In this article, we will talk about what is mastering in FL Studio.
This article will not show how to master music, but simply discuses what is mastering, common mastering tools, and how to get started mastering your own music! (Yes, you can master your own music, and it’s wise to keep practicing to truly learn the ins-and-outs of being a well-rounded music producer!)
What You Will Learn:
- What’s the Point of Mastering?
- What Does Mastering Actually Do?
- The Loudness Wars (Are Ending!)
What’s the Point of Mastering?
You will instantly know if a song has been mastered by its polished sound. It will sound full, big, exciting, controlled, and balanced..
If your song is not mastered, it will lack these key features and sound dull!
If you just have a rough mix (which is typically mixed to -6dB maximum for its peaks.. this is known as “headroom”), you will hear it’s much quieter than commercially released music. This is not to say your mix is bad, it’s just not brought up to the same loudness.
Within this audio industry, if something is louder, it tricks us into thinking it sounds better!
If you push your master too loud, it can actually harm your music. There is a nice balance.. like most things in life.. you want that sweet spot!
You definitely want your music mastered for it to be loud, balanced, and translate across any type of audio listening device your audience may listen to your music on (in the car, headphones, a cellphone speaker).. that’s the main point of mastering!
There’s two golden rules you must understand with mastering.. that is:
- Avoid unwanted distortion (yes, there is good distortion called “saturation”)
- Avoid pumping (you want transparent volume increase without hearing any negative side effects!)
What Does Mastering a Song Actually Do?
Mastering a song makes it loud and exciting. But there’s actually more to mastering than just that.
Depending if you get your music professionally mastered, or do it yourself mastering, besides making a song loud and competitive in the real world, mastering also plays these other roles:
- Set proper intro/outro times between songs – Having the right time spacing between songs is very important for an album’s emotion.
- Volume and EQ balance between tracks – The listener shouldn’t have to adjust the volume knob from song to song. EQ balance is harder to achieve, but in simple terms, you do not want a super bright song to transition into a super dull song.
- Adding ISRC Codes into the song – an ISRC code gets embedded into each individual song which allows it to be tracked for royalties.
- If sent to a professional mastering engineer – Having a second set of trained ears in a properly treated room are two very beneficial things. (That’s if you have the money. But if not, you can definitely learn to master your own song!)
But I’m sure most of you have come here to learn how to master your music loud. It’s important you are aware of what the loudness wars are, and how to retain dynamics while mastering (with competitive loudness.)
Retaining dynamics means that your music is still loud, but it still sounds normal.. like the chorus is loud, and the verse is just a little quieter.. this is important so your chorus sounds BIG and EXCITING!
But in short, mastering makes your audio louder and more consistent. We do this with our mastering tools, such as compressors and limiters, which control the peaks of our song by them turning down (limiting/compression), or turning up the quiet parts of the song (upwards compression!)
The Loudness Wars are Ending
Within digital audio, the digital file we export to (.WAV or .MP3) has a limit of 0dB.
When we play that digital file on our phone or computer, it runs through the player’s “analog-to-digital converter” (A/D).. if the audio goes over 0dB (because it was pushed too loud in mastering), you will hear audible UNWANTED DISTORTION.
This is why mastering engineers have been setting their limiter’s threshold to -1dB, in case any quick peaks are too fast, and overdrive these converters. (These are called inter-sample peaks).
LUFS is the New Standard for RMS and dB
Previously we used RMS to perceive an average of how loud our music was.. but the problem was if a track was very bass heavy, it would totally skew the RMS meter.. essentially making the meter useless for comparing track to track.
It’s important you use a Loudness Meter (Pro-L 2 has one) with the different LUFS measurements (Momentary Loudness, Short-Term Loudness, and Integrated Loudness) to truly see the loudness of your music when mastering!
What makes LUFS very unique is it takes into account the loudness of each frequency and how our ears actually hear those frequencies (high frequencies hurt our ears easier than low bass frequencies).. so now these loudness meters work quite well when comparing song-to-song in the mastering stage!
Mastering for Streaming Platforms (Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, etc)
Now, you still want to push your master loud, otherwise it will lack that energy and fullness I’ve been talking about, but it’s no longer necessary to push your limiter’s volume to extreme levels any more, because knowledge finally won!
The professionals spoke out and explained that you can still have loudness WITHOUT ruining your audio’s “dynamics”.. which essentially just means you can still have loudness with a song sounding good.
Most audio platforms have started to understand this loudness wars problem, and have implemented “loudness normalization”.
In other words, all audio volume is now relatively played the same, no matter how loud it’s been mastered, which allows the listener to simply set the volume dial to one position, and it should be the same volume from song to song, and when commercials quickly pop-in.
So if you push your master so loud to destroy its dynamics, you will suffer the consequences when your music gets TURNED DOWN by these streaming platforms..
It’s all about keeping the music sounding good, and allowing the listener to choose how loud to listen.
But, it’s still important to have SOME loudness.. so here’s an example:
Mastering Too Loud Example:
We have a single song which has been mastered by two different mastering engineers (both are me with different fake names 🙂):
Mastering Engineer #1: Pico Rasoir (Peak Shaver lol):
BAD MASTERING EXAMPLE:
Pico Rasoir (Mastering Engineer #1) pushes his master very hard into a limiter. We get loudness, but it lacks its original punch.
Pico exports his master at -8 LUFS Integrated.
Mastering Engineer #2: Konservativ Rapport (Conservative Ratio):
GOOD MASTERING EXAMPLE:
Konservativ Rapport (Mastering Engineer #2) has a great master. It was processed aggressively, but retains lots of dynamics, energy, and punch!
Konservativ exports his awesome master at -13 LUFS Integrated.
(These LUFS numbers keep changing on each streaming service, but you get the point.)
If the good master is at -13 LUFS Integrated, and the streaming platforms play music at -14 LUFS (1 LUFS quieter), your master will be turned down just a little bit, but that’s okay.
It’s more important to get a master that is balanced and exciting rather than not pushing it enough and worrying about a streaming platform turning down your audio. Pushing a master WAY TOO HARD is a big no no 🙂.. like -7 LUFS integrated for example.
So that’s an overview of what is mastering in FL Studio.
Mastering applies to beats, songs, or even audio for film music.
The goal is making sure your audio is at a competitive loudness (without pushing it too far), making sure there’s no unwanted distortion or pumping, and making sure it’s tonal balance (EQ) is natural sounding.
I hope that helps.. make sure to read my other mastering tutorials!
Also, you may find these best mastering plugin useful: