Mastering is one of the last and least understood stages of making a record. As Michael Cooper puts it simply in an article for EM, “Mastering is essentially the art of applying signal processing to finished mixes in order to enhance them or correct problems, sequencing the processed tracks in the desired order for playback, and exporting the resulting file in the correct format for delivery to the replication plant for mass production.”
Mastering won’t fix a bad mix. But it can make a good mix sound great, adding excitement, punch, a wider sense of sonic space, and new color to the music you’ve made. How? Take a listen to this free podcast episode (http://cdbabypodcast.com/?p=92) where we’ve asked pro-mastering engineer Carl Saff to reveal his tricks, tips, and methods.
As Carl makes clear, audio mastering is certainly a skill and art in its own right, but don’t let that discourage you from trying your hand (or ears) at it. There are many affordable DIY mastering programs out there for both Mac and PC. And if you are only planning on selling singles you’ve immediately eliminated one of the major concerns of the mastering process, balancing multiple tracks across an album from a volume and frequency perspective. Only selling one song? Maybe the mix is perfect! Maybe all you need to worry about is making the track louder, softer, adding just a touch of compression, a hint more bass, etc. There are no real rules. Just dig in and keep tinkering until you’ve maximized the magic of your mix.