In this article i will guide you through a complete song mastering tutorial regardless which DAW is the one of your choice. These tips will work in every DAW. They work in FL Studio 20, Logic Pro, Abletone and any other professional DAW.
I had a extremely hard time learning how to master my songs correct. But quickly i figured out that it had something to do frequency stuff and i adapted my style of producing music rapidly to mastering my songs.
Just look at all the popular music producers and their songs out there - they all master there songs.
Why Song Mastering is Essential
The problem is, that different frequencies are all good, but if you use the same frequency to play multiple instruments with, they will overlap each other and will not have that crystal clear sound you can listen to in most commercial songs.
Overlapping frequencies will end in one of these scenarios:
1. your instruments aren't that loud as if they would be by playing them alone
2. your instruments do NOT have a crystal clear sound as they are supposed to be and there will be great difficulty to even acknowledge there are multiple instruments in the song
This problem of overlapping frequencies making your sound quieter or nebular can be solved by mastering your songs before puplishing them.
This is why we will go through this song mastering tutorial so you you will be able to produce crystal clear sounds.
Differences between Song Mixing and Song Mastering
But wait! Isn't mastering the same as mixing your track?
Basically you are right, but there is some difference between these two, although they indeed work together.
Mastering is the final mixing of your .wav file or the format of your choice. With mixing, you are able to manipulate the individual parts of your song, with mastering you manipulate the complete sound genre of your track AFTER exporting it to .wav for example.
That is why i wrote a long, long article about song mixing HERE (CLICK). If you already did mixing, you can continue with this article, but i highly suggest you to read about mixing your song if you didn't do that yet before mastering your song.
Benefits of Song Mastering
I will show you the benefits of song mastering soon so you can understand the great impact you will have onto your audience and general music production by mastering your songs.
“BEFORE MASTERING MY SONGS MY AUDIENCE WAS VERY SMALL. AFTER STARTING WITH SONG MASTERING MY MUSIC GREW QUICKLY OVER THE TOP AND I BECAME ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR TECHNO PRODUCERS IN MY COUNTRY.”
Mastering your songs has 3 essential benefits i will explain to you now.
- Mastering can make your song louder.
- Your song will sound better to many listener's ears, because they listened to mastered songs their whole life.
- Your song will perform good on different kinds of speakers including earphones, headsets, boxes and professional stereo speakers.
Mastering your sound is pretty simple today, because we have a wide variety of plugins and tools which you find in every professional DAW you use. These include EQ, Compression, Saturate and much more.
We will now beginn the 5 step formula for professional song mastering, starting with a few preaparation steps BEFORE you actually start with mastering your song.
Step 1: Preparation of Your Song before Mastering
You should make sure to export your track to a stereo file of at least at like 24 Bit. I know it will take a little longer and requires double disc space, but to get crystal clear sound 24 Bit is my personal choice.
You should choose one of the following formats: .wav or .aiff
Please do not use .mp3 for professional song editing, as it is pretty cheap in sound quality and has like 6 MB and .wav has for the same song 50 MB.
Now that you prepared your exported track correctly we will start with professional song mastering!
I will use one of my own songs as a example of how to master a song. For this i will use Fruity Loops 20 and their builtin plugins, but you will find several similar plugins in every DAW you use. Actually is is a beat, but i name my beats as song, i do not know why. 🙂
This is how the song looks like BEFORE i did all of the following steps:
After applying the following steps you will notice a lot of differences between this picture and the last picture in this article.
Step 2: Peak Catching Compressor
First step in Song Mastering is actually to limit the peaks of your soundtrack so you get a clean file with the same level of Dezibel (DB) overall.
This will also make your song louder in general, which is good. There is a silent war of loudness going on in the music scene. Humans like louder songs so everybody is trying to overbet his collegue with an even more louder song. It is pretty ridiculous, but with Peak Catching Compressor, your song will automatically go louder like about 2-3 DB.
