What is mastering?

Mastering is the last stage of audio post-production, aimed at optimizing a track for consistent playback across all devices. It involves precise adjustments using EQ, compression, and stereo enhancement to ensure tracks sound polished and uniformly loud, whether played on streaming services, radios, or personal devices.

Mastering: The Art of Finalizing Your Music for Release

Mastering is the process that gives a finished mix its final polish, ensuring it sounds great on any device—from iPhone speakers to large club sound systems. It involves balancing the mix's sonic elements and optimizing them for consistent playback across all formats. This is achieved through precise techniques such as equalization, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement. Essentially, mastering is what transforms a mix into a polished release ready for public listening.

The term "mastering" originates from the concept of creating a master copy, from which all other duplicates—whether streamed, on CDs, or vinyl—are produced. Mastering ensures optimal playback on all these mediums. Additionally, it maintains a consistent and cohesive sound across an album's tracks. Essentially, mastering is what prepares your audio for its ideal presentation upon release.

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Why master your music?

  • Optimize for All Playback Systems

    The goal of mastering is to ensure your audio will sound the best it can on all platforms, especially since music has never been consumed on more formats and devices than today.

  • Maximize Sound Quality

    Whether you’re working in a million-dollar facility or a bedroom studio, you still need the final quality check that comes with mastering. By fine-tuning details with EQ, compression, and more, mastering makes your music sound clear, vibrant, and professional.

  • Ensure Consistency Across All Tracks

    This pivotal step ensures that your music will be heard the way you intended it to be. A good mastering job makes an album cohesive and balanced across all tracks. Each track is adjusted to have similar sonic qualities so that the album flows smoothly from one song to another, maintaining a uniform feel and volume level. This consistency is crucial for maintaining the listener's engagement and delivering a satisfying overall experience.

  • Prepare for Distribution

    Mastering is essential for preparing your music for distribution, whether digital or physical. It ensures that your tracks meet the technical specifications required by streaming services, CDs, vinyl, and other formats to avoid any playback or quality issues after release.

    Learn more about LANDR Mastering and hear what great mastering can do for your music.

    What’s the difference between mixing and mastering?

    Mixing and mastering are distinct processes with different goals. 

    Though they share some general techniques and tools, they occur during different phases of music production.

    Mixing deals with multi-tracked audio from the recording sessions, while mastering is concerned with the stereo mixdown after mixing is completed.

    Let’s break it down further.


    Mixing is the process of combining multiple layers of audio like vocals, instruments, and effects—into a single, cohesive track. so that all the elements can be heard clearly and sound pleasing to the ear.

    During mixing, sound engineers adjust levels, pan audio across the stereo field, apply effects such as reverb and delay, and tweak EQ settings to balance frequencies. The goal is to ensure that all elements are harmoniously blended, enhancing the overall sound and clarity of the music, making it ready for the final mastering stage.

    It's a bit like photography, you can make the sky bluer, the greens greener.

    Ian CooperMastering Engineer


    Mastering is a subtler, more technical step that occurs after the mix is finished—but it’s just as important.

    The mastering process always takes place once the mix is complete. That means it only acts on the stereo mixdown and cannot affect individual instruments. 

    This phase focuses on subtle adjustments meant to optimize the audio, rather than sweeping changes or creative directions.

    Transfer Engineer

    In 1948, the first true mastering engineers were born thanks to the advent of magnetic tape recording. Before this, there was no master copy as records were recorded directly to 10- and 12-inch vinyl.

    Cutting Engineer

    In 1957, the stereo vinyl record came onto the market. Mastering engineers  developed techniques to make records louder. Loudness led to better radio playback and higher record sales. This marked the birth of the Loudness Wars that still go on today.

    Mastering Engineer

    In 1982 the CD revolutionized mastering. CD masters required a different approach, although many of the analog tools stayed the same. That began to change in 1989 when the first digital audio workstations (DAW) with mastering software offered a mind-blowing alternative to the process.

