Mastering Home Recording Mixes - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Mastering is an often-misunderstood (and even unknown to many) part of the music production process that can make or break a CD (well, not literally). Mastering consists of several important steps that are intended to polish your songs so that they make up a complete collection on a CD, commonly referred to as an album. Here are the steps for mastering your songs:

  1. Optimize the dynamics.

    The goal here is to get the dynamic levels within and between each song to their best. It also means making your music smooth (no sharp edge to the music) or punchy (a pronounced attack) — or something in between. Unfortunately, most people are only concerned with getting their CD as loud as possible when performing this part of mastering. This isn’t a good idea.

  2. Adjust the overall tonal balance.

    The point of this part of the mastering process is to create tonal continuity among all the songs on your CD. Because you probably recorded and mixed all your tunes over a period of months, they each can have slightly different tonal characteristics.

    This part of mastering is where you make all your songs consistent so that they sound like part of an album and not a bunch of disjointed tunes thrown together haphazardly.

  3. Match the song-to-song volume.

    When your listeners play your CD, you don’t want them to have to adjust the volume of each song as it plays (unless they absolutely love a particular tune and want to turn it up, of course).

    The goal with this part of mastering is to get the volume of all the songs on a CD at pretty much the same level. This keeps one song from barely being heard while another threatens to blow the speakers.

  4. Set the song sequence.

    How your songs are arranged on your CD helps tell your story. Think about how the order of each song on your album can make the most compelling musical statement. This part of the mastering process involves not only deciding what order everything should be in but also the steps you take to make it happen.