting projects from some of the most influential artists of our time, including Bjork, Franz Ferdinand, Ed Sheeran, Jonny Greenwood and Ella Fitzgerald.
Top Tip “Don’t master inside your mixing session: Bounce the file out, begin a new session, reset your brain and recalibrate the way you’re going to approach the music. Once you’re inside that session, choose the right tools for the job and perhaps, if you’re new to it, reference against other material you know. Use something as a reference to help but don’t set yourself unrealistic expectations of hitting a super-high standard from the off.”
Read our full interview with Christian here.
Our in-house mastering expert, Adam, penned a massive feature for us this year, detailing numerous innovative and modern ways of approaching the mastering process.
Top Tip “Mastering often involves correcting problems within the mix, and this can often lead to compromises having to be made between competing factors. For example, there may be a distinct harshness in a hi-hat or cymbals that requires a bit of EQ to remedy, but this EQing may then be detrimental to another aspect of the mix, impacting the clarity of the vocal, perhaps.”
Metropolis mastering engineer Pete Hewitt-Dutton explained the process of half-speed mastering to us, and advised that it results in a much better end result than a standard approach.
Top Tip “Every area of the audio sounds better when cut at half speed. So for dance music, you will get a tighter, punchier bass; pop benefits from the stability of the centre image and clarity of the vocal, and the open, clear top end sounds great on classical recordings.”
Read our full interview with Pete here.
Based in Las Vegas, Luca Pretolesi adds the magic touch to tracks by Major Lazer, Diplo, David Guetta, Nicki Minaj and more.
Top Tip “There can be a compromising of dynamic range in an effort to make a track louder. It’s important to experiment and understand with plug-in presets, but what a lot of younger engineers forget is that the result of great mastering should really only be two or three percent, so if you’re slamming the final mix you are completely altering the song.”
Read our full interview with Luca here.
“For self-masters, use a limiter and turn up db while monitoring the dynamic range and the compression amount. If you mixed the track well, it will sound good.” – Thomas Nguyen
“Invest in a hardware compressor. It will almost always have a better and richer sound than software compression. Don’t master your tracks separately, but create one long master for all your tracks.” – Bas de Zwart
“If you’re mastering on the same equipment you’re mixing on, you’ll be subject to the same colour from your speakers and room, which can make it difficult to be completely sonically subjective about what you’re working on.” – Marc JB
“Patience is key, to be able to listen and interpret what the production team want. Have a huge array of references – that’s also a big thing.” – Mandy Parnell
“I use Har-Bal to analyze the freq distribution of my tracks. I can then boost an area that seems lacking.” – Joseph Farrish
Check this for more music-making tips from the pros. For more essential guides, head here.
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