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How Do I Master My Own Music? A guide for self producing & DIY artists. Part 1 of 4

There’s several reasons why you might want to master your own music. It could be a budget constraint, or maybe you actually want to get into the world of mastering and you want to practise on your own music first. You’re going to read a lot of comments that basically tell you never to master your own music and to always hire a professional. And while this is sound advice I totally understand that for any of the reasons mentioned above you might be undertaking this task yourself. 

That’s actually how I got started, I went to college and Uni for music tech so I had a decent understanding of recording and mixing but we were never really taught any mastering techniques. When me and some friends started a small DIY record label, it was always left to me to sort out the mixing, mastering and distribution as I was the guy in the group who had gone to Uni for this stuff. This is back in the early 2000’s way before there was so much information on Youtube and social media so I rang studios all over the country, and found some short mastering courses and convinced engineers to let me sit in for a day or two to learn more about mastering. Then I had to sit at home and practice and it worked, I slowly got better and we managed some decent radio play and reviews for our tiny little label. 

Why am I telling you this? Well I wanted to let you know that I’ve been in your shoes and I’m here to help. Unlike certain forums I’m not going to tell you that you need £50K worth of analogue gear and all the rest of it. In this 4 part series, I’m going to help you understand the concepts of mastering, give you some tips and tricks, usable advice on processing sound and tell you all about file conversion and the admin side of mastering that’s actually really important. I want to leave you with enough advice and info so that you can get started on your mastering journey, whether you’re a self producing artist trying to release your own music on a budget or you’re an aspiring freelance mastering engineer taking your first step into the industry. 

Understanding the Basics:

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of mastering, let's clarify what it entails for self producing artists. Mastering is the final stage in the music production process, where the overall sound of a track is refined and optimised for distribution across various platforms. It involves tasks such as equalisation, compression, clipping, limiting, and overall volume adjustment to ensure your music sounds consistent and polished on whichever medium it’s released on. The entire concept of mastering is to prepare your music for the medium it’s going to be released on. Stop. Read that again.

Mastering is preparing your music for the medium it’s being released on.

If you’re releasing your music on vinyl we’re preparing it for vinyl.

If you’re releasing on streaming platforms, we’re preparing it for streaming.

If you’re releasing on CD… see where this is going?

People often talk about the ‘Dark Art’ of mastering, I think because back in the day, mastering was very vinyl focused and a Disc Mastering Engineer would be responsible for maintaining some serious machinery and have to know a lot of physics, maths and electronics to cut a good record. These days though, Cutting Engineers take care of this and unless you’re doing the actual cutting yourself, you don’t have to worry too much about it. You can concentrate on preparing your audio.

It’s not easy but it is simple. Does that make sense? The concept is simple - prepare your music for its intended medium. It’s not always easy and takes a lot of work but the concept behind it is, hopefully, easy to grasp. (Hopefully I’ve repeated myself enough now to really drill it onto your brain!)

Preparing Your Mix:

The journey to mastering success begins with proper mix preparation. A well-mixed track serves as the foundation for mastering, so it's essential to get it right. Pay attention to aspects like levels, panning, and frequency balance during the mixing stage. Ensure that each element in your mix has its space and doesn't clash with others. You can go back to one of my previous blog posts to read more on preparing your mix for mastering by clicking this link -

Listening on Multiple Sources:

One of the keys to successful mastering is ensuring that your music translates well across different playback systems. To achieve this, listen to your mix on various devices, including studio monitors, headphones, car stereos, and even smartphones. This process, known as referencing, helps you identify any discrepancies in your mix and make necessary adjustments to achieve a balanced sound. It’s always important to listen to your masters on a set of speakers that you know really well - you don’t have to know any specs or anything like that, it should just be a set of speakers that you listen to a lot of music on so you instinctively know how things should sound. Hopefully if anything isn’t quite right, the issue will jump out straight away if you use a familiar pair of speakers.

