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6 Ways to get Your Tracks Mastered

Feb 04, 2024

Technology doesn’t change – we just keep getting more options! As of 2024, here are six ways to master your tracks before release. Discover which one is right for you.

6 Ways to get Your Tracks Mastered – From Analog to Digital

It’s easy to see mastering as complex sorcery – a dark art that’s out of reach for a humble home producer or a hobbyist. But in reality, in today’s music production landscape, it’s easier than ever to understand the mastering process.

Thankfully, gaining access to effective mastering tools and plugins has never been easier. We’re going to take a look at six ways you can get a track mastered, ranging from enlisting the help of seasoned professionals, to using the latest online AI mastering technology in order to get your music release-ready. Whatever your ability and whatever you’re trying to achieve, there’s an option that can work better for you.

1. Hire a Mastering Engineer

The traditional option for getting a mix mastered involves hiring a specialist mastering engineer to take care of those final stages of the production process. Not only will a mastering engineer apply those finishing touches that prepare a track to be heard by the masses, but they serve as another pair of trained ears and a last line of defense against unnoticed issues in a mix.

Why hire a mastering engineer?

The cost of hiring a mastering engineer can vary, but in general you pay for what you get. Regardless, a specialist mastering engineer will listen to your project and apply bespoke processing in line with the musical style, file format and destination of your productions, whether that’s vinyl, streaming or just to send to record labels. They’ll also ensure your tracks reach the necessary loudness for them to stand up next to other professional productions.

Generally, you can send your pre-masters to your chosen engineer with a brief for the project and a timeframe, then they will complete the masters and often allow for one or two revisions to be made after they submit the first version. In some cases, you can book an attended session, where you sit in on the mastering as it’s taking place, although this will depend on your chosen mastering engineer and where they’re based. There are benefits to this approach, namely that you learn a lot from shadowing a professional as they carry out the mastering, and you might get to have some input on the master itself.

2. Mastering with Waves Online Mastering

There are a number of reasons why hiring a mastering engineer might not be a fit for you. One reason is cost: mastering an entire album can cost hundreds of dollars or more, which places it out of reach for many artists, particularly without the backing of a record label.

Additionally, for particularly time-sensitive projects, a mastering engineer may be unable to turn the masters and revisions around in time. In instances like this, using an instant AI mastering tool like Waves Online Mastering can be a great way of fast-tracking a project to the finish line.

Waves Online Mastering is a simple online mastering service: upload your premaster and preview the mastering being applied while tweaking the processing according to your preferences. Mastering settings include selecting a mastering Style and Tone, and seeing what sounds best on your given master.

Try Waves Online Mastering for free

You can also upload a reference track to the platform and direct it to apply mastering according to the reference track’s tone, level and dynamics, although you can make the judgments yourself, too. The Master, Original and Reference buttons in the Monitor section allow you to instantly switch between audio sources, so that you can ensure that you are applying appropriate processing for your desired results.

In addition to being one of the fastest ways to get your mixes mastered, using Waves Online Mastering is also one of the cheapest, making it suitable for anyone making, mixing and mastering music on a budget or who would prefer to spend their money on plugins.

For more on how you can benefit from online mastering, find out Why AI Online Mastering is Worth Trying in 2024.

3. Mastering with Hardware

At the other end of the spectrum from the newest AI technology in sound engineering, is good old outboard hardware. While online AI mastering is available to anyone with an internet connection, using hardware has a considerably larger barrier to entry and is reserved for those with the skills, space and finances.

How to master a track using hardware

It can take years to learn the processes and nuances associated with hardware mastering, and the same amount of time to collect and configure an appropriate hardware mastering setup. For this reason, many artists may opt to hire a mastering engineer who has already invested the time and money in getting to this point. Many people swear by the use of analog equipment in mastering, citing a certain warmth and tone that is harder to achieve with software.

For those of us who don’t have thousands of dollars to put into hardware mastering equipment, there are a huge amount of analog-modeled plugins on the market today that can fulfill your desire for classic equipment.

4. DIY Mastering with Plugins

Following on from the last option, many people prefer to master with plugins for a variety of reasons. As already mentioned, studio space and cost are among those reasons, but there are many more advantages to using mastering plugins over outboard hardware.

The ability to load and save presets and instantly recall entire mastering sessions poses software mastering as a significantly more practical method than using hardware. In the hardware domain, engineers are required to photograph, log and reset full mastering setups between each session. Using software also gives you the option to apply several instances of any given plugin, which isn’t possible in the world of hardware without investing in duplicates of your equipment.

Mastering music with plugins

Some plugins such as the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain contain all the processing units necessary to accomplish professional masters, including EQ, compression, stereo enhancement, limiting and more. Dedicated mastering plugins like this allow you to quickly apply, compare and tweak your mastering processing all in one place, and can even impart some of the same sonic qualities as the original hardware equipment that they were modeled on.

Mastering is an extremely complex subject, but you can learn more about mastering your own tracks with plugins in this in-depth course, courtesy of industry-leading mastering engineer Piper Payne.

5. Hybrid Mastering Using Hardware and Plugins

One popular approach to mastering is a combination of points three and four. The hybrid mastering approach is so-called because it takes the best elements of mastering in the hardware and software domains, and combines them into an overall process that has a great balance of practicality, cost and overall sonic quality.

Mastering music the hybrid way

This approach may involve using analog summing mixers and preamps (or entire mixing desks), or even a particular unit of a classic compressor that functions in a very unique way. You may opt to invest in a few select pieces of hardware to tie into your current mastering process and chain.

Simply resetting a passive hardware EQ and an outboard mastering compressor is probably less of a headache than having to reset an entire mastering chain, for example. It’s also a considerably cheaper alternative to kitting out an entire studio with expensive and often unreliable equipment.

6. Mastering with chains in Waves StudioVerse

Of course, many of your audio engineering and mastering idols do have the means to operate a hardware-based mastering studio, but that doesn’t stop them from using plugins in their workflow too. While paying those people to master your next big release might be a bit out-of-the-question, StudioVerse lets you dive in on some of their bespoke mastering chains and apply them to your projects, all within your DAW.

StudioVerse is an expansive (and growing) bank of expertly-crafted and community-made plugin chains that you can apply to your productions at the click of a button. There’s an entire section of high-quality mastering chains, making it quick and simple to find and load plugin chains designed for mastering your projects.

Of course, mastering is not a one-size-fits-all process, but each chain is editable and can be seen as a jumping off point for you to tweak according to your mix, style, and desired sound. You can even use StudioVerse chains to apply stem mastering, for an even more bespoke approach.

Using studioverse to master music with

We hope this article has shed some light on the dark art of mastering. Now you know all the excellent options and methods available today to help you get your material ready for release, there’s no stopping you from producing the best music possible.

To learn more about mastering music, check out our extensive catalog of free articles and video tutorials.