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How to master an audio track


I confer with it as “The Nice Thriller of Audio.” For years, I knew it existed, I knew it was necessary…

See more: How to master an audio track

…however I had NO thought what it was.

I’d ask individuals again and again, and I’d get again the identical reply:

“…I dunno. It makes the songs louder?”

I’ve since discovered the secrets and techniques of audio mastering, and I’ve realized one thing necessary:

It’s SIMPLE. It’s not straightforward, thoughts you. It takes good ears and numerous follow. However it’s SIMPLE.

In actual fact, you possibly can grasp your individual mixes at residence in simply 14 straightforward steps.

On this article you’re going to be taught what mastering is, why you need to get your songs mastered, and how one can grasp a monitor in your individual residence.

Need to Be a Skilled Mastering Engineer?

With Blake LaGrange’s Mastering Accelerator you’ll be taught the talents you should change into a mastering engineer.

So if you wish to create jaw dropping masters for paying shoppers, watch this masterclass now:

However in the event you simply wish to be taught all about mastering particularly, hold studying.

The best way to Grasp a Music at Dwelling

What’s Mastering?

Let’s shed some mild on this thriller.

Audio Mastering is the ultimate step of the blending course of. It’s what occurs to a music earlier than it will get launched to the world.

Mastering a music is just utilizing instruments like EQ, compression, saturation, and limiting to perform these three issues:

  1. To make the monitor louder (not simply in quantity, but in addition in PERCEIVED quantity. Extra on that later).
  2. To make the monitor “sound higher.”
  3. To make the monitor extra translatable to all totally different sorts of audio system.

It additionally creates “Purple E-book” customary information for CD printing and audio streaming. However we’re not going to cowl that right here.

The purpose of mastering is to make a music “sound like” different skilled songs in the marketplace, in order that after they’re heard on the radio, or in a playlist, or within the credit of a film, they don’t sound misplaced.

You additionally wish to grasp your songs when you’re placing out an album or an EP, to verify all of the songs are the identical quantity and have the identical “tone.”

However it at its core…

Mastering is all about getting a second opinion.

You probably have been mixing a music, you now not have objectivity. You’ve heard each second of that blend again and again.

Realizing the place the issue areas are is ten instances harder for you!

Mastering is a really particular step with its personal difficulties, so sure audio engineers started to focus on these strategies. These mastering engineers have been capable of get higher outcomes than anybody else.

However right here’s the REAL cause mastering engineers exist:

To offer you a set of contemporary ears.

mixing and mastering a track

Consider it like getting a second opinion after you’ve gone to the physician.

These execs have a brand new room.

A brand new set of audio system.

And finally, a brand new opinion.

As a result of mastering engineers haven’t heard your music earlier than, they will catch the errors you’ve revamped hours and hours of blending. They’ll make your music sound even higher than it did earlier than.

Studying how one can grasp a music is necessary, as a result of it adjustments the way you combine. In the end, you wish to combine with the grasp in thoughts. If want be, you wouldn’t wish to not need to grasp the music in any respect.

However hiring an expert offers you what hours of follow can’t: objectivity. That’s why I like to recommend hiring one to work in your mixes.

If value or time is a matter for you, although, then I’d advocate attempting an automatic mastering service like LANDR or Aria.

These are simply algorithms that may analyze your music and optimize it to sound like an ordinary launched monitor, so that they’re not excellent.

code on a computer screen

They’ll by no means be nearly as good as a pair of skilled human ears.

However they’re surprisingly good for fast masters or demos, and so they’re low-cost too.

If for some cause I don’t wish to rent an expert, usually I’ll ship a replica of the combination to Aria to do an automatic grasp after which grasp the combination myself as nicely.

Whichever I like higher after listening to each, I hold.

If you happen to use this technique, make sure that to stay with no matter you select for the complete venture. If you happen to’re releasing an EP, for instance, you don’t need two songs mastered by Aria and two songs mastered by you. You need consistency.

So, to evaluate:

  • Study to grasp as a result of it should enhance your mixes,
  • As a result of they are often goal, your masters will sound greatest in the event you rent an expert,
  • And if want be, use an automatic mastering service like Aria to do a “shootout” with your individual grasp. Whichever you decide, use to your whole venture.

The best way to Grasp Music

So now that you recognize what audio mastering is (and when to let a professional deal with it), let’s discover ways to do it!

Crucial factor to comprehend is that this:

The key to a profitable grasp is preparation.

I exploit the Sharpen the Axe method to mastering…

“Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the primary 4 sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln


The primary 8 of those 14 steps are ALL preparation! With out it, you’ll be mastering blind.

