Why master your music? Everything I wish I’d known

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new1When I first started producing, I struggled with mastering; the often misunderstood—kinda complicated—sometimes confusing artform…

I spent months mixing my first album – I thought it would change my life. So when I finished, I sent my tracks to a renowned mastering engineer.

It cost $1,000. He gave me the indie rate.

I was beyond excited. But after the first listen, I felt a little defeated. It wasn’t as different as I expected, and some parts were squished where I expected them to boom.

Remastering wasn’t really an option.

It cost a lot of money for something I didn’t really understand, and wasn’t sure it worked.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS MASTERING?

In the days before digital, mastering was largely about duplication (remember vinyl and tape?). But as technology progressed, and digital recording became the standard, mastering has evolved into fine-tuning how your music sounds.

Still, it’s an often misunderstood—kinda complicated—sometimes confusing artform…

Mastering is all about making your tracks sound as good to everyone else, as they do to you – smoothing out the wrinkles of your final mix without losing the character that makes your music yours.

Using a combination of tools like tasteful compression, EQ, limiting, stereo enhancement plus other tricks like aural excitation – mastering is the glue, varnish and polish that makes your music presentable to the world.

IS MASTERING STILL IMPORTANT?

Yes, definitely! Done right, mastering should solve 3 problems you face with your music:

1. You’re not hearing your music the same way your audience does. Poor acoustics in your room, the quality of your reference monitors and your mixing skills can all have a huge impact on your final sound. Mastering should fix this.

2. Music sounds different in all playback situations (home, the car radio, the club, on a streaming platform, when your mom buys your single online). Good mastering helps you sound your best everywhere and in all situations.

3. It’s easy to lose perspective on your music. This makes it hard to tell if your music actually sounds good. The point of mastering is to take a step back, look at the whole picture and fix any major problems you might have missed.

If the goal is to a connect with an audience, mastering helps build that connection.

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

We created LANDR because we believe that mastering is often expensive and frequently misunderstood. We wanted to give our tracks – and yours – a shot at standing up against the big fish without limiting your creative input, or making you broke in the process.

LANDR is a studio-quality alternative to expensive mastering engineers. It’s a second set of ears you can rely as a benchmark for quality.

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Take Brooklyn artist Govales for example: He makes amazing music in his bedroom. He trusts his ears and room for mixing. But he uses mastering to make sure his ideas get heard while adding a final polish:

“With ‘Freakazoid’ and LANDR, one of the key things I’ve been looking for is to bring out the low end and make the track knock that much more. You can definitely hear the Rhodes piano better, the whole track sparkles more.”

Have a listen to Freakazoid, mastered and unmastered and hear more on Soundcloud.

MASTER WHILE YOU MIX

One of the coolest – and least expected – things that’s happened since launching LANDR is the mid-mix master. Just pop your track into LANDR and see if it resonates. You can then make adjustments to your mix before committing to a final master.

It’s great for getting perspective on your work:

“I had never tried to master my stuff… I’d hand it off to someone else.. but the process for these last two projects is about really trusting my own mixes and putting them through LANDR. It helps me adjust my mixes and know what will pop.” – Govales

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ACTUALLY FINISH YOUR TRACKS

Finishing music is the hardest thing to do, I get it. But it’s also the most satisfying part of making music. In essence mastering IS finishing.

“LANDR can actually help you FINISH your music… that critical, final, elusive, mysterious step has been demystified. And the results speak for themselves.” –Tiga

So give mastering a try, and let us know what you think.

Author bio: Rory Seydel is a musician, writer and father with a love for touring the world and making records. Brand and Community Manager at LANDR.

Get pro mastering in two clicks! Just $9.99 per song.

 

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Join the Conversation

  • Chris Kirkeby Bendsen

    As smart as a cheaper automatic mastering is, it will never beat the ears of a experinced mastering engineer.

  • Durandal

    I’d like to see a third comparison track in addition to the two above, which is the original mix mastered by a professional mastering engineer. That would provide us with a real comparison.

  • P.

    I can’t lie. I’m scared lol

    I might give LANDR a track with one of my singles (not my first single… maybe #3) and see if it stacks up against a guy I have used before and know is a respected name in the business. As the article said, I want something that will sound good to everyone. I’ve experienced that with the guy I’ve used before and radio/club DJs noticed it as well

  • rsams777

    Sorry Rory, mastering does not make your music “sound your best everywhere and in all situations”. At best, it strikes an artful balance between playback situations weighted toward your heaviest distribution medium.

    Your third “solution” implies that the Mastering Engineer is better suited to determine if your music is “good” than the musician. In fact, rather than substituting one ear for another, why not let the listener decide if the music is “good”.

    As evidenced by your example, the main problems with automatic mastering software are over equalization and too much volume compression. These rob music of its’ character and its’ soul. Some Mastering has to be done to be sure but the best product rarely flies out of a one-pass program.

    This is not just my opinion. See “Mastering Without Mayhem” in Electronic Musician, July 8 2008 by Bob Katz.

    I realize you are promoting a product. It is probably a good one IF it allows dynamic adjustment of each of its’ functions AND is used by an Engineer with a good ear and high quality reference speakers. Otherwise, the novice stands as much chance of degrading the music as improving it.

  • A little disappointed, I was expecting something that was, at the very least, a little more subtle.

    I taught myself mastering years ago, I got good at it through the tried-and-true method of practise and practise and more practise. I’m a pretty young creature, but reading this stuff makes me feel old anyway cuz I’m convinced your tracks are still going to sound better when you do your master yourself. 😛

    Studio engineers are fine, cuz this is what they do for a living, but I’d be inclined to think they work best when you’re in the studio with them — not when you send your own heart and soul to them to polish without any help from the artist who’s supposed to care about how it turns out.

    • THIS is what it’s about! You should be there or have the option to make adjustments.

  • It’s NOT ‘Pro Mastering”! It’s done by algorithms. Calling it a “second set of ears” is complete bullshit. I’m REALLY disappointed in you, CD Baby. You claim to be on the side of the artists, but then you pimp out this LANDR service that takes money away from mastering engineers. You use it’s cheap price as it’s selling point. Please tell me you’re not trying to become the Wal Mart of the music world. Really disappointing…..

  • Rick Stokes

    I’d like to hear the 2 tracks at the same loudness to give a fair comparison. The 2nd one is way louder for a start, which leaves about 90% of listeners to the 2 tracks going “wow”, but there’s more to it than loudness.

  • There’s a bunch of musicians who work at CD Baby who’ve A/B’d Landr mastering vs. a professional mastering engineer, and it’s pretty darned good. In some cases people preferred the Landr versions. But, the point here is that Landr offers an affordable, fast, and quality solution for musicians who are cranking out tracks, or who want to have a mastered reference of a rough mix, or (most importantly) for the many many many indie artists who are NOT currently mastering their tracks at all because they blow their budget on recording and mixing (or who record and home and have no budget to hire a mastering engineer). Landr isn’t for everyone, but for the kinds of artists I mentioned above, it’s great and helps make their audio (which might otherwise go un-mastered) sound better without breaking the bank. I’m in the process of releasing a new album, and for that project I hired an engineer to master it. But I wouldn’t hesitate to use (in fact, I plan to use) Landr for a couple standalone tracks and some live recordings that’ll accompany video on YouTube.

    @ChrisRobley