What is mastering?

Mastering takes an audio mix and brings it to distribution quality. It’s the final step to balance your mix, unify sonic elements and optimize playback response for all file formats and devices. It typically consists of a series of subtle audio processes including stereo enhancement, compression, equalization and limiting. It’s the vital connection between your hard work as a creator and radio-ready sound quality.

Listen to the above song, Earth Eyes, to hear the audio changes as we turn the mastering on and off during this track.

Why does a track need mastering?

Chances are your favorite song has been mastered. In fact, just about all music is mastered for listening across all platforms, streaming services, radio and television. If you’re serious about your creative process, mastering will ensure that your music is presented at its best.

Benefits of mastering:

  • Consistency across all playback devices
  • Increases overall loudness without losing dynamic range
  • Enhances essential frequencies to improve the overall mix
  • Fixes problematic frequencies
  • Sonic unification for albums

How should I prepare my music for mastering?

The first step is to ensure your mix is well balanced and sounds just the way you want it to. Here’s a rule of thumb from our engineers at BandLab: Mastering can take a good mix and make it great, but it cannot fix problems in your mix. Here are a few simple rules when preparing your final mix:

  • Make sure your track isn’t clipping. Distortion can ruin a track and there’s no way to remove these unpleasant arteifacts in the mastering process
  • Don’t over-compress your master track. Leaving a little headroom is key for ensuring your track will sound amazing after mastering. A typical mastering engineer will require your pre-mastering mix to sit somewhere from -8dB to -4dB
  • Avoid adding too many master effects. A little bit of global reverb is fine (aux sends are ideal), but if you go too far it can cause issues when mastering
  • Listen carefully for over-accentuated frequencies. If the bass is too muddy, try adding a high pass filter to clean up or remove excess or inaudible frequencies. If the mids are troubled, try reductive equalizing to highlight the most important sonic aspects of each track
  • Balance is key. Make sure you’re happy with how each track sits in the mix and relates to each other. This not only means volume but also panning
  • Take a break from mixing before exporting your final version. Ears are likely to get fatigued after a long session. Taking 10 minutes of silence every hour of producing can do wonders for any mix

Why master on BandLab?

BandLab offers four world-class automated mastering presets for your music designed with Grammy-winning engineers. You get to choose what sounds best for your music. Master as many tracks as you want, share them as often as you want, and get unlimited .WAV and .MP3 downloads. Not only that, but BandLab Mastering is fully integrated into our cross-platform social music creation application. We’re constantly improving the process so watch this space!

Should I find a professional?

Mastering is an art, not a science. Nothing can beat experienced ears. BandLab can help your music sound its best, but, if you have the means, we recommend finding and supporting professionals in the field. But if you’re looking for accessibility that doesn’t compromise on quality, try mastering your tracks here – it’s free and unlimited.

Master on BandLab now

Read more: Mastering your music: How to do it