Tag Archives: master my music

What Really Happens When You Master a Track?

[Editor’s Note: This blog is written by Steve Reble, and was originally featured on the LANDR Blog. LANDR’s Instant Mastering tool can help you fine-tune your next single, EP or album and is available through TuneCore before you distribute!]

The challenge of home producing is that, what you want your audience to hear, is rarely what they will hear.

Mastering studio

When I started out, my studio was totally barebones, just a small desk shoved in the corner of a skinny, vinyl floored room…

Monitors? I didn’t have monitors; I had headphones.

And yet, I expected my bedroom recording to stand up to the big guys. I wanted the drums to explode!

This was a tall order because where you mix – and what tools you have to mix – really impacts how your track sounds to other people.

And that’s where mastering comes in, making sure your audience hears the track the way you intended – no matter where it was created.

Here’s how.

THE FINAL MIX

If you’re happy with your final mix, your ears aren’t broken, it probably is that good. But unfortunately, you can’t invite everyone to your house to hear it how you hear it.

The mix is going to be colored by the room, monitors and headphones that you used in creating it.

It’s easy to test this, just take your freshly mixed track to your friend’s house, or better yet, try to play it in a club with booming speakers. But be forewarned, this can be a little deflating.

YOUR AUDIENCE

Second thing to consider is who are you making your music for?  And where are they listening to it – car, phone, club, headphones, home stereo?

Mastering makes small necessary corrections and adjustments to your whole track, so that listeners will have no idea where it was recorded and mixed. They’ll just hear you.

To highlight what’s going on behind the scenes of mastering, we used a track as a lab-rat.

COMPRESSION

Compression is the social lubricant that gets all the tracks interacting. Kinda like booze. Too little and everyone just sits around awkwardly and stares at the floor. Too much and things get odd. Find the sweet spot and you’ve got a killer party.

It does this by subtly taming peak volumes, making all the parts fit together – better.

A well mastered track is that party that no one can stop talking about.

No Compression

Compression

EQUALIZATION – The multi-tool of Mastering

Equalization, or EQ, does exactly what the name implies – it makes things equal – cutting frequency ranges that have too much and boosting areas that don’t have enough.

It can provide a ‘surgical’ correction; meaning it cuts into frequencies that are too harsh – like that obnoxious shaker part at 4kHz – removing the annoying factor, while keeping the part intact. It can also brighten, or refresh, a mix that’s just too muddy.

A well EQ’d master should translate well across a variety of playback systems – ensuring the overall sound is exactly what the artist intended.

So common problem terms – boomy, boxy, nasal, harsh, thin, dull, or dark – can be fixed by either boosting or cutting the appropriate frequency range.

Bad EQ

Good EQ:

STEREO ENHANCEMENT

These tools are the neat freaks of mastering. They don’t like clutter, particularly in the upper frequencies, and are best suited to a particularly narrow mix, by providing a more open and spacious sound.

Narrow:

Wide:

Once you’ve mastered, you should be able to take your track anywhere, and it will sound as good in your friend’s beat up Pinto as it does in your home studio. LANDR a track now and listen for how it’s treating your track.

These are the basic functions of mastering, of course there is plenty more intricacy; like aural exciters and multi-band compression, but this is a good overview to get you started.

Why Master Your Music? Everything I Wish I’d Known

[Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Rory Seydel, Community & Content Manager at LANDR. It was originally featured on the LANDR Blog.]

When I first started producing, I struggled with mastering; the often misunderstood—kinda complicated—sometimes confusing artform…

I spent months mixing my first album – I thought it would change my life. So when I finished, I sent my tracks to a renowned mastering engineer.

It cost $1,000. He gave me the indie rate.

I was beyond excited. But after the first listen, I felt a little defeated. It wasn’t as different as I expected, and some parts were squished where I expected them to boom.

Remastering wasn’t really an option.

It cost a lot of money for something I didn’t really understand, and wasn’t sure it worked.

Create and Master

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS MASTERING?

In the days before digital, mastering was largely about duplication (remember vinyl and tape?). But as technology progressed, and digital recording became the standard, mastering has evolved into fine-tuning how your music sounds.

Still, it’s an often misunderstood—kinda complicated—sometimes confusing artform…

Mastering is all about making your tracks sound as good to everyone else, as they do to you – smoothing out the wrinkles of your final mix without losing the character that makes your music yours.

Using a combination of tools like tasteful compression, EQ, limiting, stereo enhancement plus other tricks like aural excitation – mastering is the glue, varnish and polish that makes your music presentable to the world.

IS MASTERING STILL IMPORTANT?

Yes, definitely! Done right, mastering should solve 3 problems you face with your music:

1. You’re not hearing your music the same way your audience does. Poor acoustics in your room, the quality of your reference monitors and your mixing skills can all have a huge impact on your final sound. Mastering should fix this.

2. Music sounds different in all playback situations (home, the car radio, the club, on a streaming platform, when your mom buys your single online). Good mastering helps you sound your best everywhere and in all situations.

3. It’s easy to lose perspective on your music. This makes it hard to tell if your music actually sounds good. The point of mastering is to take a step back, look at the whole picture and fix any major problems you might have missed.

If the goal is to a connect with an audience, mastering helps build that connection.

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

We created LANDR because we believe that mastering is often expensive and frequently misunderstood. We wanted to give our tracks – and yours – a shot at standing up against the big fish without limiting your creative input, or making you broke in the process.

LANDR is a studio-quality alternative to expensive mastering engineers. It’s a second set of ears you can rely as a benchmark for quality.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

Take Brooklyn artist Govales for example: He makes amazing music in his bedroom. He trusts his ears and room for mixing. But he uses mastering to make sure his ideas get heard while adding a final polish:

“With ‘Freakazoid’ and LANDR, one of the key things I’ve been looking for is to bring out the low end and make the track knock that much more. You can definitely hear the Rhodes piano better, the whole track sparkles more.”

Have a listen to Freakazoid, mastered and unmastered and hear more on Soundcloud.


MASTER WHILE YOU MIX

One of the coolest – and least expected – things that’s happened since launching LANDR is the mid-mix master. Just pop your track into LANDR and see if it resonates. You can then make adjustments to your mix before committing to a final master.

It’s great for getting perspective on your work:

“I had never tried to master my stuff… I’d hand it off to someone else.. but the process for these last two projects is about really trusting my own mixes and putting them through LANDR. It helps me adjust my mixes and know what will pop.” – Govales

Why Master Music

ACTUALLY FINISH YOUR TRACKS

Finishing music is the hardest thing to do, I get it. But it’s also the most satisfying part of making music. In essence mastering IS finishing.

“LANDR can actually help you FINISH your music… that critical, final, elusive, mysterious step has been demystified. And the results speak for themselves.” –Tiga

So give mastering a try, and let us know what you think.


Rory Seydel is a lifer in the music game; When not busy recording, he’s writing or chatting with producers as LANDR’s Content and Community Manager. Ask him about making music, touring the world, and releasing albums. He will not shut up. Read more.