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How Do I Maser My Own Music? Tips & Techniques. Part 3 of 4

Welcome back! If you’ve read Parts 1 & 2 already then congrats! I didn't realise quite how long Part 2 was getting until I finished it!

In this part, we will explore the actual mastering techniques that will help you get on and get your music mastered. While the previous parts covered foundational aspects of mastering, this article will delve deeper into practical strategies for refining your sound and achieving professional-grade results within the confines of a home or small studio setup. We'll look at frequency shaping, dynamic processing, stereo imaging, and harmonic enhancement, giving you actionable tips to level up your mastering skills.

I know I’ve been writing a bit more about the principles but in this part I want to give you some good solid tips that you can go and use as soon as you’ve finished reading. So let’s dive in!


Well this makes total sense, right? The first and most important part of this is careful and attentive listening. This initial step sets the stage for the entire mastering process and lays the groundwork for subsequent decisions. Take the time to thoroughly analyse your mix, paying close attention to its strengths and weaknesses.

If you can spot anything that’s not sitting quite right in the mix, this is the time to ask for (or do yourself) some mix revisions. It’s a lot easier to fix any problem areas in a mix, where you can zoom in to individual tracks than it is to try to alter a stereo track of the complete mix.

If it’s your mix, try and separate these 2 processes, a lot of engineers fall down here and try to master their mixes within the mix session so the line gets quickly blurred between the 2 processes. Export your mix as a stereo file and open it in a fresh mastering session to help keep you attention on the job. If you find yourself wanting to adjust something in the mix, the mix isn’t finished yet and is not ready for mastering.

If you’re mastering somebody else’s mix, ask them politely for any changes that you deem necessary - if you’re unsure, just start a conversation and tell them about your concerns and see if you can come up with a solution together. They might have noticed the same thing but couldn’t fix it in the ix, or they might not have noticed it as they were too focused on a different element of the mix.

Make a Plan:

Once you've thoroughly assessed your mix, it's time to formulate a plan of action for the mastering process. Rather than diving in blindly, take a moment to consider your overarching goals and objectives. What aspects of the mix do you intend to enhance or refine? Are there specific sonic characteristics you aim to emphasise or mitigate? By establishing a clear vision and roadmap for your mastering approach, you'll ensure a more focused and purposeful workflow, ultimately leading to superior results.

Too many people just start adding plugins and quickly get lost but a solid plan of action will help you get a good sounding master a lot quicker. For instance - 

“I want to reduce the mud around 500hz and then boost some EQ around the vocal on the Mid channel only, this will help the vocal stand forward a bit more. Then I want to tame the harshness of the cymbals in the side channels with some mid/side Eq before adding some compression. The dynamics are good so I don’t want to over compress, just add some glue. The stereo field is fine so I don’t want to adjust that. I think a little saturation would help add some character so I will try adding that, I’m not sure where in the chain but I’ll try before and after compression and see what difference that makes. Then I’ll move onto getting the loudness right with some gentle clipping before a final limiter.”

If you started with that kind of plan, you’ll be able to carry out those steps quite quickly and then listen and reassess. Your plan may change and that’s fine, but going in with a good level of intention is crucial. I often keep listening to a mix until I know exactly how I want the master to sound and what processing I need to do to get there which in turn allows me to work quite quickly. Sometimes it’s really obvious and sometimes it takes a little longer.

So you’ve had a good listen, made some notes (written or mental) and you’re ready to start work! Read on…



Reduction is always the first job for me. I want to remove any unwanted frequencies before I start adding and altering dynamics. It’s a lot easier to remove something first rather than wait until the mix is thicker and has more harmonic content and then try to remove it. 

In the reduction stage, the goal is to eliminate any unwanted elements or imperfections that may detract from the overall quality of the mix. This often involves targeted EQ adjustments to address problematic frequencies, such as resonant peaks or harsh tones. Utilise surgical EQ techniques to pinpoint and attenuate these offending frequencies, restoring balance and clarity to the mix.

Practical Tip: Listen for any resonance especially in the 200 - 500 Hz area, this is often where lots of instruments have overlapping frequencies that can build up and cause a muddy sound. Also check the high end, 8 - 12Khz is where vocal sibilance and hi hats can add up and sound harsh.Small reductions in these areas can really open up the sound of a mix.

Reference: According to renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz, identifying and addressing problematic frequencies is a critical aspect of the mastering process. Katz emphasises the importance of surgical EQ to precisely sculpt the frequency spectrum and optimise the mix's sonic balance ("Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science" by Bob Katz).

