Learning Mastering Without a Mentor
Learning anything creative is both challenging and joyful. Part of the fun is the challenge; if it were easy, it wouldn't hold our interest. Set your expectations accordingly.
Ear Training Tools:
Pro Audio Essentials for ear training (iZotope)
Golden Ears Program
Why Embracing Many Genres Is Important
It's essential to listen to a wide range of music and dissect why each genre works and what the pillars to unlocking it are. We need to collect examples of exceptional music.
How Your Listening Environment Impacts Hearing
If you can't hear accurately, then your judgment and therefore, decisions are based on a false representation of the audio.
Master Your EQ
An essential tool in mastering is the EQ and learning how to manage tonal balance and tone.
Start by making little changes and listen to what happens. Listen for how it alters the relationship between the instruments and sounds. Listen for how your decisions shape the tonal balance, creates spaciousness, and changes the frequency perception across the spectrum.
Build up a collection of great sounding reference material, organised by genre.
Try, as an experiment, mastering something only using an EQ and then compare it to your references. You will begin to notice your tendencies, that shape your practices. You can gradually adjust these practices as you learn and gain experience.
Compression is one of the most challenging subjects to learn.
Compression is a tool to reduce dynamic contrast, in order words, we're removing, and it's harder to notice when there's less of something as opposed to more of something.
When you go from a verse to a chorus, you should be able to notice the dynamic contrast in the material.
Learning Loudness and Level
This is the most complex subject to learn. As managing loudness and impact involves leveraging all the different skills you learn in studying music production.
One practice could be to measure the level across all of your reference tracks and take note of the integrated LUFS, then master a track yourself and compare where your track lands. If your track lands near the references in terms of integrated LUFS but doesn't sound as clear, punchy, or clean, that suggests you need to work harder with EQ and tonal balance and perhaps go back to the mixing stage. If you end up in a different place with your LUFS, try and identify what's causing that problem. Just by noticing the differences, it can begin to stimulate the questions you need to answer to get your track sounding as good as possible.
Are Your Mastering Tools Good Enough?
The way you interact with your tools can have a drastic effect on the result.
If you have a UI where a little graphical change results in 10dB of difference, that plugin may be well suited to mixing, but not mastering. Tools that are set up well for mastering allow you to make small changes, have command and control over those changes and get the visual representation of them scaled in a way that marries well with mastering.
MV: A 2dB boost on most EQ's results in a tiny graphical change. On Ozone's EQ, a 2dB boost looks much larger in comparison. This is because Ozone's EQ is calibrated to mastering in where the dB's added and subtracted are much smaller than those in mixing.
Connect With A Community
Developing a community and connecting with others for feedback is vital for developing your skillset.
Developing what you like comes from experimenting, no amounts of reading or watching can supplement that.
It's a lifelong endeavour, stick with it, you'll be glad you did.