Tips for Getting into Mastering
There is an old saying in the music industry: “Almost anyone can mix, but not everyone can master.”
This old saying has to do with the difference between mixing and mastering music. The main difference is that in mixing one is preparing the track for the mastering process. Mixing is basically the point in production where the effects are added, channel levels are finalized.
Most people think that once mixing is done that the process is over, in most cases they are wrong. Some DIY artists will add the mastering process directly into the mixing process. They do this by mastering the track on the same session that the mixing process occurred on. Under professional standards, mixing and mastering both in the same session is not done. Professionals will bounce the final mixed track out (bouncing a track means to basically export a track to an audio file, always in WAV, never MP3 or AAC when bouncing for mastering as these are both compressed audio formats) making sure to follow directions that a mastering technician/engineer has given for mixing. Such directions normally are, keeping the final output volume at a certain level, making sure certain effects are not used on the master volume channel. Once the track is bounced, the mastering engineer will take over.
Mastering is the process of preparing the track or tracks for final release. Another old saying is the master is only as good as the mix. Basically this means that the track handed to the mastering engineer needs to be the best mix possible. This helps the mastering engineer avoid having to correct mistakes made in the mix while in the mastering process. Years ago, the mastering process used to be hardware-based. That is why mastering engineers once got away with charging hefty prices for mastering entire albums. Now, with the advent of digital technology, software has made mastering technology more affordable to the average user. iZotope’s own mastering software package called Ozone has become sort of the unwritten industry standard. iZotope actually includes their own mastering software in a production bundle available to purchase on iZotope’s own website.
With iZotope’s Ozone Software, the tools that used to be hardware, such as mastering equalizers, limiters/maximizer, spectrum imager are all a mouse-click away in a single software package – for those looking to get into mastering, either to charge others or to just finish their own tracks as a DIY artist. Learn from someone who already works as a mastering engineer in the business. Either ask someone at a studio nearby or best bet – attend a college or trade school that offers audio production courses. Learning from someone one-on-one is the best way to learn. If you really want to learn how to properly master audio, you first need to learn how to use the tools available to you. If you do decide to use Ozone as your mastering software of choice, take the time to learn the software. Read the directions or if you are more of a visual learner, iZotope does have tutorials available on the internet for free.
These tutorials are a great visual aid to help you learn about the amazing features available in the software. One reason why mastering engineers use mastering software like Ozone, is that settings can be saved with just a few clicks as a preset now. When you find a setting that you find that you are using more often, save that as a preset. That way when working on another track in the same music genre, you can upload the preset and use it as a starting point in mastering. Do not use an audio interface when mastering. Instead use your computers built-in audio card (depending on the age of your computer, an upgrade to the audio card maybe needed). Reason is that the way the track being mastered sounds will change by simply including an audio interface as my audio output when mastering. When I master audio, I use professional audio headphones plugged into the headphone port of my computer (never use earbuds in professional audio). Before bouncing out the mastered audio, I check the mix by turning on a set of high-end consumer speakers.
Last but not least, practice, practice, practice. Do not expect to get mastering down overnight. It will take time and a lot of mistakes to figure out how to master within Ozone. An audio production website called ADSR has amazing tutorials on how to use Ozone 7 and one to explain the added features in new version Ozone 8.