So with out additional ado, right here’s the 14 Steps to Grasp Your Combine:

infograph on how to master your mix in 14 steps

Step 1: Optimize Your Listening Area

Mastering is a refined artwork. Extraordinarily small strikes can change how your whole combine sounds.

Due to this, you wish to make sure that your listening house is as correct as doable.

mixing room

Let’s consider it this manner. If you happen to have been to grasp your music PERFECTLY – with excellent steadiness, loudness, and pleasure – however your room is poorly tuned, it doesn’t matter!

Your music would possibly sound wonderful in your house, however it should disintegrate all over the place else.

If, as an example, your room has additional bass construct up, then your low finish will appear louder than it truly is. So in the event you get your low finish to steadiness completely in your room, what’s it going to sound like all over the place else?

Skinny. Lifeless.

Clearly, you don’t need that.

Now, there’s just a few issues you are able to do to repair this. To begin with, you possibly can correctly deal with your mixing room with acoustic panels. I cowl how to do that in my final information to establishing a house studio.

If you happen to don’t wish to spend the time or cash to deal with your room, you can too simply take the room out of the equation by utilizing headphones.

I like to recommend the Sennheiser HD600’s. It’s additionally price utilizing a headphone compensation software program like Sonarworks Reference and Waves NX. These assist to steadiness your headphones and make it sound like you’re in an actual room, and fewer like you’re in a vacuum.

Step 2: End Your Combine (to Sound Mastered).

That is self-explanatory. Be sure to end the combination first!

mixing fader

Mastering is the final step of the blending course of for a cause. Be sure to’re not attempting to do each on the identical time.

One necessary factor to do is to combine your music to sound mastered. Whereas this doesn’t imply to actually try and grasp your music whereas mixing, it does imply you wish to adequately put together your combine for the grasp.

You need it to sound balanced in most methods, dynamically constant, and thrilling.

Relatively than anticipating the mastering engineer to make your combine sound extra “stereo”, do it your self with panning.

Relatively than anticipating the mastering engineer to make your combine extra energetic, do it your self with saturation.

After all, you don’t wish to overdo something. You continue to need the combination to sound as skilled as doable. However the rule of thumb is that this:

You need the mastering engineer to need to do little or no!

Step 3: Verify the Ranges.

Earlier than you bounce (export) your combine, you wish to guarantee that nothing is clipping. Digital distortion can usually be quiet when you’re mixing, however through the mastering stage all the little imperfections in your mixes change into very apparent.

Be sure to have headroom on ALL of your faders. Any channel, buss, or ship wants to remain out of the purple.

logic pro volume meter

Hopefully, that is one thing you have been capable of repair earlier than the tip of the combination. It’s at all times higher to start out the combination by correctly achieve staging your tracks and ensuring nothing is clipping as you go.

You additionally wish to guarantee that the stereo output isn’t clipping and has sufficient headroom to work with whereas mastering.

You need the loudest a part of your music to be peaking between -4 to -6dB on the stereo output.

Step 4: Bounce Down Your Stereo Monitor.

Subsequent step could be very easy. Simply bounce down your stereo monitor as its personal file.

exported song mix

Make sure that to maintain your venture settings precisely the identical when exporting. If you happen to recorded in 24 bit, bounce the file at 24 bits. If you happen to recorded at a decision of 48kHz, bounce your file at 48kHz. So on and so forth.

Just a few extra issues:

Be sure to are bouncing the file in your most popular lossless format. DO NOT export the music as an MP3! That’ll be carried out after the mastering. Export it as a wav or an aiff file.

Additionally, in case your DAW has a “normalize” choice when bouncing, make sure that to not use it. Normalizing is actually a crude solution to make your monitor louder. We’re going to try this throughout mastering ourselves. No want to leap the gun.

If you happen to want a reminder of all this, I’ve made a mastering guidelines only for this text.

It’s an awesome reference to make use of to keep away from making any errors with all this data!

Get it right here:

Step 5: Take a Break (of at LEAST One Day).

Make sure that to provide your ears a break!

taking a break

Mastering is a sport of small, refined adjustments, so that you need your ears to be contemporary earlier than beginning.

Much more importantly, you need your thoughts to be contemporary.

If you happen to’ve been engaged on the combination for hours (or days), then there’s no method you could be neutral whereas mastering.

Take a day break at a minimal. Ideally, take a number of days. Every week. A month, even!

The longer period of time between you mixing and also you mastering, the extra goal you could be (and the higher your masters might be!)

Step 6: Create a New Challenge and Import Your References.

