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What Is Mastering? And Why Do You Need It?

Every musician needs their music mastered before release. The problem? Most don’t know what mastering is.

By Braeden Flint

I am a professional mastering engineer based in Provo, Utah. I have over 20 years of experience as a musician and 6 years experience as an audio engineer. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Commercial Music from BYU, as well as training under a Grammy-winning mastering engineer and from professionals located in both Nashville and Los Angeles. I have been blessed to master everything from beats created by producers in Timbaland’s “BeatClub” to original compositions by Broadway musicians. I want to talk to you a little bit about why mastering is important and what makes a good master.

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What is mastering?

Before I discuss why mastering is important, let me begin with a concise definition of what mastering is. Mastering is the last creative step in the audio production process and is the bridge between mixing and distribution. Mastering engineers lend an objective, experienced ear and add the final touch that makes a record sound finished and playable on a wide variety of systems.

With that in mind, why is mastering important? Why do you need it for your music?

Mastering gives you an objective ear in an objective environment on an objective monitoring system.

Can you tell that objectivity is the point here? While the creation of music and what sounds “good” is subjective, a mastering engineer is there to put a set of trained and finely tuned ears on your project. A mastering engineer will hear a song for the very first time as opposed to a producer or mix engineer who has possibly listened to the project upwards of 50-100 times. This first time listening and objective set of ears allows the engineer to hear the song for what it really is and allows for correct adjustments to be made to a mix.

Braeden Flint of Flint Mastering.

Mastering is done in a highly treated studio environment to make sure that what the engineer is hearing is completely accurate. The objective monitoring system (i.e. high end speakers, quality cables, pristine digital-to-analog converters, etc.) is crucial to making objective and correct decisions about the less desirable sonic and dynamic traits in a song as well as accentuating the beauty and details in a work of music. 

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In an industry where DIY home studios are increasingly more prevalent, the role of mastering is more important now than it ever has been. Many home studios are built on a budget and lack the acoustic treatment and monitoring system necessary to hear the full sonic spectrum. Diagnosing problems in a mix can be extremely difficult as a result of room acoustics and speaker limitations. This is why your mix can sound super dope in your room and like garbage in your car. Mastering bridges this gap and allows your song to sound consistent across all platforms. This is only possible because of the objective ear of a mastering engineer, an objective listening environment, and an objective monitoring system that reveals all of the details in a song, whether good or bad.

Mastering gives you proper loudness.

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60,000 songs a day are uploaded to Spotify. In order for your music to compete in today’s industry, it has to be loud enough. Not overly loud and smashed with a limiter, but loud enough for the genre and style of music the song fits into. Mastering provides the appropriate loudness for your music based on style, instrumentation, and genre. It makes the mix loud while retaining dynamics, clarity, musicality, and quality. This is the type of work that mastering engineers are specially trained in.

Now, what makes a good master? This can be a bit subjective. But as a mastering engineer, I believe that a good master is one that is sonically balanced for the genre, retains the intent and sound of the artist and their mix, and is appropriately loud without completely destroying dynamics and the quality of a song.

In short, a good master helps the music to be presented in the best way possible. That’s why you need mastering.

About the Author: Braeden Flint is a professional mastering engineer. Trained by Grammy-winning mastering engineers, he helps transform basement bops into Billboard bangers. Follow him on Instagram @FlintMastering. Hear one of the tracks he’s mastered below.

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