2. Addition:

 Once any undesirable elements have been addressed, it's time to enhance the mix by adding elements that may be lacking or underrepresented. This can be accomplished through the judicious application of saturation and EQ to impart warmth, depth, and presence to the sound. Experiment with different saturation techniques and EQ settings to achieve the desired tonal characteristics while maintaining a balanced mix.

Practical Tip: If there’s an element of the mix I want to bring forward or highlight I will add some EQ or saturation on that particular frequency range and on that part of the stereo field using Mid-Side EQ (or saturation). For example, I may add some 2Khz on the Mid only channel to enhance a vocal without affecting the sides of the stereo field. The same principle applies to a kick drum, adding some EQ at 40 - 50Hz on the mid channel will add some weight and thickness to a kick. Adding a high frequency boost to only the sides may aid some ‘air’ or ‘sparkle’ to the cymbals of a mix too.

Reference: Mixing and mastering engineer Ian Shepherd advocates for the creative use of saturation to add character and texture to mixes. Shepherd emphasises the importance of understanding the sonic characteristics of different saturation types and employing them strategically to enhance the mix's overall impact ("The Mastering Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski, Chapter 9).

3. Dynamic Control:

Dynamic control is a crucial aspect of the mastering process, this can be done with compression, clipping, limiting and even dynamic EQ But here I’m going to talk about compression. Careful compression can add a real sense of ‘glue’ to a mix, ensuring all the elements are cohesive and in harmony with each other. Attack and Release settings are crucial here and you need to be very careful with the amount of compression. Ideally you won’t hear the compression itself, but it will give a nice cohesive effect, control transients and lessen the crest factor. What’s that? In short it’s the difference in volume between the main body and the loudest parts of your mix. If you want to read more about that, check this article out from Izotope -

Practical tip: It’s very difficult to give blanket advice here because compression is very much dependent on the material but here's some advice to get you started. For a compression starting point, set a slow attack and fast release. The attack should be slow enough as to let a tiny bit of the initial transient through so the punch of drums doesn’t get too dulled but the compressor will grab a vocal in a nice musical way. The release should be set so that your compressor returns to zero between each beat. If your song is more ambient that won’t apply or help much but in an upbeat song, you’ll be able to see it visually so hopefully that’s helpful.I like to use a vari-mu type compressor for mastering and sometimes I add a faster VCA type compressor to catch any unruly spiky transients.

I also nearly always side-chain my compressors during mastering, this means that they ignore the low frequencies and are only triggered by higher frequency content. Kick drums can trigger compression and lead very quickly to an over-compressed signal so I would start with your compressor side-chained anywhere from 150 to 200 Hz.

Since compression and side chains are large topics on their own, here’s a link to the very good ‘Are You Listening?’ series and this episode which focuses on compression. It also explains side-chains too!

Reference: Mastering engineer Emily Lazar emphasises the importance of maintaining transparency and authenticity in the mastering process. Lazar advocates for a delicate touch when applying compression, prioritising musicality and dynamics over excessive processing ("The Mastering Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski, Chapter 7).

4. Stereo Field:

 While it's important to preserve the integrity of the stereo image, subtle adjustments can sometimes enhance the spatial dimension of the mix. Exercise caution when altering the stereo field, as excessive manipulation can result in phase issues or an unnatural sound. If adjustments are deemed necessary, consider requesting a mix revision to ensure optimal results first.

Practical Tip: Using Mid-side EQ can have a really nice but subtle effect on the stereo field by enhancing certain frequencies. Boosting high frequencies on the side channels can give a wider, more airy sound. The use of stereo wideners can be used but be very careful here, they can mess up your mix/master very quickly. Try it out, but be cautious!Personally I very rarely use a stereo widener plugin, instead I opt for Mid-side EQ.

 Reference: Mastering engineer Maor Appelbaum stresses the significance of maintaining the integrity of the stereo image during mastering. Appelbaum advises against excessive stereo widening or manipulation, as it can compromise the mix's coherence and impact ("Mastering Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski, Chapter 10).

5. Loudness:

Achieving an appropriate level of loudness is essential for ensuring that your music translates well across different playback systems and platforms. Utilise clipping and limiting techniques to maximise loudness while avoiding distortion and artefacts. This is the part that people often push too far, it’s way better to have a great sounding master than a ‘loud for the sake of being loud’ master. Of course, you can have a great sounding AND loud master but it takes a lot of practice!