Open up a brand new venture and import your combine into it. Then import your references on a monitor beneath it.

I’m going to take this chance to get on my soapbox and preach for a second. Reference tracks are one of many greatest secrets and techniques to a profitable combine and a profitable grasp.

You want one thing to match to whilst you’re doing all your work. In any other case you is likely to be making combine strikes that sound nice in a vacuum, however disintegrate when in comparison with different mixes in the true world.

Having professionally combined music to hearken to every now and then whilst you work will hold you targeted and making the perfect selections for the music.

Step 7: Pay attention for The First Time (and Take Notes).

Alright, we’re lastly going to get began!

First issues first: you should hearken to your monitor.

mixing on a computer

Don’t scoff. The primary hear is an extremely necessary step.

If you happen to gave your self sufficient time, it’s been just a few days because you’ve heard your combine. You’re coming at it with contemporary ears.

This would be the most sincere you can be with your self. You’ll hear 80% of the issues on this first hear.

Make sure that to maintain a notepad by you, or open up a textual content doc in your pc. Take notes as you hear. These notes will change into the idea of your strikes whereas mastering.

Does the excessive finish sound too brittle? Too uninteresting?

Does the vocal stick out? Is it buried?

Does the monitor sound muddy? Does it sound too boring?

Write all these things down. You solely get one first hear. Make it rely!

Step 8: Make a Full Evaluation.

Now it’s time to drag out all of the stops.

taking notes about the mix

Pay attention by means of the monitor just a few instances. Write down what you hear.

Take heed to your references, then hearken to your monitor. Write down what you don’t hear (or what you hear an excessive amount of of).

Pay attention in your different audio system. Pay attention in your headphones. Write down what you hear.

Pay attention in your iPhone. Pay attention in your automobile. Write down what you hear.

The purpose of that is to have an correct picture of what your music CURRENTLY feels like and what it NEEDS to sound like.

That method you may make intentional mastering selections, fairly than simply utilizing your instruments at random.

Now, let’s discuss your references.

There’s just a few issues you are able to do (apart from use your ears) to make use of these to their highest potential.

You probably have a graphic analyzer, you should utilize it to match the frequency spectrum of the 2 mixes.

frequency spectrum analysisThis may enable you to use your eyes in addition to your ears. What seems to be too excessive or too low on yours?

Do not forget that this isn’t an ideal science. Each music’s frequency spectrum goes to look totally different.

That is only a trick that will help you discover downside areas that mights be much less apparent to your ears.

One other trick you are able to do is use a filter to hear to simply the low finish of the reference. I present you ways to try this right here:

Simply bear in mind this: context is essential in audio mastering! It’s extra necessary that one thing sounds good in relation to different songs than simply sounding good in a vacuum.

One necessary factor to notice: be sure you match their quantity to the amount of your combine. In any other case, your ear goes to listen to variations that simply aren’t there.

Loudness impacts the best way we hear sound. As we flip music up, our brains interpret that sound as having extra bass and extra treble.

So in case your reference tracks are too loud or too smooth, your masters gained’t be balanced!

Step 9: Management the Dynamics.

Now, you’ve prepped sufficient. Time to get to work!

The very first thing to do is so as to add some compression. We wish to guarantee that the dynamics of the whole monitor are being managed.

You need the music to really feel “glued” collectively.

Right here’s the way you arrange your mixbus compression:

infograph on how to set up mixbus compression

You don’t need that a lot compression in any respect. 1-2dBs of achieve discount is loads. You shouldn’t go any larger than 3dB.

That is getting utilized to the whole monitor, so a bit of goes a great distance.

Air on the facet of warning together with your assault time. Too quick, and you would make the whole music sound uninteresting. Begin your assault round 10ms, and tweak it from there. If it’s a quicker music, transfer it up a tad. If it’s slower, transfer it down.

On your launch time, use your auto-release perform you probably have it. That can more than likely produce essentially the most pure sound. If you happen to don’t have that capacity, begin your launch time round 150ms and tweak from there.

The sport right here is subtlety. Small strikes make extra distinction right here than they do in a combination.

Use your ears! If issues begin sounding too uninteresting or too aggressive, you’ve gone too far.

Step 10: Repair the Tone.

The following step is to get the tone of your music balanced together with your references.

Your major device goes to be EQ. Make sure that to make use of a linear EQ in case your DAW has one. These are EQs which can be made primarily for affecting a number of devices without delay. They’re additional “clear”, and so they’re excellent for mastering within the field.

eqing a master

Return to your notes. What did you write down that wanted to be mounted? Extra prime finish? Extra low finish? Much less mud?

