What is Mastering a Song?

by Andre Gonsalves

Song mastering is the final stage of song production. Hmmm, okay what does that mean?

It is when a song that has been mixed down into a single wav file and sent to a mastering engineer to among many other things be made louder, brighter and wider.

Here’s what an unmastered song looks like compared with a mastered song.

As you can see the mastered version is much more compressed and will therefore sound much more cohesive as well as be much louder than the non mastered version.


Think of mastering as a home inspection before you buy a house, a mastering engineer makes sure your song is suitable for play on most sound systems.

Since listeners enjoy music on everything from iPod buds to car radios to computer speakers it is important that your music translates well on different kinds of audio systems.

This is because a song will sound different depending on the source that it is played on as well as the environment that it is listened to in.

What Do Mastering Engineers Use?

Mastering engineers use powerful and expensive hardware and software such as limiters, compressors, stereo enhancers, and EQ to bring your songs to life.

The most important tool an engineer will use is of course their ears as only after years of practice in the right listening environment will they be able to make the right mastering choices.

What is CD Mastering?

CD mastering is when a mastering engineer not only makes sure your song can translate well on different audio systems but also make sure that each song on your album is at a consistent volume.

Because each song on your album may sound different whether due to its style or because they were mixed by different people, they may end up with different volume levels.

The mastering engineer will try to make the album sound cohesive thereby providing a better listening experience for the listener (i.e. they won’t have to change the volume on every song).

Will Mastering Ruin My Song?

What separates the great mastering engineers from the average ones is that the great ones makes sure that your artistic vision is carried out while at the same time ensuring that your mixes translate well.

Because mastering is the final process in music creation, and because the mastering engineer has so much power to change the feel of the song, it is important that the mastering engineer creates a master that is consistent with your vision, your genre and style.

Many great albums have been ruined by bad mastering and many average albums have been made good by great mastering.

How Do I Avoid Bad Cd Mastering?

The best way to avoid a bad mastering job is to ask for a free mastering sample.

Go to 3 or 4 mastering engineers and ask them to master one of your songs and then compare them all.

Obviously, the one that sounds the best for you and that is within your budget, choose.

You should never pay for mastering before the mastering engineer has provided you with a sample done to one of your songs.

It is okay to listen to an engineer’s past work, but those are not your songs.

You should only really care about what a mastering engineer can do for your music.

Interested in Getting Your Songs Mastered?

If you’re interested in getting your songs mastered, read this before you do: Does Mastering Make a Difference?



Andre is the head audio engineer at ADG Mastering, which he helped found in 2012. For the last 10 years, he has made it his mission to empower aspiring artists and musicians from around the world. You can see more of Andre's writings on our Blog.

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