Mastering requires both experience, training and the right tools. Thanks to digital recording, much of the right tools can be had as plugins for a fraction of the cost of their analog counterparts.
While there are virtually endless tools out there for mastering–tape emulators, stereo expanders, aural exciters, etc–there are some tools that are just basic necessities. You’ll find them in every mastering studio in the world. We thought it’d be helpful to give a brief overview of those tools.
Generally you’ll want to start with these five plugins when mastering a track.
A compressor might be the most popular type of plugin for mastering. It essentially reduces the dynamic range of your track, making the quieter parts louder and the louder parts quieter. The result is a richer and more full-sounding mix. The trick, however, is to not use too much compression, or your song will sound flat.
A hard limiter is a compressor with a ratio of around 10:1 (meaning that every one decibel over the thresh hold is reduced by ten decibels). It effectively sets your dynamic limit, which is important for getting the loudness correct.
One of the biggest mistakes indie producers make is getting too much sibilance in their mix. This is often due to their having polished up the highs with an EQ while mixing and resultantly making the sibilance too hot. A de-esser is designed to leave the highs sounding clean and bright, but cut the sibilance down. It’s a go to tool for most producers.
While reverb is often used more in the mixing process, it can be helpful when putting the finishing touches on a mix to add extra depth and fullness to some of the tracks.
An EQ is essential to the mastering process as often it’s necessary to fine tune the frequency levels of a mix to make it sound universally better and balanced. Often the biggest mistake indie artists is having too much or too little bass. A multiband equalizer can be a lifesaver when mastering. Definitely a must have.
Even if you hire someone else to do your mastering (which we recommend you do), these five plugins should be handy in every studio. It’s worth paying extra for ones you really love, too. You’ll get your money’s worth.
Make Pro Songs
Welcome to Sage Audio — where we’ve been providing top-tier studio mastering services and audio education for over two decades now. We understand the challenges of achieving that elusive "professional" sound and are committed to helping you attain it in your own mixes and masters.
That’s why we created the Sage Audio Membership™.
Just for signing up, you receive 10 free mastered songs per month with your own dedicated mastering engineer, unlimited mixing feedback, and access to Sage Audio University™ mixing and mastering courses - which include start-to-finish walkthrough sessions for various genres and 35 multitrack sessions for hands-on practice.
This platform is supported by our thriving community and tight-knit network of audio engineers. Every day, we see and hear great wins in the membership from both new and seasoned engineers, noticing a huge improvement in their mixes and masters after joining.
There are 6 unique value-points inside the Sage Audio membership, so let’s go over each one so you can decide if it’s the right fit for you.
1. 10 Free Mastered Songs Per Month
- Get 10 free mastered songs per month with your own dedicated professional mastering engineer so you can get all your mixes sounding like professional songs.
- All 10 free mastered songs per month will accumulate in your account and will not expire as for as long as you remain a member.
- You’ll get your own dedicated Sage Audio mastering engineer to discuss all your project needs 1:1 so they can create custom masters that are specific to you and sound exactly how you want.
- Unlimited revisions with your dedicated Sage Audio mastering engineer. As a standard of our service, we are not happy until you are happy with the sound of your masters.
- All masters are delivered as commercial, industry-standard high-resolution 24-bit HD WAV masters so they will sound clean and clear on every platform.
2. Unlimited Mixing Feedback
- Get unlimited mixing feedback from Sage Audio engineers and community members so you can quickly improve your mixes.
- This is highly valuable - giving you access to a thriving community of mixing engineers who can provide you with feedback about what you can improve first before sending your mix to be professionally mastered.
3. Sage Audio University™ (SAU) — (Mixing and Mastering Education Platform)
- SAU is a modern audio engineering education platform that includes in-depth mixing and mastering course curriculums that match the new music industry.
- SAU is designed for every experience level, ranging from first-time mixing engineers to advanced engineers. The techniques and concepts taught can be applied to any DAW to create industry-leading mixes without expensive software or plugins - and free plugin alternatives are suggested throughout every course curriculum.
- SAU course curriculums include Start-to-Finish session walkthrough lessons for multiple genres so you can follow along with your preferred genre.
- SAU Membership Degree Certification, which can be downloaded and showcased on your website, social channels, and portfolio for as long as you remain a member.
- Get first access to all future SAU course curriculums to continually build and refine your mixing and mastering skills as the industry evolves.
4. Sage Audio Community
- The Sage Audio community is a tight-knit community of passionate audio engineers that can provide you with real-world mixing feedback, discussions, mix competitions, networking, collaborations, and more.
5. 700+ In-depth Sage Audio Mixing and Mastering Videos
- Access 700+ in-depth Sage Audio mixing and mastering videos - curated and organized into playlists so you can take a deep-dive into all aspects of audio engineering with thousands of hours of concise, expertly crafted Sage Audio videos to continually improve your mixing and mastering skills at your own pace.
6. 70+ GB of Curated Sage Audio Downloadable Content, Including:
- 36 multitrack sessions spanning multiple genres for mixing practice.
- 57 un-mastered mixes spanning multiple genres for mastering practice.
- 62 Recommended Free Plugins List (vetted, tested, and approved, so you don’t have to).
- 39 Recommended Paid Plugins List (vetted, tested, and approved, so you don’t have to).
- 58 Sage Audio custom plugin presets to improve your mixes and masters.
- Sage Audio Membership Badge to showcase on your website, social channels, and portfolio.