Use your linear EQ to form the tone of the music to resolve these issues.

With mastering, you wish to use broad cuts and boosts. Throughout mixing, slim cuts are typically extra widespread. However that goes out the door when it’s utilized to the whole music.

Attempt to not increase/reduce greater than 3dB. Your strikes whereas mastering have to be refined. Huge adjustments will change the very basis of your combine.

Typically a slight Excessive Go Filter could be good, if you’re feeling an excessive amount of sub-bass vitality within the music. I’d warning in opposition to utilizing a Low Go Filter, nonetheless. That might make the music sound muffled and uninteresting.

Our different most important device for this step is multiband compression.

logic pro multiband compressor

Let’s say that after you end your EQing, the verses are completely balanced. However the refrain nonetheless has an excessive amount of low finish thump, and it overpowers the vocals.

If you happen to have been to easily reduce extra of the bass utilizing your EQ, that may repair the issue within the refrain, however your verses would undergo.

Enter multiband compression. Principally, it has the power to compress solely a particular frequency vary, fairly than compressing the whole monitor. Whenever you’re attempting to repair tones which can be inconsistent all through the music, this device is for you.

A multiband compressor works the identical method as an everyday compressor. You continue to have your threshold, ratio, assault, launch, and make-up achieve. Nothing is totally different.

You simply need to set the vary of frequencies you need it to behave on.

If I used to be attempting to repair an inconsistent low finish for instance, I’d set my vary for 20Hz-150Hz and shoot for 2-3dBs of achieve discount. You don’t want an excessive amount of, since you need it to simply be utilized to the inconsistent components, not the whole music.

compressing low end with a multiband compressor

Just a few phrases of warning relating to multiband compression:

  • You don’t wish to use any make-up achieve when you’re utilizing a multiband compressor to repair points. Compression naturally turns loud sounds down. However once you use make-up achieve to place the monitor on the identical quantity stage as earlier than, you’re truly doing the other – turning the smooth sounds up. In case your purpose is to make sure components of the frequency spectrum quieter, then including make-up achieve will do the other of your intention.
  • Until the combination requires it, don’t use a couple of band. In any other case you possibly can trigger extra issues than you resolve.
  • Multiband compression is a strong device. It’s not at all times obligatory when mastering. Use it rigorously, and use it solely when wanted!

Step 11: Improve the Combine.

Now that we’ve balanced the music dynamically and tonally, we are able to add just a few enhancements.

Earlier than we get began: These are OPTIONAL. If you happen to combine doesn’t name for it, don’t use it. All the time an excellent rule of thumb.

The primary enhancement you would use is saturation. This may very well be a saturation plugin, a tape emulation, or an exciter. They’re all variations of the identical idea.

klanghelm saturation plugin

Saturation can be utilized so as to add a bit of “coloration” to the combination. It makes the combination really feel a bit of fuller, a bit of extra intense, a bit of extra thrilling. It’s nice in case your combine continues to be feeling a bit of skinny or underwhelming.

It may possibly simply do extra hurt than good, although. Oversaturating your combine will add distortion and take away among the nuance and dynamics of the combination. It may possibly doubtlessly make the combination sound flatter.

So don’t add it except you want it. As with all of those: a bit of goes a great distance!

One other enhancement choice is stereo widening. This device helps the music to sound wider and extra separated than earlier than.

brainworx stereo expansion plugin

It’s nice for when the combination sounds clustered or shut collectively. Stereo widening might help unfold sounds aside, or it may make the combination sound “bigger than life.”

HOWEVER, it may additionally introduce part points into the combination, which signifies that each time the music was performed in mono, it might sound even worse than earlier than.

So to repeat: So don’t add it except you want it. Just a little goes a great distance!

You possibly can be taught extra about stereo widening on this video:

Lastly, quantity automation might help to extend the influence of sure sections of the music. For instance, you would automate the amount of the music to the place the ultimate refrain sat at 0dB, however the remainder of the music was at -1dB.

volume automation

Small will increase and reduces in quantity are pretty apparent in mastering, so don’t do greater than 2dBs of automation. Make sure that to tweak the slope as nicely. You need the rise to sound pure, not abrupt.

Step 12: Restrict It.

This is without doubt one of the most necessary steps to mastering. Limiting is the method of constructing the combination louder – as loud as every thing you hear on the radio.

unlimited waveform compared with a limited waveform

We talked about earlier how necessary quantity is to a combination. The quieter a music is, the duller and thinner it sounds to our ears. So we wish to guarantee that our music is similar quantity as others within the style.

