Mastering is hard to master but once you get the basics right, it becomes easier to master the art of mastering. Ok, mastering puns aside, let's discuss some tips for making your tracks sound professional.
Pro Tip: Check out our blog post on Free Mastering Plugins here.
1. Use a Reference Track
This is the first step that you should take while mastering your music, especially if you don't have much experience in mastering. Even professionals use a reference track. A reference track a piece of music mastered by professionals that is similar to the style of music you're mastering. It can be a song from the same genre or with similar sound. Use a reference track to shape the frequencies and tone of your track. This can be done by comparing your track with the reference track and using different mastering tools to achieve a sound that is close to the reference track. You can use a song that you like. However, it is necessary to make sure that you choose a song that is similar to the type of sound you're trying to achieve. Wrong reference track choice can make your tracks sound bad and you may not be satisfied with the final result. Reference tracks helps to shape the tone of the track and also helps in balancing the volume across different frequency ranges.
2. Don't make it too loud
Beginner mastering engineers usually get this wrong. Mastering is not about making your song loud. It is about making your song sound good on all kind of playback devices. You have to make sure that your music translates well to both loud and small sounding speakers. Some devices may not be able to properly handle the excessive loudness. So, make sure that your master is not excessively loud and it translates well to different devices.
3. Listen of different devices
As said before, you need to make sure that your song sounds good on different playback devices. So, you should test your master on different speakers before finalizing it. You can compare how your track sounds as compared to reference tracks on different speaker systems. This does not mean that you have to spend money on buying different speakers. Just use what you have: headphones, earphones, TV speakers, car speakers, studio monitors or whatever else you have.
4. Don't focus on individual parts
This is a major mistakes that many mastering engineers make. They starts focusing on individual elements of the track. For example, trying yo make drums pop out in the mastering stage. You should not be focusing on individual elements of the track while mastering. If you feel that any individual element of the track is needed to be fixed or improved, go back to the mixing stage. During the mastering stage, you need to listen to the song as whole. So, make sure that you're not focusing on individual elements.
5. Use a Loudness Meter
You may think that your ears are good for analyzing your track. But no! Unless you're a professional with years of experience in mixing and mastering, you need a use a loudness analyzer. Mastering is one of those steps where you need to ignore the advise "use your ears" while checking the loudness.
This does not mean you have to spend money on a professional loudness meter plugin. There are many free plugins that are available. Check our recommendations here.