A fast attack and release with a 3:1 ratio at the end should do the job. With Fruity Soft Clipper, which is a very basic limiter plugin, this looks like this:
Of course you should adjust the Limiter, which you see where the curve begins, according to YOUR expectations and YOUR song.
But remember: This step is about limiting peaks in your song not about hard compression. In more complex plugins, like the FabFilter Pro Q 3, you are able to really see the peaks and and do exact positioning of the limiter according to your needs. But as most music producers do not have that much money, i will show you how to do it with FL Studio 20 stock plugins.
After limiting your song we proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Use of the Equalizer for Cleaning the Song
This step is about getting rid of unnecessary frequencies. As you may know, the human hear can only hear specific frequencies out of a broad spectrum of sound. But the DAWs do not know this and sometimes produce freqencies that low or high no human will ever hear them. Also the listener's speaker will try to play these frequencies and will not use its full power for the frequencies we are able to hear.
HERE (CLICK) you find a short article about the spectrum of human ear frequencies, which lies between 20 Hz to 20.000 Hz.
So, we will get rid of all frequencies below 20 Hz and above 18.000 Hz.
For this i will use Fruity Parametric EQ 2, a superb plugin.
After applying the already builtin default option to cut off below 20 Hz and above 18.000 Hz it looks like this:
As you can see there is now a cutoff at the left and the right of the full spectrum of the song. These are the frequencies a human ear cannot hear.
If you need more Cutoff, you can choose also the below 40 Hz or 30 Hz Cutoff function in Fruity Parametric EQ 2. Or you just use the knobs and play around until you are happy.
Now that we did the basic stuff it is all about identifying problematic frequencies and solving these issues so your song will sound crystal clear.
Step 3: Color by using EQ plugin
This next step is indvidual to you. YOU are the one that needs to figure out which frequencies you will color (boost) or cutoff a little bit.
I suggest you to do a little research of which frequencies are the common ones used in your genre of music. These are the frequencies you should boost a little bit. But remember: Do not boost ANY frequency more than 3 Dezibel. It will sound unnatural and pretty loud and the other frequencies will be heard very less.
For my example song i have no need to do this step as i already mixed it up to perfection. Maybe you will also not have any needs to follow this step, but it is up to you. A little error and trial for practice won't hurt you either.
Step 4: Saturation and Exciting
Most popular songwriters saturate their songs. This is because humans love it. And so should you do.
But be careful: Saturation is heavy for your overall song. Use it wisely and only a little bit. Just bring the saturation to a level where you can clearly hear it and stop there. That's a good rule for beginners.
If you use Fruity Loops 20, you can just use the Soundgoodizer and knob it up A QUARTER. If you still need more, you can play around a bit, but do not overdrive it.
Also Fruity Multiband Compressor does the job but it is a complex plugin if you are a beginner. It has a lot of presets of which you can choose one if you want.
Step 5: Limiting the fully mastered song
This final step is for again limiting your sound. This time we won't only focus on the peaks but on the whole song in general. This will make your whole song louder and humans love loud songs.
Just do not get your ego in the way. Use Limiting features with discipline.
This is how i limit my songs for usual using the stock plugin Fruity Limiter:
And this is it! You successfully mastered a full song by following these 5 steps.
Here is the comparison of my raw and mastered song and what it looks like:
Quite a difference, isn't it?
Final thoughts about Song Mastering
In this article i gave you in-depth information of how successful music producers master their tracks. You now have a good starter toolkit at your hands for mastering your first songs and make them sound like professional songs.
A lot of people spend a lifetime in learning song mastering and still follow these exact steps you read about in my article here.
But to be honest, there is still a lot more to song mastering than what i gave you with this article and i highly suggest you to adapt the information provided to you for your own music style and experimenting a lot with different tools and plugins so you get your own master in song mastering.
I also recommend you to get someone into your boat who is a professional song master at his own. By doing this you will get expert opinion and info regarding YOUR style of music that will benefit from you a long, long time.
Have fun mastering your songs!