Mastering Advice for Beginners

What’s your best advice for a beginner who is just starting out mastering, and wants to develop their skills?

  1. You have to start by listening: Listen to lots of very good recordings and become familiar with how they sound on the finest reproduction systems and compromised systems. Become familiar with the effects of PLR and PLR reduction and make sure you can identify when transients have been deleteriously affected (e.g. overcompression). Then try to obtain well-made raw mixes, which is the hard part. — Bob Katz, Digital Domain
  2. Spend all your initial efforts to create an accurate and high resolution monitor/room situation. That will enable you to refine your listening skills and eventually make good judgements on what may be needed. — Dave McNair, Dave McNair Mastering
  3. Do lots of ear training. EQ will be your number one tool, so get to know those key frequencies inside and out. — Ian Stewart, Ian Stewart Music
  4. Mastering is all about listening. The more variety of music you can listen to, the better foundation you will have. Listen with Purpose. Listen to the work of “the masters” and DO NOT get hung up on what type of gear they used or why it’s unfair that they got great mixes to work with. Study and learn – a lot – before you start turning knobs or clicking a mouse. — Scott Hull, Masterdisk
  5. Develop your skills on as many styles as you possibly can doing both recording and mixing for as long as you can before trying to make the jump to mastering. This is both art and science and besides technical and people skills you need to develop your ears, instincts and of course your own professional criteria but that can only be properly developed thru time. — Camilo Silva F., CamiloSilvaF.com
  6. Practice on a variety of local bands for no charge. Then listen to your results on a variety of real world playback systems. Find out what your monitors are doing to your masters. — Don Grossinger, DonGrossinger.com
  7. Pick a reference with an ideal 1) tonal balance, 2) density/punch, and 3) volume for your genre and tastes — and stick with it! Your job is to match your material to your reference in those three areas. Anything else is best addressed in the mix. — Brian Hazard, Resonance Mastering
  8. Mastering a song to match a reference song is like carving a block of wood to match a reference block of wood. Learn all the tools and techniques it takes to match a reference, and you’ll master anything for anyone (provided that the mix is decent and allows for that). — Janne Hatula, Fanu Music
  9. Embrace the mistakes you will inevitably make, and learn from them. Be gracious and generous to your clients whose music they entrust to you. — David Glasser, Airshow Mastering
  10. You can’t polish a turd… you need to learn how to mix well before your masters will start sounding good. Mastering can fix some mix errors, but if your mix has a lot of problems mastering tends to only exacerbate them with compression and limiting. My practical advice would be to try to master a new song everyday while watching YouTube tutorials and comparing your masters to professional tracks in your genre. If you keep this up long enough you’ll get very good eventually. — Zach Caraher, Big Z Mixing & Mastering Services

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