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what is mastering?

So What Exactly Is Mastering?

Mastering the is the last step in the creative process of making a record. This can be attributed to a "polishing" step. No fixes in the mix should occur in this stage of the process. The mastering stage follows the mixing stage. 

Contrary to popular belief, mastering is not simply  putting a limiter on your master bus. Mastering is enhancing the feel of the song. While volume is a factor in this process, it is not the only factor.

Masters that are processed only for volume will feel thin, squashed, and flat - even though they are hitting 0dB on the VU meters.

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Is My Record Ready For Mastering?

Before we jump the gun, let's go over all the steps in creating a record. This will help you gauge where you are in the process if this is new to you.

Creating a record is a multi-step process that often involves multiple people. Depending on the genre you create, the very first step might be a little different than others, but the last 2 steps are the same all across the board. Here is a summary of the process.

Step 1: Creation

- Recording

- Production

Step 2: Mixing

- Instrumental mixing

- Vocal mixing

Step 3: Mastering

- Polishing

- Data

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What Does A 'Bad' Master Sound Like?

I haven't seen many articles or videos that actually cover this topic and I feel it's a very important one to cover. How do you know what a good master sounds like? Why doesn't your previous master sound like your reference? How will I know if I received a 'bad' master? How does a bad master sound like?

These are all great questions and I will answer all of them. We'll start in order.

1. How do you know what a good master sounds like?

A good master will sound full, crispy highs, commanding lows, and a clear midrange. Achieving this is actually very hard that takes great understanding of audio to fully express the results.

Examples of amazing mixes with amazing masters are:

a) "Man In The Mirror" by Michael Jackson.

b) "Tennessee" by Hanz Zimmer

c) "Cool" by Gwen Stefani

2. Why doesn't your previous master sound like your reference?

The mastering process is a polishing step and not a 'fixing' step, any corrections that should be made in the mix should be done in the arrangement, production, or mixing process. The track should already sound almost exactly how you want it by the time it reaches the mastering stage. Following these steps will result in a amazing record.

3. How does a 'bad' master sound like?

A bad master will lack clarity, punch, crispy highs, clear mids, sound squashed or simply flat. Depending on how the track was received, it might even sound thin.

Below is a track I have poorly mastered on purpose for you to hear. By contrast, a properly mastered version is included following that.


How Do I Know If My Song Needs Mastering?

Every song will require mastering if it's to compete sonically with your competitors. A great mastering engineer will enhance the best parts of your track and make it a great listening experience for your fans. A mastering engineer is the person who finalizes your record. This person is the last person to touch your record and make sure it's up to standard's before the world hears your record.

In short - a great master will make your record sound more full, bigger, richer, and if applicable - louder.


Since the early 2000's there has been the dubbed "loudness wars". Essentially, our ears tend to perceive things that sound louder as sounding 'better'. While this isn't necessarily true, the result has been a war in who can get their records louder in order to stand out from everyone else. This has been an important  characteristic in genres like Rap, Pop, Rock, EDM, Country, and more.


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How Can I Have My Record Mastered?

Nowadays there are multiple ways you can master your records depending on your budget. However, much like a pencil, an inexperienced wielder might draw you some stick figures, another person might draw you some architect plans, and one might draw you a beautiful painting.

Moral of the story is: 

Anyone can pick up a tool, but a master will deliver exceptional work.

With that being said here are some of your options from least-to-greatest on mastering a track, keep in mind that a mastering engineer will deliver the best results.

1. Master it yourself :

If you're low on a budget, this may be the most practical option for you if you're saving your budget for your best single and want to release other tracks you don't plan on putting as much money behind it.

You can buy a limiter plugin or hardware to loosely accomplish your goal in this manner.

2. AI mastering:

AKA "Artificial Intelligence Mastering". This is probably one of your worst options. Here is why:

Mastering is an art, and it's kind of like handing a robot a pencil. They might do a great job, but it's probably not exactly what you were looking for. AI is based on datasets, and simply put, the AI algorithm is only as good as the data it has been fed and organized. They are simply mathematical equation's that say

"if 'X' then 'Y'", and then it executes a command based on previous situations.

My point is that you will not get that emotion and enhancement that you would from either doing it yourself or hiring a mastering engineer.

AI Mastering in short is simply presets that an algorithm decides for you based on the music it thinks it received.

3. Mastering engineer:

One of the biggest benefits of having a real mastering engineer on your team is being able to ask questions you would not be able to have answered otherwise.

Of course the biggest benefit of having mastering engineer on your team is having their expertise polish your tracks how you truly envisioned them.

Something to look for in a mastering engineer is to see how active they are in trying to understand your vision with your record. After all, they will be the last hands handling your record.

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What Can I Expect Working With
Bay Phoenix Studios?

1. Before we start working on your record, we will get a clear vision of what you want it sound like.

2. Next, we will apply those characteristics we felt you wanted in your record.

3. After that, we will revise with you to confirm that was the sound you were looking for.

4. Once we clear that process, your data will be applied and we will deliver you a download link via email to access your record! 

Click here to get started!

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