Today you’ll learn how to master a beat in FL Studio using stock plugins!
Mastering songs in FL Studio doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require knowledge of the full music production process.
An Example of a Mastered Beat in FL Studio:
Here’s an example of a mastered track.. notice how it’s loud and pretty balanced.. you can download it, too!
What You Will Learn:
- What is Mastering?
- What Tools Do We Use for Mastering?
- How to Master Your Own Music in FL Studio
What is Mastering?
For more info, read What is Mastering?
Mastering is the final step in preparing your music for the world to listen to your music. It’s making sure the audio is up to a commercial loudness and that the music sounds good on multiple listening devices (small speakers, big speakers, headphones, cellphones, etc).
Technically, you don’t have to mix your music to have it mastered, as long as it’s not distorting, and the peaks haven’t been limited, clipped, or compressed too hard! But.. mixing before mastering gives you the best results 🙂
If you’re just starting to learn how to make beats in FL Studio, mastering will come much later, as it’s more important to learn music production techniques like drum loops, music theory, the piano (course), and how the DAW even works!
Pro-Tip: Create a duplicate copy of your project before you attempt mastering (as well as mixing) so you can play around and not wreck your song.
To get a good master, it comes down to wise sound selection, good mixing, and raising the overall loudness in a balanced way without distortion or pumping.
What Tools Are Used for Mastering?
For more details, read Different Tools for Mastering Beats.
Mastering engineers use audio processing plugins like:
- Saturation (gentle form of distortion)
- Loudness Meter
I highly suggest you check out my mastering plugin resources:
How to Master Your Own Music in FL Studio
Mastering a song from scratch in FL Studio is relatively easy, but getting your song to sound commercially polished is not. Mastering requires a lot of understanding of your audio plugins, and having a good listening environment.
The most important thing to understand when you master a song is being gentle on mastering plugin settings.
YES, you can master in FL Studio with stock plugins.. but I do personally like my third-party mastering plugins.
A Step-by-Step Explanation of How to Master Music:
So let me explain the mastering process quick for you!
The Two Golden Rules of Mastering:
– No Unwanted Distortion (Yes, there’s intended distortion!)
– No Unwanted Pumping (If you push your music too loud)
The problem when mastering is our song’s PEAKS are in the way.
If we try to increase a song’s volume too much, these peaks will be pushed down in volume from the limiter, and cause a nasty pumping sound.
Our goal in mastering is to achieve loudness without any odd artifacts like pumping, or unwanted distortion on extra loud parts. (The easiest solution is adjusting ATTACK and RELEASE on your limiter to help with pumping/distortion).
If ATTACK and RELEASE doesn’t work.. you’re either pushing your master too loud, or you need to use other mastering tools like compression, clipping, etc.
Now, there’s a few things we have to cover to make mastering a lot easier for you to understand going forward in this article..
Understanding the “Mastering Chain”:
The MASTER channel is where everything happens in mastering. Every single mixer insert gets “summed” into the MASTER’s “Out 1 – Out 2”. This just means all audio goes into one mixer insert (MASTER), which has two channels (the left and right audio channels).
On this MASTER insert is where we apply our mastering plugins, which is called the mastering chain. (The order of your plugins does matter!)
In short, you want your loudness meter as the VERY LAST plugin on your MASTER bus, and the limiter (with a ceiling of -1dB) will be SECOND LAST.
It’d look like this:
Okay, so now you know the MASTER bus is where mastering happens.
The order of your plugins is called a mastering chain. (You can be creative in what order your plugins go, but your loudness meter should be last, and a limiter should be second last).
Now we’ll talk about how to start mastering.
First Start With Gain:
Before starting the master, the first place to start is analyzing the audio for how loud it already is.
Simply load up your loudness meter, hit play, and watch the song for about 10-15 seconds.. if you’re at -9 LUFS, I’d say you’re too loud. If you’re at -20 LUFS, you’re WAY too quiet!
