Mastering is often the unsung hero behind the smoothest and most polished music tracks. For those new to producing and finalizing their own projects, mastering typically falls by the wayside. More often than not, it’s the domain of a well-paid engineer who can offer a fresh set of ears and seamless sound processing.
Without clean mastering, a song often feels incomplete. The softer the music, the more important mastering becomes. Listeners who prefer ambient electronic music, for example, are likely tuning in because it helps them concentrate.
Back in the day, some companies blasted upbeat music to keep morale high in labor-intensive jobs, but today music is often used to focus and calm the mind. Complex, demanding jobs require a calm and focused mind; investment groups use bespoke playlists to keep a calm rhythm in the office, while poker pros have turned to instrumental music to stay focused while at the table (sometimes for hours).
Any hiccups in digital mastering will immediately be noticed by a listener, which makes finding a reliable product incredibly important. Scale this example up for commercial usage (in radio or cinema, for example), and mastering becomes one pivotal difference between creating art with sound or creating mere entertainment.
For those looking to spearhead their own musical career, paying a mastering engineer is unrealistic. Instead, many DIY musicians are adopting mastering plugins specific to their genre or knowledge level, similar to microphones made for acoustic guitars or turntables for digital musicians. Let’s take a closer look.
Beginner-Friendly: Ozone 9 Standard ($249)
This mastering suite is one of the best known in the industry—and for good reason. Anyone looking to dive into mastering knows that it can be a nightmare. Newbies have to learn the ropes related to compressors, de-essers, and reverb, as well as a whole new software program.
The Ozone 9 Standard simplifies this process; the program even has an ‘auto-match’ function. Musicians can poke around the program, learning the ropes while Ozone masters a song by analyzing it against reference tracks.
Speed Machine: Brainworx bx_masterdesk ($149)
Ozone is designed to make it easy to learn complex mastering skills, while the Brainworx plugin is designed to make mastering quick and simple. The design was created with speed in mind, allowing users to choose between four compression styles rather than input specifics manually.
Those looking to submit demos can rely on Brainworx to get the job done, though pros may prefer something with more customization options.
A Lesson in History: Waves – Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain ($199)
Given this plugin’s nod to Abbey Road, one of the biggest studios in the world, it should come as little surprise that the Waves plugin presents some of the most iconic mastering tools used in the 70s and 80s to the modern-day musician.
It provides access to the mastering tools used on albums like The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd) or something like Ed Sheeran’s + from 2014. Beyond these features, Waves delivers on customization, which can also be used in the mixing process.
For the Tech-Lover: Eventide Elevate Bundle ($199)
Those looking for the latest and greatest in mastering technology need to look no further. The Eventide plugin offers users AI-driven algorithms to help purify sound. Those looking to scale their loudness without sacrificing dynamic perception can leave it to Eventide tech.
Additionally, a variety of presets can be used to finetune a song. AI is available to analyze, but users have the final say in how music is adapted.
What The Pros Use: Sequoia ($2,000+)
Though it’ll take a few years to have the mastering background to tackle a program like Sequoia, musicians who use the plugin can rest assured that they’re mastering with the same tech as industry giants.
All features are customizable, from processing EQ and AUX sends to controlling a signal path. Additionally, one of Sequoia’s pro features is adding metadata to a song. This helps protect intellectual property, but also makes exportation easier by adding track markers.