Did you know that if music creators develop their business skills they are more likely to succeed in music and be happy? This month’s Amplifier, in partnership with Artist Republik, covers a bit of insight into the tracking, mixing and mastering process.

What is song mastering, and why does it matter? During a song’s post-production phase, mastering acts as the final step in the process. The purpose of song mastering is to polish the audio, giving it a clean and cohesive feeling all around. This step is what makes the track sound flawless wherever it’s eventually played out, whether that be in your earbuds, your car’s stereo system, or on the sound system at a concert. Without mastering, a song won’t be fully optimized for playback.

Song Mastering: Why It Matters for Audio Quality

When you hear commercial music on the radio, or your favorite streaming platform, you may notice that all the songs sound professional, the volume levels are balanced from song to song.

In contrast, when you record your rock band on a boombox cassette tape in the garage and play it back, the volume level and sound clarity are going to sound vastly inferior to those commercial tracks mentioned earlier.

The reason for the stark difference in sound quality between those two previous examples is that there are three main aspects to recording music, which are:

  • Tracking Your Song
  • Mixing Your Song
  • Mastering Your Song

Let’s walk through each briefly to help really explain how and why mastering as a final step is critical to your songs sounding professionally produced and commercially viable.

Step 1: Tracking Your Song

This is, in its simplest terms, capturing the music being performed or produced so it can be played back. That can be either recording your music digitally to a computer-based DAW (digital audio workstation), or in analog to tape.

Examples of DAWs available at the time of this article include:

  • GarageBand
  • Logic
  • Reason
  • FL Studio
  • ProTools
  • BandLab
  • (and many others)

In the tracking stage you’re capturing all the different parts of your song — each instrument as it relates to the whole of the song’s composition.

Step 2: Mixing Your Song

Once the tracks of all your instruments are recorded, mixing is the practice of balancing the positions of each instrument or sound in relation to each other and the stereo field. There are four main quadrants in the stereo field and three main tools that help you position each sound in your recorded song to build a cohesive whole:

  1. Panning: moves sounds to the left or right side of the stereo field
  2. Reverb: makes sounds seem further in the background
  3. Compression: brings forward sounds that you want to feel more up front in the stereo field

Mixing helps you create depth, texture, and space between the instruments and the way your listener hears those sounds in the stereo field.

Step 3: Mastering Your Song

All the tracking and mixing leads up to the final step: mastering. Song mastering, or music mastering, is the full optimization of the final song mix.

During a song’s post-production phase, mastering acts as the last step in the process. The purpose of song mastering is to polish the audio, giving it a clean and cohesive feeling all around. This step is what makes the track sound exceptional wherever it’s eventually played — in your earbuds, your car stereo system, or on a concert grade sound system.

What goes into song mastering?

A song must go through a mastering phase to be ready for distribution and ultimately get the download and streams by fans. A mastered song can be easily distribute ready across various formats like vinyl, CD, radio, and streaming.

Mastering works out any kinks missed during the mixing process, ensuring the final version is free of unwanted clicks, hisses, etc. The balance of the mix is enhanced with tools like equalization, compression, audio restoration, saturation, limiting, and stereo enhancement to achieve a fully mastered sound that can compete in its level of quality with other commercially produced and distributed songs.

Can I master my own recordings?

If you’re familiar with mastering recordings and have the kind of tools available to do so, you certainly can. However, due to the details and complex nature of mastering songs this is one step in the recording process that you will likely want to leave to a professional, even if you are pretty good at the tracking and mixing phases of the process.

Mastering your songs can get expensive especially when you’re just starting out. So in a pinch you can get by with some of the blanket mastering software solutions out there to help boost the levels of your final mix. Things like iZotope, eMastering, or even BandLab, but if you have the means and access to a mastering professional, hiring them to master your song recordings is your best path.

You’ll be glad you did.

What’s the difference between mixing and mastering?

The mix is the recorded audio, and the master is the source in which all copies can be produced via multiple platforms. The goal of song mastering is the get the mix ready for distribution.

Mixing always comes before mastering during the song development process. Mixing includes but is not limited to building the instrumentals and adding vocals to a track. During this step, an artist layers various pieces of audio together to record the song how they like.

Due to the complex nature of mastering, an artist will typically need to hire someone else to master the song and work out any mistakes made during the mixing process. Mixing and mastering processes are entirely different, so someone keen on one may not necessarily be an expert at the other. It’s best to get a professional involved during this step, so you don’t miss anything important!

Today’s Action: Find a Song Mastering Professional

There are several mastering professionals available online to help make your next release sound amazing. If you don’t already have access to one, try browsing for Mastering Engineers. If you need some help from our team, reach out today and schedule a free consultation to chat about your upcoming recording project.

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