Mastering Techniques

Mastering is the final touch of a finished collection. There is much more to it than most people recognize initially. If it's confusing you, this is the place for help.

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Most recently active forum topics

Online Mastering, (FAQ and tips to not get ripped off)
Hi everyone, I thought I would post up some useful information on mastering including the questions I am asked most often.There are many online mastering studios which show no gear photo's, no engineer, no room and have virtually no credits to their name, buyer beware is my suggestion. They will happily take 30.00/$60.00 per track and could possibly be less well equipped than yourself ! I hope this is useful and helps people to make good decisions for the betterment of their music. I wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2011 !

Can I send my tracks one at a time for mastering?

Absolutely, though do bear in mind if the tracks are destined to appear on the same release that it can be of benefit to master them as a single product in one go.Though in many instances this is not the clients preferred way of working.Most ME's will keep the masters so the previous tracks can be referenced as the overall job proceeds.

What are ISRC codes and where do I get them from?

In the U.K. officially from here :
The relevant body differs from country to country but many of my clients have great success (much lowered costs) with CDBaby. You can register your music releases here and request ISRC codes to be sent to you for the tracks. ISRC codes are required to uniquely identify each track and allow automated royalty payments. They can take up 4 weeks from CD Baby so do this well in advance of your release.

I have just paid for a mixing engineer why should I get my music mastered?

Well the mix room may not have had optimized acoustics and very high resolution monitors and so a specialized room and accurate monitoring in a mastering studio will be able to address overall tonal issues missed in mixing.(As an example I use PMC IB1 monitors
Coupled with the ears of a very experienced engineer you get a second opinion if required and a fresh set of ears on your mix away from the pressures of the mix room. During the mix stage overall balances will have been carefully chosen and the dynamics of the track will have been concentrated on. Mixing is often performed under some time pressure and sometimes edits, extraneous studio noises, thumps, pops and other glitches can creep into the mix un-noticed, in mastering these sonic issues are identified, advised on and rectified. And if the music has been produced in a home studio again the acoustics may have been far from perfect.

Why does pricing for mastering vary so much?

Some companies have very high overheads, high rents, loans on equipment and decor and are using top name mastering engineers who demand higher rates. Then at the other end of the market the bottom line is there are chancers operating in the market charging as little as 10.00/track, many recording and mix studios are having a tough time out there and are offering mastering services, it's a mine field , be very careful when someone advertises incredibly cheap rates for mastering, ask yourself..
What is the experience of the engineer?
What equipment are they using?
What monitors are they using?

Ask yourself how can a faceless mastering website improve your audio if they do not own a monitoring system that is a great improvement on that which the music was mixed?

How well acoustically treated is the mastering room?
Can the correct attention to detail be taken for the rate being asked?
Can the engineer spend time uniquely processing your music for the rate being asked?
I suggest always getting a free preview from a couple of mastering studios so you can hear the differences be it expensive or lower cost.
It puts power in the clients hands.

What is the ultimate point of mastering?

Bring a number of mixes together as one product (especially if mixed on various systems/studios)
Insertion of sub code data to receive your royalties.
Insertion of CD Text and Barcode information.
Add fade ins and fade outs and space the music tracks on disk.
Quality control check on your spectrum through an accurate
room and monitoring system.
Critically listen for vocal pops, glitches, bad edits, thumps, extraneous studio noises, distortion, clicks etc, out of phase mix elements.
To subjectively improve the sound quality of your mixes if necessary.
To correct common problems in frequency response.
To correct/advise on mix problems which may cause playback
To increase perceived punch and if desired loudness with
least amount of artifacts introduced.
If requested, critique of existing mixes.
Increase likelyhood that your CD/DDP master duplicates/replicates at the plant correctly and has a technical contact.
To say your music has been mastered alludes to the fact that you take your musical output seriously.
To maximise compatibility across a variety of playback systems, such as nightclubs, radio broadcasts and online playback.
If requested to subjectively colour the music, warm it up, increase depth,add body, add a sense of fullness or round it out, a skilled mastering engineer should be able to interpret what you mean and what will enhance the music.

What is stem mastering?

