Mastering has always been a bit of an enigma in the music-making process—its definition has shifted over the years and over time its importance has changed.

Today, having a good mastering engineer is still key to releasing a good-sounding record.

But, what exactly can a mastering engineer do for your tracks in 2021 and when should you hire one?

In this article, I’ll break down what you can expect from a mastering engineer and highlight a handful of cases where it makes sense to hire one to work on your music.

What is a mastering engineer?

Mastering engineers are skilled audio engineers who specialize in preparing a recording for release. A mastering engineer will ensure that a track is competitive with other commercial recordings and will sound good on all speaker combinations.

Historically mastering meant transferring a piece of music from a recording medium like analog tape to a production medium like vinyl records. Back then mastering engineers were more like technicians who oversaw the process.

Mastering came into its own as musicians and listeners demanded higher fidelity from vinyl records. Engineers developed techniques for processing entire mixes to maximize their sonic performance on a physical vinyl record.

Of course, today mastering has evolved far beyond the physical specifications of vinyl.

But many of the same principles of the original mastering engineer remain the same—streaming services, radio playlists and digital audio all come with their own specifications.

In short, if you want your tracks to sound as good as the other tracks on the radio or streaming services, you need to master your music.

If you want your tracks to sound as good as the other tracks on the radio or streaming services, you need to master your music.

Here’s a few specific things a mastering engineer will do for your track.

Make your track louder

Mastering engineers understand the specific processes needed to make a track louder while keeping it lively and musical.

Mastering isn’t just about turning your track into a sausage-looking waveform with absolutely no dynamics.

A good master will make a track peak at the right times while keeping the feel of the song, not flat and lifeless.

We’ve written about how exactly mastering engineers make tracks louder, but in short, this process uses a combination of EQ, dynamics control, stereo processing and other techniques.

Make your album sound more uniform

An album should feel like a single connected experience.

Your listeners are going to notice if the sound of your album isn’t uniform throughout. Worse, a song that’s too quiet won’t stand out among the rest of your louder songs.

That’s why album mastering is super important for keeping the sound of your tracks consistent—every track needs to match in terms of overall volume and quality.

A good mastering engineer knows how to keep the levels and frequency balance of each track in check—without hurting the unique dynamics of each track in your album.

Bring out the best in your mix

You need a good mix before going to the mastering phase—but a good master should only bring out the good qualities of your mix, not hurt them.

Mastering does use some of the same techniques used in mixing, but they’re applied in different ways.

We’ve written about how EQ, compression and stereo effects are used during the mix phase—but these tools are used differently in a mastering context.

A good master will have touches of EQ, stereo widening and compression—but these tools are used to regulate the volume and dynamics of your entire track or album.

Unlike mixing where you might use these to change the quality of specific parts or instruments, Mastering engineers understand how to use the subtleties of compression, EQ and stereo widening without squashing the overall feel of your sound.

The best way to find a mastering engineer?

There’s a few factors to consider when finding a mastering engineer.

LANDR Mastering is without a doubt the best in the game when it comes to automatic AI mastering solutions.

To get the most value out of your budget consider your needs.

If you’re about to do a major commercial release and are in need of a final mastered version of your album it may be worth hiring a seasoned professional.

The price of hiring a super-experienced engineer can be very high—expect to pay anywhere from $100 and $600 or more per track.

But, if you’re getting started, have a small budget or just want to turn around a quick mastered version of whatever you’re working on there’s a compelling case to turn to an AI mastering solution.

LANDR Mastering

Yes—we are biased here, but we’re proud of our mastering AI platform that’s democratized access to great mastering for nearly a decade.

LANDR Mastering is without a doubt the best in the game when it comes to automatic AI mastering solutions.

In fact, we recently launched our latest mastering engine, Synapse—it’s built on nearly a decade of AI research and machine learning, which is why LANDR Masters sound just as good as a professional master.

We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of artists get pro-quality masters, so If you’re looking for a quick and budget-friendly solution to get your tracks mastered check out LANDR Mastering.

Find professionals through Network

AI mastering is better than ever, but skilled human mastering engineers will always be in demand among discerning artists.

If you choose to work with a mastering engineer, your best bet is to work with respected providers in the industry—you likely won’t get the results you’re looking for if you don’t hire a pro.

Luckily we’ve assembled a small army of veteran mastering engineers on LANDR Network.

At a variety of price points, you can hire a human mastering engineer and get that final custom master.

Sound loud, get heard

No matter how you choose to master your tracks—whether it be through with AI mastering or with an engineer—getting a final master of your track is critical for getting your music heard the way you want it to be heard.

Your track risks getting buried against other songs in streaming playlists and radio if your master is subpar.

A mastering engineer can help you put an added level of shine and polish on your track and give your music every opportunity it needs to grab the attention of your listeners.

Now that you know the best way to approach mastering engineers and where exactly they can help with your music—it’s up to you to decide what avenue is best to get your tracks mastered!