Shaping Your Sound - The Actual Mastering:

Once your mix is ready, mastering adds the final polish to your music. This stage involves various processes such as equalisation, compression, clipping and limiting. These techniques are used to refine and sculpt the overall sound, ensuring clarity, balance, and consistency across the entire track. 

Most of the time this is the tricky part but sometimes, with a great mix, the best thing to do at the mastering stage is to leave it alone. Just do some very simple processing and stay out of the way. We'll delve deeper into these mastering techniques in Part 2 of this series. For now, in this brief overview, try and think of your mix as having 2 main elements - dynamics and tone. 

At the mastering stage we’re trying to control the dynamics and we’re trying to sculpt the tone.

We need to strike the right balance of loudness and dynamic range, if we reduce the dynamic range (difference between the quiet and loud parts) we can increase the volume but if we reduce the dynamic range too much we kill the energy and suck the life out of the track.

With the tone, we use EQ and saturation to sculpt an audibly pleasing track. Some high end boost in Mid-side mode might bring a vocal forward but it could make guitars or cymbals sound too harsh and fatiguing. Everything has to be carefully balanced to achieve a great sounding master.

Using Reference Tracks:

Incorporating reference tracks into your mastering workflow can be very helpful, especially when you’re getting started. Choose songs from artists or albums that have a similar sonic profile to your own music. By comparing your mix to these reference tracks, you can gain insights into how your music stacks up in terms of tonal balance, dynamics, and overall clarity. Remember, the goal isn't to copy these tracks but to use them as a benchmark for achieving the desired sound quality.

They can be very helpful when, for example, you’re trying to get the high end right, make sure your tracks don’t sound dull when compared to commercial releases or conversely your tracks aren’t too harsh and overly sibilant.

Low end is probably the biggest hurdle at every stage of the music production process, you need very good monitors to hear it all properly and it constantly gets boosted way too much by engineers who can't really hear what they're doing. I'll have to write an entire blog post on this!

Asking for Feedback:

Don't hesitate to seek feedback from trusted peers or industry professionals during the mastering process. Fresh ears can provide valuable perspectives and identify potential areas for improvement that you may have overlooked. Whether it's fellow musicians, audio engineers, or online communities, soliciting constructive criticism can help you refine your mastering skills and enhance the quality of your music.

If you can leave your ego at the door and accept constructive criticism from forums and peers you'll improve your mixing & mastering skills very quickly. I see a lot of people try and argue as to why their mix should stay the way it is - they ask for feedback and get defensive and immediately reject it. Don't do that.

Utilising Reliable Resources:

While practicing and learning I'd strongly suggest staying away from too much Youtube and social media, there are some great people out there but there's also a tonnne of comepletely false information. People with barely any real world experience who just want to be content creators misunderstand basic concepts about sound production and make entire channels spouting this information.

To improve your mastering skills and understanding the only series I'd recommend is the 'Are You Listening' series presented by Johnathan Wyner for Izotope. Check it out here -

It's also worthwhile exploring reputable books, audio magazines and websites. Publications like Sound on Sound, Tape Op, Music Tech, and Mix offer a wealth of articles, tutorials, and reviews on mastering techniques, tools, and industry trends. 


So there you have it, a quick overview to get you started and hopefully it's got you thinking about mastering in the right way. By following the guidelines outlined in this guide and leveraging valuable resources from trusted sources, you can take your mastering skills to new heights and unleash the full potential of your music. So, roll up your sleeves, experiment fearlessly and get stuck into your next master. 

Remember, it’s not about what gear or plugins you have, it’s about what you can do with the ones you do have. Every DAW comes with enough stock plugins to achieve a good sounding master these days, so if you’re on a budget, don’t worry, just use what you’ve got available. 

In Part 2, I’m going to talk more about the analogue and digital tools you can use for mastering and offer some budget options that compete with pro level mastering gear.

Then in Part 3 we’ll delve more into mastering techniques so you can improve your mastering skills and critical evaluation skills.

As always, I hope that’s been interesting and helpful for you. Give me a shout with any questions or if there’s any specific areas of mastering or vinyl cutting 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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