Is audio mastering necessary, and if so, are you ready to have your songs mastered?

By Rob Stewart - JustMastering.com - December 3, 2012



Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering paying to have your songs professionally mastered. Please contact me any time if you have questions.


Do I need to have my music professionally mastered?

Audio mastering is largely about quality assurance, to create the very best first impression of your mix possible. Before you get your music mastered, consider the following points. 


Do you plan to distribute your music?

Whether you are selling your music online, or giving it away for free, your listeners will use a very wide range of playback systems - anything from mp3 players to audiophile quality sound systems, and it's human nature for them to make judgments about what they are hearing. 

Defects in a mix can distract listeners to a point that they may not notice the things that you want them to listen for. Some defects are not as noticeable when your songs are played on an mp3 player, or in the car, but they become much more evident on larger or more expensive sound systems. In either case, the audio mastering process helps to ensure that your listeners are getting the very best sounding product, because the role of the mastering engineer is to ensure that your mixes sound as musical as possible, and are free from any unintended technical defects.

Additional reading:


Do you want to ensure that your mixes sound as clear and balanced as possible on the widest variety of sound systems?

It is important that your music "translates" well - i.e. sounds relatively well balanced when played on a variety of systems, and a qualified mastering engineer can help you achieve that! Have you found that your mixes sound great in your studio but can be hard to hear in the car, for example? There are many factors that can cause this, but a mastering engineer can help ensure that your songs sound as clear as possible wherever they are played (within the limits of the playback system of course!). 


Do you have a specific purpose or playback medium in mind, such as CD or Mastered for iTunes?

Mastering engineers will often times make decisions based on the intended output medium. For example, the dynamic range of a CD is different from the DVD-Audio format. A professional mastering engineer will help ensure that your songs are mastered appropriately for the chosen medium(s). 


How do I know that my songs are ready for audio mastering?

Your music is ready for professional mastering when:


All of your songs are finished.

Since most songs are part of a compilation or album, it is best to have all songs for that album mastered together. Paying to have your music mastered one song at a time, in isolation, is not recommended because when each of those songs are put together, they might not sound like they belong to the same project. 


You have considered and obtained ISRCs for your music if you plan to sell it.

This is completely at your discretion, but it is a recommended step if you plan to sell your music, and have it broadcast on radio or TV. More information here


You have decided on the final song sequence for your project.

The mastering engineer will make a number of sonic adjustments based on the sequence of songs for your album. For that reason, it is best to ensure your song sequence has been confirmed before the mastering process begins. 


You are 100% happy with the sound of your production and mixes.

Audio mastering helps to:

  • bring out the energy and musicality of your songs
  • compensate for idiosyncrasies in the original mix environment that can adversely affect the tonality and translatability of your mixes
  • address any technical defects with your mixes or song files

With that in mind, it is extremely important that you are completely happy with your mixes before you send them away for mastering. The finished masters will sound better than your original mixes, but since audio mastering cannot add fidelity that didn't exist in the original recording, or fix serious mix issues, it is very important to get your mixes are perfect as you can before sending them in.