10 mastering tips from pros

Now that you're done composing and recording, it's time to take on the final step: Mastering. Let these experts share with you their mastering tips and tricks.

Many Parnell

Mandy Parnell

One of the country’s foremost mastering engineers, Mandy Parnell has worked with artists such as Björk, Aphex Twin and The xx from her fantastic mastering studio, Black Saloon.

Top Tip “We have this thing that art needs to stand on its own, for the artist. But it needs to fit into the world as well, contextually. If it’s going into playlists, then you don’t want it to sound weaker than what’s around it in the music landscape. So do your homework before you master.”

Miles Showell

Miles Showell has worked in the area of mastering or post production since 1984, where he started as a junior engineer at Utopia Studios in Primrose Hill.

Top Tip “I’m of the school of thought that less is more. Despite having access to some of the very best gear ever produced, running a recording through an equaliser or a compressor will have a bearing on the sound. It’s important to gauge whether the gain I’ll get from adding, for example, some EQ to a track is worth the loss imposed by putting said EQ into the signal path. Some mixes I get are fabulous and need nothing adding or taking away; in these cases, the best thing I can do is be brave and admit there’s nothing I can bring to the party, just because I can screw in lots of EQ, it doesn’t mean I should.”

Jerome Schmitt

The multi-talented Jerome Schmitt has been a mastering engineer for 15 years. During this time, he’s amassed an impressive and extremely varied catalogue and has mastered tracks by everyone from Amon Tobin to Doppelgänger, Elson to Mr Scruff.

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Top Tip “The first thing to do is listen to the track to find the strengths and weaknesses you’re going to have to deal with. You’ll soon get a clear picture of how the track
is supposed to sound and where you need to go with the tools you’ve got. The process is very simple – it is always going to be frequencies versus dynamic, especially
at the bottom end.”

Beau Thomas

Beau Thomas has gone from being a DJ and d’n’b artist to one of the most sought-after mastering engineers in the country.

Top Tip “I’ll tend to have a little flick through just to get an idea of what the best-sounding track is or what’s the loudest. An album can only be as loud as the quietest song, and you can’t make those as loud as the loud ones, so you have to turn everything down to match it, which no one likes doing. Some artists come in with tracks that are super-loud already and those don’t need limiting, but some are a bit dull or a bit too bright. Some sound so good I don’t even touch them. I like working from gut instinct and start to EQ very quickly. Working in the box allows you to do that.”

Matt Abbott

Matt is co-founder of Label Worx, a UK company which has become the go-to provider of business, IT, promo, management and mixing services to dance-music producers and labels.

Top Tip “As a producer, it’s best to focus on the production and writing of a track. Lending this to a mixing and mastering engineer who is skilled in balancing a final mix, coupled with a master from an equally as good set of ears, can make a whole world of difference.”


Reader tips

1. “Be careful with the dynamic range on your mixes. Remember to not compress too much, or you’re going to kill your track… The master is just a final touch. If your masters sound bad, just review your mixdown.” – Juan Villalba Escobar

2. “Listen to your track in different places and on different systems like your car, boombox, iPhone and so on.” – Serge Poulin

3. “The first thing I was ever told was: ‘If it sounds better after mastering, you did a good job. If it sounds the same or worse, you need to try again or have someone else do it.’” – Christopher McGinnis

4. “Music is far more than just hearing it, you have to be able to feel it. Keep it simple – remember all great music should lift the spirit. Ears and your feelings are your best mastering tools.” – Stephen Brindley

5. “Make three copies of the master and mix them with different compression on each, including an inverted dynamic.” – Shimron Elit

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