Links update: 04/08/2021
Learn to master at home with great results.
Mastering is not about making your music louder to compete with others. It's not about making a track punchy or making your bass louder and its not about adding “air” or “highs”. It's also not about using a standard preset processing chain. In fact, contrary to what most “mastering tutorials” are telling you, loudness is irrelevant and these “preset chains” of processors will rarely work in favour of your music.
Instead, professional mastering is about objectivity and perspective. It's about understanding your tools, mastery of your meters and an appreciation of the dynamics and tone of a piece of music. It's about understanding how streaming formats will affect your music and how dynamics can often be far more important than simply being loud. And it involves knowing what to listen for and how to listen for it. Yet, with so many mastering tutorials available, its surprising how so few touch upon any of these topics.
For Mastering we investigate the art and science behind professional mastering for electronic dance music and how you can accomplish great results at home. Since mastering is so heavily dependent on an understanding of what’s happening inside the music we begin our tutorial with an examination of bit rates, sample rates, weighting, levels and meters. Here we introduce and discuss the differences in meters, why they’re so important for mastering and also introduce the different measurements such as LUFS (LKFS), dBFS, VU, R128, ITU-R B 1170 and the CALM Act. We then show how to set-up and begin to use your meters to accurately depict what’s happening with the music.
From here we move on to further important topics such as maintaining PLR, PSR and crest factors, the problems with inter-sample peaking, RMS vs Peak, and the importance of measuring true peak. We show how to follow AES Streaming guidelines, how to master properly for iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora and other online streaming services and how to ensure your mix sounds the best it can on all of them. We also examine the problems inherit with dithering, quantisation noise, an explanation and the uses of mid-side and dynamic EQ, true peak limiting and multi-band compression.
We also cover how to gain objectivity, what to listen for and how to listen before finally mastering 5 tracks submitted by our DMP community. Here, we show how all this theory ties together and applies in practice, mastering the 5 tracks each from different dance music genres, and showing how to best use your tools and meters to produce professional results rather than the all too typical dynamically restricted noise that many would have you believe constitutes a master.
During the course of the tutorial, we also examine the sonic differences between mastering in software and hardware. Using top flight studio hardware including SSL, Empirical Labs, API and Chandler we compare the results to mixes mastered completely in software. Finally, we then run a comparison of LANDR’s automated mastering service against our masters to see if their service truly offers “professional” results.
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