Stem mastering is relatively rare and only happens if there are continued issues of balance, it is probably used in less than 5pct of mastering jobs.Stem mastering is a hybrid of mastering and mixing, it takes exported files of grouped instrumentation i.e. drums, bass, guitars, synths, vocals (normally stereo files with the mix effects included in the files) and offers further flexibility in tweaks that the 2 track does not afford. Stem mastering is only required if there are issues with mix balance or if the artist if not 100pct satisfied with the mix balances achieved at mix stage.

What file format is best for sending to a mastering engineer?

24bit resolution .wav or .aiff is preferable at your project/session sample rate.
(check the export/bounce window of your DAW for the "Bit Resolution" 16bit is ok (but not optimal)
It is preferable to do the following when sending your music for Online mastering :
1)Make sure the mix is not peaking above zero (clipping) this is identified by your DAW output meter exceeding zero (0dBFS)
2)Remove any limiters or compressors from the stereo bus (making sure that this does not make point 1 happen), it is ok to leave the compressor if it is deemed an essential part of the overall sound character of the mix.
It is not a good idea to request mastering of an MP3,Ogg Vorbis or WMA file(unless this really is all you have)as these are compressed file formats and have lost some of their sonic quality as the file size has been reduced.The best sounding masters come from 24 bit .wavs or .aiffs.

How do I send my music to be mastered?
Check with your engineer, but I have had great success and (free up to 100MB), both sites have a desktop upload application which is worth installing as the upload speed is around 30pct faster. And of course you may have your music on CD-R or possibly a DAT tape so postage is also a means of delivery but always "Special Delivery" IMO and preferably with a back up of the medium kept with yourself.

What tools do you use in mastering?

A huge focus is put on the tools of mastering and of course they are important, jobs need to get done and we all like audio equipment !
The most common tool I find myself using and one which I could not live without is the equalizer. Most jobs get EQ'd, tonal balance and correction of problems is done with EQ. Then we have compression, limiting and occasionally multiband compression to fix specific problems and sometimes character processing to "warm up" audio if requested. Arguably engineer skill/hearing, monitoring and room response are more important.

What can mastering do and not do?
Well a big part is quality control, catching glitches, adding fades, spacing and sequencing tracks, rebalancing dynamics with a fader ride. However popular mastering discussion tends to focus on processing the audio. Mastering cannot generally make a bad mix good. If you have serious mix balance issues these are not going to be addressed as successfully as a few mix tweaks, so any M.E. should be able to offer some mix advice if the mix is out of the ballpark for sensible balance. Remember, in mastering when you EQ the vocal you EQ the snare, when you eq the kick you eq the bassline. It is these compromises an M.E. holds in his mind at all times. Good mastering can make a good mix sound great, the level of improvements differ from mix to mix but there is no doubt in my mind that mastering can make a very big difference to the end result.

Shall I leave my bus compression on or off?
For this one personally I would like to hear your mix with and without, I have no desire to stop people using their lovely compressors on the mix bus and sometimes they sound great. Many times they are compressing a little too much for my taste but I do appreciate that sometimes you want your beloved on the overall mix and thats fine. Either way we work out whats best overall, even if 2 master previews have to be made.

Can I deliver Pro Tools .l / .r files ?

It is far from ideal, Pro Tools in all recent version can bounce/export stereo interleaved and this is highly preferable.

How long does mastering an album take?
Well firstly there will be a variation between engineer to engineer/studio to studio.
In general the actual man hours for a typical album mastering job is probably between 7-12 hours inclusive of final quality control (which includes a manual listen back of a CD-R in a CD player/image. However actually scheduling time can vary depending on number of rooms operating, how busy the studio is and how organized and responsive a client is. It is reasonably common to receive at least one tweaked mix for an album so there is often a few part baked jobs going through most studios. So it will vary from time to time, some months are usually notably more busy than others and a fair amount of the scheduling is related to the client themselves. Some studios may be willing to work at weekends to hit an urgent deadline.

cheers and all the best for 2011 !

Barry Gardner


A short audio programme about mastering:
Does anyone know of an app or plug that can do this with finished songs? I am not entirely sure the extent of this process- I would imagine the SONG INFO, ARTIST etc would appear when uploaded into itunes, etc?
need help in sound quality
Hi ...I use ableton for all my music composition and production...though the sound quality of files I export from ableton is good... its in no way match to the quality of the actual soundtracks..
As an example below is my track in soundcloud..

