5 Things I've Learned About Mastering Music

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I’ve been mastering records for 40 years and have worked on everything from Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones to Bon Iver and the Alabama Shakes. Trends and recording formats may come and go, but one thing remains the same: Your music will sound better if you keep the following five things in mind before sending it out for mastering.

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1. Love Your Mixes

Work as hard as you can to get your mixes to sound exactly how you want. Don’t assume your mastering engineer can read your mind and make things happen in your mixes that you couldn’t get around to doing yourself. He or she will attempt to give you back a product that more vividly mirrors what you’ve already created, so create something you’re proud of.

2. Think Like You’re Ordering Chinese Food

You don’t leave it to the waiter to decide how spicy you like your food, so why would you assume that your mastering engineer knows how loud you want it? Tell your engineer what you’re looking for in terms of overall levels, and when possible, refer to recordings that provide a similar sonic imprint.

3. Supply All The Files

Loop your mastering engineer into your process by providing him or her with all of the mixes you’ve been listening to. This includes any “pumped-up” listening copies that have become the standard of late, but also the raw mixes without level maximizing if they exist.

4. Go to the Session

Even if you just sit and watch, attending the mastering session allows your mastering engineer to become part of your team. The most casual conversation can help reveal your musical tastes and also give direction as to how to best treat your mixes. Also, seeing how your engineer approaches your work can help improve your own mixing skills next time around.

5. You’re Finished When You’re Satisfied

Some people hire a mastering engineer to put his or her sonic mark on their music. Others make numerous revisions until they hear what they’re looking for. When creating art, there’s no one “correct” way to achieve results. Sometimes the road is more difficult than other times, but there’s beauty in the process and great satisfaction in getting to the finish line. So never be afraid to push until the very end.

Mastering engineer Greg Calbi has worked on over 7,500 albums by artists like John Lennon, John Mayer, Paul Simon, and others. Find-out more at sterling-sound.com.