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Mastering Music: The Art, Science, and Process
Learn to master your music like a pro. Our blog breaks down the processes of equalization, compression, and limiting to achieve outstanding sound quality. Explore now!

Defining the Process of Mastering Music

The art of mastering music is a critical last step in music production and should never be given a miss. Mastering is where music producers take the final mix and give it a certain sparkle or sheen, ensuring it translates well onto all sound systems and speakers. Whether you're playing the track at home, on your earbuds, or at a live concert, it should sound equally amazing. 

But what does a music mastering engineer actually do? The answer is a mix of subtle audio enhancements and meticulous listening. Their ears are like finely tuned instruments, detecting inconsistencies, disparities, and frequencies that may be out of balance. They apply a series of processes to smooth out these kinks and bumps to create a polished and radio-ready track. The core aim is to make your music pleasurable to listeners and compatible with all types of playback devices, creating a clear and cohesive sound throughout the album.

Understanding The Three-Step Process of Mastering

Equalization (EQ)

Equalization is the first step in mastering. Here, you need a keen ear to listen for and identify any potential issues with the frequencies in your tracks. Presence of too much bass or lack of high frequencies? That's where EQ plays its role. It's all about finding and enhancing the best parts of your mix while gently diminishing the parts that may be overshadowing other elements.

The vital part here is to compare your song to a well-mastered reference track. It can give you an idea of how your song should sound when it’s entirely finished. But remember, do not copy the EQ settings from the reference track directly. Instead, make adjustments to your track till your ears find it pleasing and balanced.


Compression is the heart of mastering. It serves the purpose of effectively "gluing" the track together and infusing it with a certain level of energy. It aims to reduce the dynamic range of your track, making it sound fuller and louder without distorting the original quality. The technique here is to use a low-ratio, medium to slow attack time option. This effectively controls the dynamics without squashing the life out your music.

Applying compression can be a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, you can significantly enhance the power and punchiness of your track without affecting the clarity and detail of the music.


Limiting is essentially a type of compression with much higher ratios. It serves the purpose of bringing your music closer to zero dB as possible. However, it's critical not to go over zero dB, as this can result in digital clipping, distorting your sound.

Considered the finishing step in the mastering process, it ensures your track meets the loudness standards of today’s industry. A good limiting process will make your track loud enough to compete with others while maintaining the dynamic range, depth, and detail.

Technical Requirements for Mastering

Before you commence mastering, you need to "bounce down" your track. This involves setting the bit depth and the kilohertz sample rate correctly. The standard for CD audio is 16-bit/44.1kHz, and for video, it's 24-bit/48kHz or higher. Remember, these standards are not merely logistical constraints, but each setting has a unique impact on the sound of your music.

The mastering process thus requires an understanding of these technical aspects, coupled with the creative use of tools available. Only then can you truly deliver a meticulously mastered track with a professional touch.

Optional Enhancements in Mastering

Mastering is a subtle art, and every minor enhancement contributes to creating that final, perfect track. Adding saturation helps in preserving perceived loudness while providing additional warmth and fullness to your track. It's a fine balance to strike, and saturation can be a powerful tool in damping overzealousness in the high frequencies or low-end padding without adversely affecting the rest of the mix.

Multiband compression, an advanced form of compression, allows control over different frequency ranges separately. This adds a new level of precision in taming problem areas that could detract from the overall sonic appeal of your mix.

Another optional tool in your mastering kit is to increase the stereo width. Attention to the stereo field ensures that your mix has a rich, immersive quality that can captivate your listeners. Be mindful though, excessive use can distort your musical image and make your music sound unnatural.

Last but not least, metering is a vital step to ensure you are adhering to the industry standards for loudness. This final ingress of control can accurately quantify the loudness level of your mix and provide a quantitative backdrop for your qualitative decisions.

Creating a Conducive Environment for Mastering

Mastering requires a well-tuned studio environment. Your room should ideally be acoustically treated to avoid any coloration of sound caused by room modes or reflections. High-quality, flat-response monitors are a must as well to give you the most accurate representation of your music.

Remember, your room and monitors are your most important tools in the mastering process. If these are compromised, it's likely you’ll be struggling to achieve professional sound, no matter how high-quality your music or mastering plugins are.

Maintaining a Practical Mindset During Mastering

One crucial aspect of mastering is to avoid perfectionism. The aim of mastering is not to make a flawless track, but to make it the best listening experience possible for your audience. Incessant tweaking might just lead you away from the sound you initially aimed for.

The best way to avoid over-processing your work is to take breaks and listen again with fresh ears. This can help you take a step back and reassess whether your track really needs further adjustments or if it's just perfect the way it is.

Mastering Checklist – A Boon for Musicians

Fortunately, for budding sound masters, there's a Mastering Checklist that you can access for free. Despite its simplicity, it serves as a swift reference guide that summarizes the main points raised here. It's a handy tool especially for those who are just getting started with mastering.

Remember, mastering is not about making your work sound different, but making it sound better. It's an exciting and rewarding process that takes practice and patience. With time, these tips and the use of your checklist, you'll be well on your way to mastering your own music, producing a sound that truly resonates with your audience.

What you should do now
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If you’re already with us, here are more production tutorials to give you the edge:
What is Crate?
Crate is the easiest way to store, organize, and share unreleased music. With Crate, your unreleased music syncs across your devices. Available for iOS and desktop.
Rylan Talerico
October 3, 2023
Before founding Crate, Rylan Talerico was signed to Warner Records as a recording artist, producer, and songwriter. These days, Rylan enjoys spending time with his family and working on Crate building tools to empower musicians to be more creative and connected.
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