When I compare it with some pro tracks like below , the quality is no match... what am i missing...i want to learn how to get this high quality
Do you always use Reverb when mastering?
I've been experimenting with some mastering lately - and by that I mean taking someones mixes, applying fades, EQ, compression or limiter and trying to make them sound better, more consistent with eachother, etc.... (and admittantly louder).

Shouldnt I be putting some final reverb on there as well? I seem to remember reading that as part of a common mastering chain. I have Waves, T-Racks3 and Isotope Ozone - any good ones to start messing around with?

While I have you, as a general rule, should I be looking to apply a limiter at all times, or just compression or both? Or, like everythig else, does it all just depend on the actual song?



Awhile ago you mentioned a small tutorial on what you did to mix/master the collaboration done between a few of us here on this forum. Since I have a band coming to the studio here in a few weeks, I would love to gain some insight on what you did. I'm not really looking for precise settings, but more or less a rundown of what general plugins were used (per instrument) and what EQ manipulation you did.... especially for kick, snare, and guitars.

Thanks in advance
What to have before PreMastering
I'm about done with the exception of a few things to do with being down with my band's EP we are trying to get out. I mixed down some of our tracks and put them on a CD for our singer to have to sing too before we redo some of his vocal parts, so he could know how it sounds. On my monitors and my friend's monitors (both M-Audio), they sound really good. In my car which is customize with 12" subs and components in front, etc.; it sort of sounds flat. The highs need more sparkle, kick and bass are good volume wise but need to be smooter, etc. I haven't really jumped onto premastering because I've been more concerned at the moment with recording it and mixing it. The question I have is, what do you need to have complete in the mixing stage? Is it really up to who does your premastering/mastering to tell you or is there kind of a general rule? These problems I explain, does premastering really fix the issue of it sounds good in majority of systems? I know this is sort of a loaded question but I think this would be a helpful discussion to see what everybody's opinon is.
Resources For Producing Pro Sound
Looking for a text-book or resources that I can use/refer to, read about what is required for a professional "sounding" recording. I have mixed feelings about this but I would like to try some different settings to hear the difference to what I produce now. I notice that most of my 'electronic' percussive songs are well received, but my miked drum set sound can get ugly.
Mastering Studio/Greece
Hello, i am Div, from Greece, sound engineer and owner of Lalaland studio. I want to let you know that we have a special deal until the end of March for our e-services (mastering/remastering) which is 70 euros for a complete 4 track demo cd (about 20mins). We will send a 15'' sample. If there is anymore questions u can email us at lalalandstudio (at)
Thank you very much!

If u find this message against the rules you can remove it.

Thank you again!
I already have an engineer to mix the project now i need someone to master the album...the album will reach A&R and DJ's in the hiphop industry and is radio/club ready... everyone who is apart of this project participated for exposure and promotional uses...i have a website, and other blogsites and hiphop journalists would like to post the songs to there page....

serious about ur craft and would like exposure and a chance to work with a mainstream artist contact me
Vocal Chord Distortions

I have been trying to get rid of some low level distortions on a solo female voice and it turns out that the vocals chords actually distort.

Apart from working the vocalist harder what type of equipment would help to cover it up.

I'm using a Milab VIP50, Focusrite Voicemaster Pro with digital out, dbx 160a. Powercre, Waves, TRacks plugins, Cubase SL3, RME Hammerfall card.


Using external hardware with Saffire 40 Pro
Hi All,

I am trying to figure out a way to send a pre-recorded track to an external hardware (reverb unit etc) and back to my DAW to record the processed signal.

I don't know if this is the way to do it?
Is it possible to do it with the interface that I have?
And if does anybody have any idea how to do it?

Thank you very much for all the input.
Signal routing help
Hi folks.
Just need some help with my signal routing! I'm running Pro tools with a M-Audio NRV10 soundcard then have a few bits of outboard (eq, comp etc.)

How can I audition the outboard gear and record it back in to PT?
Do I need a signal splitter/router?

I was thinking

DAW --> NRV --> eq --> compressor ---> NRV ----> DAW

But I can't seem to be able to monitor the signals and record them without re patching stuff

I'm probably just being dumb!

Thanks in advance for your help!

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