    What does mastering do?

    audio restoration
    Audio restoration

    Mastering is the last pass of quality control for your audio. If needed, hiccups in the original mix like clicks, pops and hisses can be addressed here. Small mistakes that stand out when the un-mastered audio gets amplified during the mastering process can be fixed as well.

    stereo enhancement
    Stereo enhancement

    Stereo enhancement helps develop the sense of space in your master. When done right, it widens your mix and helps it sound more enveloping. It can also help tighten your center image by focusing the low end.

    mastering EQ

    Mastering EQ balances the spectrum of frequencies in your track. An ideal master is well-balanced and proportional. This means no specific frequency range sticks out. A balanced piece of audio will sound good on any playback system.

    mastering compression

    Mastering compression manages the dynamics of the entire stereo track. 

    It keeps louder signals in check while bringing up quieter parts to enhance the overall feel of the music. 

    Compression helps glue the mix together and bring the right parts of the signal into focus.

    loudness LUFS

    One of the key tasks in mastering is to raise the level of the mix to the appropriate loudness for consumer listening. 

    This is done by reducing the dynamic range even further with a limiter. Limiting makes the track competitively loud without allowing any clipping that can lead to distortion.

    sample rate and bit depth
    Bit depth reduction & sample rate conversion

    The audio file type used during the production phase isn’t always the same as the final output medium. If the sample rate and bit depth need to be converted, it will be done at the end of the mastering process to preserve maximum audio quality.

    album sequencing and spacing
    Sequencing & spacing

    Sequencing and spacing is the process of arranging the tracks in the order they will appear on the release and adding periods of silence in between to craft the album’s flow.

    Hear what mastering does for yourself

    Electronic, dance, EDM
    Tiga - Fever
    Rock, indie, alternative
    Alma Cora - So Low
    Pop, disco, top 40
    Diane Warren - Till it Happens to You

    Mastering for streaming

    These days, most mastered releases are headed for streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

    If you’re planning to get digital distribution and publish your music this way, you may be wondering about mastering for streaming services.

    It’s true that streaming takes a different approach to the overall loudness of the music you hear.

    You might even have noticed that some tracks are quieter than others when you turn off volume match options in the app.

    But it’s not only a subjective judgment. Audio measurement tools have shown that streaming services actually turn down the loudest material, leading some to conclude that the loudness wars have ended.

    So what does that mean for your master? In some ways, it actually levels the playing field.

    Now that engineers aren’t chasing the physical limit of a medium like CD, quieter, more dynamic masters don’t sound as lackluster by comparison.

    In fact, a dynamic master may even sound more lively compared to flatter, more compressed tracks on streaming.

    That said, dynamic range and loudness are a matter of preference for many artists and listeners. There are no strict rules about mastering levels for streaming services beyond getting a sound that works for your music. A little bit of variation may be less important than you think.

    In the end, a great master by an experienced engineer or a sophisticated AI engine will sound good wherever listeners experience it.

    Explaining the mastering process step by step

    Step 1: Understand the song’s genre and style

    Mastering begins by understanding the song's genre and style, as these dictate the sonic characteristics essential for the track.

    The process of mastering a track may seem mostly technical, but it has its own sonic trends and fashions that come and go.

    Depending on the genre—whether it's hard-hitting electronic music requiring loudness and punch, or jazz and folk needing a gentler approach—mastering adjusts for genre-specific requirements and expectations.

    A traditional mastering engineer makes these decisions based on their interpretation of the song. But automated mastering can now do the same thanks to developments in AI technology.

    Step 2: Develop a cohesive sound for the release

    The next step is to ensure consistency across all tracks of a release, creating a cohesive sound.

    This involves fine-tuning the dynamics, frequency balance, and stereo imaging to match or complement each track within the album context.

    Mastering engineers use their finely honed instincts to make these adjustments, aiming for a uniform listening experience.
    This includes making subtle adjustments to each track to unify disparate elements and ensure that the album plays seamlessly from start to finish.

    Step 3: Prepare for distribution

    The final step of mastering is preparing the audio for distribution across various mediums—be it streaming, CD, or vinyl.

    This includes final touches like sequencing the tracks, setting the spaces between tracks, and ensuring the audio meets the technical specifications of each format.
    Special considerations might be necessary, for example, adjusting the bass frequencies for vinyl or ensuring the loudness standards are met for digital platforms.

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