Practical Tip: Clip then limit. Choose one clipper and one limiter and have these at the very end of your chain. The clipper will add some harmonic content as it clips but will quickly distort and sound terrible if pushed too far, take your time listening really carefully to what it sounds like when pushed too far and then dial it back so it’s working without adding distortion. Do the same with the limiter, push into distortion so you get really familiar with the sound of too much limiting then dial it back.

What loudness you should aim for is completely dependent on the music and the mix. Don’t let anyone else pick a random number and tell you that your master should be hitting ‘X LUFS’. Just work until your master sounds its best. There’s plenty of harsh, over compressed, over clipped and over limited masters out there, don’t add to them!

Reference: Mastering engineer Bob Ludwig emphasises the importance of mastering for optimal loudness without sacrificing dynamic range or sonic integrity. Ludwig advocates for a balanced approach to loudness optimisation, prioritising quality and fidelity over excessive volume ("Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science" by Bob Katz).

6. Check and Recheck:

I know I keep saying THIS is the most important part but this advice often gets overlooked and I don’t see it recommended enough. Make sure to listen after you’ve finished. Just listen. No more processing or fiddling with plugins. Then take a break, maybe a lunch break or maybe wait until the following day. Then listen again.

It's crucial to take breaks and revisit your master multiple times to ensure consistency and quality. Listen on different playback systems, including headphones, studio monitors, and consumer-grade speakers, to identify any potential issues or discrepancies. Repeat this process until you're confident in the final result.

Practical Tip: I like to export my masters then re-import them so they’re not in the mastering session where I can make adjustments. This stops me from just noodling around for the sake of it and forces me to listen really carefully. I often finish a project and leave it until the next day to check over.

Reference: According to mastering engineer Bob Katz, critical listening and iterative refinement are fundamental aspects of the mastering process. Katz emphasises the importance of checking mixes on multiple playback systems to ensure optimal translation and fidelity across different environments ("Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science" by Bob Katz).

7. Export and Downsample:

Once you're satisfied with the final master, export the audio in the appropriate format and resolution. If downsampling is necessary, apply dithering to maintain audio quality and integrity during the conversion process. Pay attention to file formats and specifications to ensure compatibility with various distribution platforms and formats.

Practical Tip: Izotope RX has a very handy batch processor which allows you to downsample, dither, rename and export multiple files at once. This comes in very handy if you’ve got an album’s worth of songs to process.

Reference: Izotope have a great guide which delves into dithering and downsampling, so check this link to learn more about the process and why it’s important -

8. Final Check:

Before finalising the master, conduct a final check to ensure that all changes are necessary and contribute positively to the overall sound. Verify that the master meets the required technical specifications for distribution and playback, addressing any remaining issues or concerns as needed. Once satisfied, prepare the final master for distribution or further processing.

Practical Tip: Make sure to check exactly what sample rate and bit depth files you need for your masters. Vinyl files and Streaming files need different settings so be sure to check.

Reference: Grammy-winning mastering engineer Ted Jensen stresses the importance of thorough quality control and attention to detail in the mastering process. Jensen advises mastering engineers to meticulously review final masters for any potential errors or inconsistencies before release ("The Mastering Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski, Chapter 8).

Wrappin’ it up

In conclusion, mastering your own music requires a combination of technical expertise, creative intuition, and meticulous attention to detail. By implementing the advanced techniques outlined in this article and drawing from the insights of industry experts, you can elevate your mastering skills and achieve professional-grade results in your home studio. Remember, mastering is as much an art as it is a science, so trust your ears and approach each project with care and precision. With dedication and practice, you'll be well on your way to mastering your own music in no time.

In Part 4, I'll be really delving deep into Loudness & Distribution. Getting serious about how to get loud masters, when to master loud and when you should consider NOT mastering too loud. I'll also explain more about resampling and dithering and talk about which files you'll need for which platforms and we'll look at DDP files & how you should export vinyl masters.

As always, I hope that’s been interesting and helpful for you (I think this is the longest blog I’ve ever written so if you’re still reading, congrats!). Give me a shout with any questions or if there’s any specific areas of mastering you’d like to learn about. And if you’d like to chat about mastering your music for any format, get in touch anytime and let’s talk about how we can get your project out into the world.

Click the link to go to my contact page -

Speak soon!


P.s. if you like all things analogue, mastering & vinyl related please go over and follow my Youtube & social media accounts where I regularly make videos about mastering and cutting records!



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