Let’s say your mixed track is quiet.. your peaks are hitting at only -6dB, which is no where even close to loud enough for a commercial master.
The first place to start is GAIN.
Simply increase your gain INTO your limiter (the second last plugin, which should be at -1dB for the ceiling/out). As you increase gain, you should be watching your loudness meter until you are close to your loudness target.
Your gain plugin must not change the audio in any way but just increase its volume. Any regular plugin like an EQ, Compressor with 1:1 ratio, or the Fruity Limiter with the ceiling all the way to the top can be used here to increase gain! (There’s no “special gain plugin”.. just don’t use a distortion plugin or chorus plugin for example, as that will skew the audio.. you just want volume here!)
What’s Your Loudness Target?
Many of these streaming services have different Integrated Loudness Targets.. some are -14 LUFS.. some are -12 LUFS.. and some are -16 LUFS..
So what should you master to? LOL
The answer is the sweet spot.. that is the point where the sound is loud and energetic, there isn’t distortion or bad pumping happening, and you’re happy with the audio.
If you’ve mastered your track to -12 LUFS, and the streaming platform plays your music at -14 LUFS (1 LUFS = 1dB.. so 2dB quieter), it simply turns down your audio so all audio on that platform is at the same overall loudness as other songs!
If you are mastering your audio too light, you will miss the fullness of your track! If you push it too hard, you’re going to ruin the song’s peaks!
How to Control Peaks in Mastering
The simple way is to just use a limiter to reduce the peak’s volume. If done gently, you won’t hear any bad artifacts. If you push it too hard, you will hear stuff like pumping or distortion, but this is where you play with ATTACK and RELEASE..
Maybe try a faster ATTACK and RELEASE on your limiter, and see if that helps with the “pumping”. If you hear distortion, you will need to increase the release (but then you may hear pumping).
The next mastering tool to look at is a compressor (and a multi-band compressor):
If your audio is constantly hitting your limiter, but you still can’t get the loudness you’re after, you can use a compressor to help reduce the peaks in a gentler way.. this will allow you to get 1-2dB of gain reduction on your peaks! Now your limiter isn’t being hit as hard!
So as you can see, it’s all about controlling those peaks, and using these different mastering tools subtly to achieve loudness in your master.
You may ask, should I always use compression? The answer is it all comes down to how the song is mixed and the sound selection and melodies.
Compression in mastering generally helps to glue things together, then the limiter helps even out the loud peaks (transients).. I often like to use both for my own music.
But… if you’re mastering other people’s music, this is where many of these rules may not apply, because they may have already done some compression on the MASTER before sending it to you.. this is where truly listening close to the audio and reading your audio meters is VERY important.
But if it’s just you.. well, you haven’t applied any of that mastering stuff yet, so I’d say yes, apply both compression and limiting to help you get that even balanced master!
Conclusion.. Mastering Music in FL Studio
This was a beginner’s guide to mastering.. the first place to start is with your loudness meter and seeing how loud your music is at.
You then use a gain plugin to push your audio into the limiter with a ceiling of -1dB (with your loudness plugin AFTER this limiter).
At first, your peaks will be hitting the limiter a bit harder than you’d like.. so you can pull back the gain a little bit, or start to pull out the different mastering tools like Compressors, Multi-Band Compressors, and Clippers to help control your peaks to increase volume without audible distortion.
As a mastering engineer, you will learn over time where and when to use certain mastering plugins, and you will discover it’s all about gentle 1-2dB moves (which can even be aggressive at certain times!).. whereas in mixing, seeing -6dB gain reduction on a vocal is often normal!
I hope this helps you get started mastering for yourself to achieve loudness in your own songs, as generally mastering is $75/song (sometimes cheaper for an album).. so learning DIY Mastering will help you become a better producer!
Want to learn the full process of how a beat is made, mixed, and mastered? Definitely view my 10 Steps to Become an FL Studio Pro course!