Whether you’re recording at home for a podcast or you’re developing your own album in your home studio, audio mastering is a skill that you’re going to need. Although the average computer studio with electronic tools isn’t going to match up with a professional audio mastering suite, you can get a pretty good replication of the process that will work for most sound applications that you have. There’s no one tool that you can use to make magic happen – you’ve got to know these specific points when it comes to the mastering process.
It all begins with compression. Whether you are using a compression mic, have your equipment hooked up through a limiter, or you’re using compression settings through your DAW, so your sound can be equalized and enhanced as necessary. It should always be the first step to compress the sound because in many instances, that may be the only step necessary.
#1: Don’t Over-process
Most audio mastering mistakes come from too much software manipulation, not too little. In the quest for a well-rounded sound that includes most frequencies, too much is either added or subtracted from the home process and these additions/subtractions influence the initial sound way too much. Mastering is about perfection, but sometimes music or audio is already perfect in its natural state.
#2: Incorporate a Fade
Vocals and instruments all have a natural decay to them that makes an immediate cut-off difficult at best during the audio mastering process. Work with your music software to add in a natural fade so that you can reduce the track’s overall audio levels to 0 at the end before creating the final ending. This is especially important for the podcast because interruptions, though brief and hardly noticed, make people uncomfortable on an unconscious level.
#3. Different Times Mean Different Sounds
Even if you’re using the same home studio, your recording session will pick up different audio energy levels on different sessions. This is why on a podcast, for example, voices sometimes seem stronger or weaker in different segments – they were recorded at different times. You’ll need to equalize tracks to create consistency and the most common area that is overlooked here are bass sounds that are 40Hz or less.
#4. Use Limited For Added Boost
Spiking a track is really easy to do from a home studio. When you see your sound gauges getting dangerously close to the red, it’s time to take a different approach. Try putting on a limiter, even a DAW based limiter, and you’ll be able to increase the levels of that specific track by 4-6 decibels before most ears will pick up the added processing. Add a vitalizer if it seems like there isn’t a lot of definition in there too.
#5. Have References
It’s really handy to have other audio sources on hand for you to compare your final product. Listen to the quality of a podcast to make your voice match up with it. Have music tracks close by on CD so you can hear them from across the room. In the end, let your ears be the judge, not your eyes or your head.