Now, in the event you have been to simply flip the amount of a combination up, you’ll trigger it to clip. You’d be getting extra quantity, however you wouldn’t be getting extra “perceived quantity,” which is when the music feels louder to the ear than it truly is. You’d even be inflicting distortion, which is able to make the music sound worse!

Limiting your combine brings the amount of the monitor up whereas additionally creating extra perceived quantity. It’s one of the simplest ways to set your music to business loudness ranges.

A limiter is actually a easy compressor. However fairly than having an everyday ratio (like 2:1 or 3:1), it has what we name a “brick wall” ratio – :1.

logic pro limiter

Which means NO quantity of sound goes above the set threshold. 100% of it will get turned down. So no clipping.

Right here’s the way you arrange your limiter:

infograph explaining how to use a limiter when mastering

We’re wanting our monitor to sit down round 0dB, so the very first thing to do is to set your output stage (the limiter model of a threshold) round there. Particularly, you wish to set it between -0.3dB and -0.8 dB. That can guarantee that it doesn’t clip in audio system which have a little bit of a achieve increase constructed into their circuits.

After that, you wish to flip the achieve of the music up till you’re getting 2 – 3dB of achieve discount. If you’re utilizing a inventory limiter, don’t go any larger than that, as a result of it may create some nasty artifacts. If you’re utilizing a top quality third-party limiter, you possibly can go a bit of larger to 4 – 5dBs of achieve discount.

The achieve knob is growing the precise quantity, however the brickwall limiting is growing the perceived loudness. So your monitor is loud, nevertheless it feels even louder.

Step 13: Make Your Remaining Checks.

Congrats! You’re almost there. Now it’s time to make any ultimate checks.

Personally, I exploit Dynameter to examine the monitor nonetheless has a excessive dynamic vary.

Different individuals like to make use of a LUFS meter to examine the ultimate loudness stage.

If you happen to don’t have any particular plugins for these functions, skip this step. At this cut-off date, you’ve already carried out every thing in your energy to make sure that it is a nice grasp.

UPDATE: We launched one other video that provides you 6 steps for mastering:

Step 14: Bounce It (at 16 bits and 44.1kHz).

That is it. The grasp is completed, and also you’re about to launch it to the world!

The ultimate step is to bounce (export) the music in a file that might be appropriate with all kinds of playback methods.

First issues first: Choose for the monitor to be bounced as each a lossless file and a .mp3 file. You possibly can decide no matter lossless kind you favor – .wav, .aiff, .caf.

bouncing audio in logic

Then you definitely’ll wish to make sure that the monitor is bouncing at decision of 16 bits and a pattern price of 44.1kHz. These are the requirements for audio.

bit depth and sample rate

One essential element: make sure that to dither your monitor earlier than you bounce. With out stepping into the science, dithering helps to stop additional distortion from occurring when you’re bouncing your monitor at a unique decision. With out it, your arduous work would go to waste.

Your DAW will more than likely have totally different dithering choices. I like to recommend utilizing the pow-r 2 setting.


IMPORTANT: Make sure that to solely dither your audio file as soon as! You possibly can trigger audible noise in the event you dither a number of instances.

Lastly, if there’s any “normalizing” perform in your DAWs bounce window, DON’T use it. Normalizing is actually a crude solution to make your monitor louder. You don’t want it when you’ve mastered your music.

turning off normalization when exporting your mastered song

Hit that OK button, and you’re carried out mastering!

Wrapping Up

Congrats! You’ve simply discovered how one can grasp your individual music.

Right here’s a abstract of the steps you’ll must take once you grasp your combine:

  1. Optimize your listening house.
  2. End your combine (to sound mastered).
  3. Verify the degrees.
  4. Bounce down your stereo monitor.
  5. Take a break (of at the very least a day).
  6. Create a brand new venture and import your references.
  7. Pay attention for the primary time (and take notes).
  8. Make a full evaluation.
  9. Management the Dynamics.
  10. Repair the Tone.
  11. Improve the Combine.
  12. Restrict it.
  13. Make your ultimate checks.
  14. Bounce it (at 16 bits and 44.1kHz).

So, now you understand how to grasp your music.

Mastering Doesn’t Should be Overwhelming.

You don’t want spectacular credit or numerous items of costly gear to create wonderful masters.

An skilled mentor will enable you to zero in on the talents you really need. As an alternative of losing money and time on the incorrect issues, you’ll be capable to deal with what actually issues: making unimaginable music.

If you wish to change into an expert mastering engineer, that is the masterclass for you:

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