It’s tough to make it as a budding musician. From writing your own songs to securing gigs and distributing your sound, it can seem like one hurdle after another. Music mastery (aka sound mastery) is the final stop before your music hits listeners, and you need it to be perfect.

What is music mastery?

Music mastery is the final step of audio post-production. While mixing is like putting pieces of a puzzle together, mastering is like framing the finished product.

  • Balancing sound with stereo to help your music sound good across all systems and media formats
  • Equalizing (EQ) and compression to get rid of audio imbalance
  • Getting rid of background noise like clicks, pops, hisses, etc.
  • Preventing distortion when the listener turns up the volume
  • Creating different copies for different audio formats (vinyl, CD, cassette tape, streaming)

Quality sound mastery turns good music into great music. It can be the difference between a flop and a hit. No pressure!

Should you DIY your music’s mastering?

Thanks to high-powered laptops and online stores making mastery equipment available for purchase, it’s possible to DIY all of your sound mastery. Which brings up the question: do you want to?

A professional sound master has tons of experience from polishing hundreds, maybe thousands of pieces from start to finish. Experience means hindsight, and hindsight means that things they wish they did better on their last job will be phenomenal on yours. They’ve developed a sense of intuition for the needs of your genre, and they probably have better equipment than you could ever afford. And since music mastery is their job, they will be able to get the job done faster than you can.

If you have decent laptop and have invested in some sound mastery equipment, in theory you can do it all yourself. The biggest incentive to DIY is simple: money. Professional sound masters with the kind of experience discussed above can be expensive. And if you hire someone cheaper, you might end up with a less-than-impressive final result.

Owning your master rights

Signing away your master rights away used to be standard practice for new musicians. Sure, it eliminated the artist’s say in their music or how it was used, but they received funding and exposure in exchange.

That was then. Now, thanks to a surge in indie musicians and streaming services replacing physical CDs, more and more artists are demanding to keep their master licenses and the revenue that comes with it.

Fortunately, signing with a label rather than DIYing an album recording isn’t the end of the world. You can still negotiate the terms of the contract to work in your favor (preferably with the help of an lawyer). One of the most popular negotiations is adding a clause which turns over the master’s ownership to the artist after a certain amount of time, usually 2-5 years.

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