How To Master Your Tracks Yourself

Posted by Aaron Davison on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 Under: February 2013

How To Master Your Tracks Yourself

If you don’t have the budget to hire a Mastering Engineer, then take the time to learn the following.  It will increase your chances of getting a licensing deal immensely:

1.  Download a free trial or purchase the Izoptope OZONE Mastering Plug-In.

This plug-in is amazing in that, if you click on each of the almost 100 Pre-Set Mastering configurations, you can then go inside the plug-in and look at every exact setting that has been set BY TOP MASTERING ENGINEERS who all worked on the development of the plug-in.  In other words, this plug-in, if you put in the time, will TEACH you how to master all by itself, in the privacy of your own home studio (even if your “home studio” is just your laptop [which is how I got my start in this business]).

2.  RECENT SECRET REVEALED:  More and more Mastering Engineers AND MIXING ENGINEERS are using a plug-in known as a “SOFT CLIPPER.”  If you aren’t familiar with what “Soft Clipping” is – Google it.  It can be summarized thusly:  “Hard Clipping” (the opposite of “Soft Clipping”) is when a plug-in, such as a brickwall limiter “clips” (limits) the loudest peaks of your signal – giving the wav form a veritable crew-cut – meaning it literally cuts the wav forms that are the loudest straight across and creates a wav form that looks flat on the top and on the bottom.  This produces AUDIBLE DISTORTION if overdone.  So, trying to use a limiter to get your tracks as loud as commercial tracks creates that monster known as Distortion.  I’m sure you’re saying, “Been there, done that.”

If you use a plug-in known as a “Soft Clipper” (there are many companies which make them – I use an excellent “Soft Clipper” plug-in which came with Cubase 6) you can get rid of the highest of high peaks “softly” (where the tops of the peaks are not chopped off, but rounded off).  That way you can then increase the volume of the track to higher levels before hearing any audible distortion.

In order for you to fully understand what an unaffected wav form looks like, what a “hard clipped” wav form looks like, and what a “Soft Clipped” wav form looks like, see the illustration below:



There is an industry standard of loudness which at this time is approximately -9dB RMS.  Google “-9dB RMS” and spend some time studying it.  It is worthwhile studying.  This is your overall target.  This is the loudness you are trying to attain.

In order to attain -9db RMS, here is a suggested signal chain sequence (NOTE: you must experiment with every song to find out the best sequence of plug-ins for that track – there is no ONE correct signal chain):








There are companies which offer free plug-ins for measuring the RMS Loudness of tracks.  Look for them online and use them.  If you can afford a good quality Plug-In to do this function, buy it.

But remember this – not only in this case, but in all of Audio Engineering – Meters and Numbers ARE NOT THE FINAL TOOLS AND MEASURING PARAMETERS TO USE IN ORDER TO CREATE MASTERPIECE RECORDINGS – YOUR EARS ARE!

So, regardless of what meters you may end up using to measure -9dB RMS on your recordings, you have to put all your meters away and close your eyes and not look at your computer screen when you do the final test:  LISTEN TO YOUR TRACK COMPARED TO A COMMERCIAL RECORDING IN THE SAME GENRE.  (More tips on how to do that below)


If you wait until your Mastering step to use a “Soft Clipper” plug-in – IT MIGHT BE TOO LATE!

Why?  This has to do with some rather complicated psychoacoustic laws that govern the LOW FREQUENCY end of your mix (Bass Guitars, Bass Synths, Kick Drums, Low Pads, etc).   Pschoacoustics has to do with how the mind processes and “hears” sound and music.  When you have more than one source of low end frequencies, you may still end up not getting your track as loud as you want if you wait until Mastering to use a “soft clipper” plug-in.

SO – here is something more and more engineers are doing these days in order to avoid Distortion when trying to push their tracks up to -9dB RMS:

A. On your Kick Drum, Low Floor Tom, Bass Guitar, Bass Synth, Low Synth Pad Tracks – on ANY Low Frequency Track – try adding a “Soft Clipper” plug-in DURING THE MIXING PROCESS.  The interesting thing about this is that, with some experimentation and fiddling around, you can not only “round off” the wav forms of those instruments so that you can push your mastered track even louder, but you can make these low frequency tracks speak even clearer, with more punch and definition. 

The secret is this:  If your mix has peaks (especially low frequency peaks) that “stick out” far beyond the other instruments (you can see this when  you look at SoundCloud wav forms for example), then when you go to Master your tracks, you will NOT be able to push the volume loud enough without distortion.


In the course , “How To Produce Music That Will Get Licensed And Make You Money,”  I go over various ways to compare your tracks to commercial tracks. 

The most efficient way is this:

1. Find a commercial track in the same genre as your track.

2. Import the wav file into your mastering session – ON A SEPARATE TRACK.

3. Make sure there are no plug-ins on the commercial track.

4. Off to the right of your session, make a copy of your track – You’ll Be Chopping Up Your Track, So Keep Your Good Copy To The Left And Make A New Copy To The Right.  

5. Find a section of your song and a section of the commercial track that you can “crossfade” to create a sort of Re-Mix – similar to how a DJ would go from one song to another.  See if you can find a smooth transition out of your song into the commercial track and a smooth transition out of the commercial track back into your track.   TRY TO MAKE IT SOUND MUSICALLY PLEASING.

6. Make each section of each song at least 15 seconds long.  So it will sound like this: 15 seconds of your track which segues into 15 seconds of the commercial track and back to 15 seconds of your track.  Where you fade DOWN (quickly) on your track; fade UP (quickly) on the commercial track -- and vica-versa when going back to your track.  The result will be a quick and smooth “crossfade” between the two tracks.  DO NOT put them on the same track, because you want NO Plug-Ins on the commercial track, while you will have your Mastering plug-ins on your track.

7. Loop this 45 seconds of material, and Master your track while the loop is in progress.  You can simply adjust the various parameters of your Mastering Plug-Ins while listening to this “A/B Re-Mix” looping over and over.

8. When you think you have it close, Step away from your computer while the loop is still going, and sit down and close your eyes and listen.  You will know if your track is in the ballpark or not.  DO NOT LISTEN TO YOUR TRACK ANY LOUDER THAN 85dB ON AN SPL METER HELD WHERE YOU MIX.

9.  Repeat steps 7 and 8 until you have achieved a comparable track to the Commercial Track you are comparing to.

10. If you don’t achieve what you are trying to achieve – go back to MIXING, and then repeat 4 thru 9 above.  THIS is how Pro’s do it.  It’s a trial and error, back and forth experimentation.  THIS is the ART of Mixing and Mastering.


An innovative and very useful tool in not only getting your final Master up to the Industry Standard of -9dB RMS, but in helping you determine that your Master IS up to -9dB RMS, is a plug-in called the Slate Digital FG-X.  This is plug-in is a wonderful tool in Mastering and can be placed in various places on the Signal Chain.  Again, WHERE it is placed and HOW it is used, is learned by experimentation, study and by experience.  The tool is the Science; using it is the Art.


I am getting a lot of questions about Mastering from students all over the world, and I hope the above helps clear some of this up for you.  If you ever have any questions, you can always email me at  And stay tuned for my new book, “30 Years In 30 Days; Discover 30 Years of Music Production and Audio Engineering Secrets In Just 30 Days!”

Gary Gray

Los Angeles, California

February, 2013



In : February 2013 

Tags: mastering  music production  music engineering 
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