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.


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.


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 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


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:


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.



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.

  • Mindless Muzik

    You could always use LANDR, or you can have a human give it the treatment it deserves since every song has different needs that can’t all be accurately addressed with a upload/preset system. Shameless plug for my services: https://www.fiverr.com/s2/d6e4d2

    • ttt

      Agreed. But there are more brilliant mastering engineers in the world. Just try to find them. Most of them offer a free test-mastering. So you really won’t lose anything and instead have the chance to get a way better sound than by hurrying though LANDRs machine-based and unindividual preset-mastering-service.

  • The technique of mastering still eludes me. I’m yet to find an engineer that can deliver top quality masters every time no matter how much you pay. Sometimes they deliver, some times they don’t. It’s a temperamental craft.

    • Audio Engineer

      The most important thing is how good the source is. A mastering engineer can only be as good as the music and the communication about it. For example, making everything loud – like LANDR does – is no art. If you, as the customer, aren’t able to differentiate between loaud ang GOOD sounding, there will be a problem. Every good mastering-engineer will try to attempt to achieve a good sound, which is not necessarily a loud sound. So what really makes or breaks the collaboration between a mastering-studio and their customers is communication and the ability to listen – on both sides. And this also is what separates the boys (LANDR) from the men (Mastering Engineer).

      • This makes sense. I can totally agree with the communication being a vital component in getting a master you’re happy with. One thing that really gets to me though is when an engineer would quite happily take your money and master a track and then when you’re not happy, that’s when they say how poor the mix was and that there wasn’t much they could do. I think more than anything a good mastering engineer needs to have enough integrity to say upfront that a mix is too bad to even attempt mastering.

        • Dropjaw Bertone

          I highly recommend Steve Corrao at Sage Mastering in Nashville. He has done my last 4 albums and he’s affordable and extremely competent. Tell him Dropjaw Bertone sent you! http://www.sagemastering.com

  • Jeff

    I have pretty good success with T-Racks.

  • John Scott

    thanks..I may just try one…

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  • Audio Engineer

    LANDR is one bad thing for music. If you want to know what is real good sound, always hire an experienced mastering engineer. You’ll not get a good result from such a computer-algo. Especially for those who are producing in their own – more than sub-optimal environment – it is crucial, to have a listen by a good engineer with a pair of real ears, not pressing it through such kind of processing like LANDR. That is what you could easily do yourself by buying waves Ultramaximizer and be done with it (but with the same poor results). But most of the time this does not work either for them. And that is why LANDR is taking its chance to sell their service to the unexperienced ones, making them believe it would be a good thing for their music, when in fact it isn’t. Marketing is not making music and good sound.

  • Thexube

    The key component in mastering is communication from both sides. There must be a clear understanding from the customer that what is possible with the master depends entirely on the quality of the mix and the engineer must be clear about what they can deliver. The mixing and mastering service we run is ideal because the client only pays if they are happy. We work with newly qualified engineers who are more interested in experience than money.

    Check out our service here


  • Each track needs to be treated uniquely for what works best for it…A preset program like LANDR may give it a boost, but nothing beats dedicated human sweat and blood treatment. I can help out artists who need help with mixing and mastering. Hit me up if you need help in this area on a track: https://www.fiverr.com/dualsrecords/give-a-polished-and-professional-sounding-mix-and-master-for-your-song?funnel=ba0e62c6-1c19-48aa-9ed5-a866d45c3f09

  • China David

    This is the most tricky part of music making. It really gets to me everytime. Some people took some courses on mixing and mastering, but they aren’t as good as the guy who strat his stuff in the garage. Learned ears people, that’s all. No big machines better than small machines in this business. Learned Ears and software skills, laptop, soundboard,monitors and 🎧, You cross river Jordan home and dry