When it comes to mastering, Yes Master Studios in Nashville, TN has been my go to place for well over a decade. So, given that I get a lot of questions about the mastering process from my studio clients, I’ve asked Yes Master owner and founder, Jim DeMain, and mastering engineer, Amy Marie explain what exactly mastering is… Enjoy!

Mastering is somewhat of a mystery to most artists and songwriters and I am here today to shed a little light on the subject.

A good place to start this conversation is listening to a playlist with multiple songs from different artists and albums. You might listen to the first song, and then the following song simply doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as the last one. I am not referring to something like a ballad next to a pop song, I am talking about when the song itself is great, but the song just doesn’t sound as good as the last one on the playlist. That difference you are hearing is the mastering on the track.

Mastering is the final step your song should go through before being released. The mastering engineer determines the final volume of the song and makes sure it has the excitement, sparkle and width of a commercially viable release. Mastering engineers also make sure that the song is at the proper specs for each type of release you may be doing (iTunes, Spotify, CD, Vinyl, etc.) The mastering engineer will make changes on the final mix, which means they won’t be making changes to specifically the guitar or drums, but to the whole mix as a unit.

If you were to send a song to us at Yes Master some differences to the song you would notice after the mastering is complete would be:

  • More Clarity
  • Wider Stereo Image
  • Louder
  • More Excitement
  • Tighter

These are just some examples of what mastering can do for your song.

One big reason mastering is important these days is the fact that commercially released music tends to be quite loud, but the process used to make the music louder generally changes the mix in a less than pleasing way. Mastering engineers are specifically working to make sure the mix gets better as it gets louder, not worse.

Some processes that take place during mastering are: Limiting, which is a type of compression that is used to make the song louder without allowing any peaks to go over 0 and create distortion in the song. EQ, which is used to make sure the highs and lows of the songs (highs as in high end frequency information, and lows as in low frequency information) are as properly balanced as possible. And Stereo Widening is used to create a wider stereo image. These are not all the methods that are used by any means, but some of the more frequently used techniques.

Mastering gives you a final set of ears in the process to make sure your song sounds great next to anything it is put up against. Please give us a call or email if you have any further questions about the process!

Big thanks to Cliff for letting us write this guest blog post!

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10 responses to “What Is Mastering?”

  1. Gary Nobile says:

    Thanks Cliff. How much does it cost to Master one song?

  2. Pete Rizzo says:

    Is there an advantage to sending individual TKs? I don’t save them. So are Mixed Down songs OK, or worth it to send?

  3. Andrew Rivera says:

    “Mastering is working to make sure the mix gets better as it gets louder, not worse.”
    There it is!
    The best explanation of mastering I’ve ever heard.

  4. Bill Kelly says:

    Thanks for allowing Jim DeMain to to demystify some of the aspects mastering. I’ve been fortunate to have Jim work on a number of my records and he gets them sounding as good they can get and just super musical.

  5. Rhys says:

    You mention some of the popular streaming platforms but I didn’t see Soundcloud. I always wonder if I should be mastering for Soundcloud or not bother, especially when it goes though a normalisation process when a song is uploaded much like the other streaming platforms

    I would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Hi Rhys,

      Thanks for your comment. As far as Soundcloud goes, the service seems to be a useful one for many songwriters. As far as “mastering” for Soundcloud, I’m not sure that’s totally necessary as long as your mix is well done. I think of mastering as a process to ensure that all the tracks on an album are at similar levels with similar EQ. When in doubt, simply make sure your mix is well done and you should be fine.

      Hope that helps!

      -Cliff

  6. Chris Scott Fieselman says:

    If all I have are the mp3s of the original songs, can they be mastered and marketable by Thanksgiving?

    -Captain Chris Scott Fieselman

    • Hi Chris,

      If mp3s are all you have but the mixes are good, then mastering will certainly help. And for an album’s worth of material, it’s not at all out of the question that a mastering engineer can take care of that for you in time for Thanksgiving.

      Hope that helps!

      -Cliff

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