Professional-level mastering is a particular skill that takes years to perfect and requires a controlled monitoring environment with the best possible speakers.
But just because your production budget doesn't stretch to enlisting Abbey Road's mastering team to polish off your mix, doesn't mean you can't improve the quality of your mix using DIY mastering techniques.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Unmastered tracks are unlikely to gel together as a complete project—particularly if you're releasing multiple compositions as part of an album, EP, or single.
Learn the basics and arm yourself with the right tools, and it's more than possible to create a polished master that will translate well on a wide range of playback systems.
To help you get started, we've listed the best plugins for mastering currently available. Each has its pros and cons; some are complete bundles, while others are separate tools.
iZotope - Ozone 9 Advanced
Ozone 9 is one of the best plugins for mastering your own music.
iZotope takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation thanks to their extremely helpful balance control feature. Based on successful commercially released tracks, it allows you to quickly identify any tonal imbalance you might need to address. If you have a reference track you particularly like, you can easily upload it as a custom reference.
If you're mastering your own music for the first time, the additional "master assistant" feature can also help nudge your track in the right direction. This smart assistant will apply a pre-set signal chain based on your mix intention and intended listening platform. Choose from modern or vintage processing, high or low intensity, and optimize for CD or streaming service releases.
The following iZotope demonstration video covers the process of mastering your own tracks from start to finish, including the smart assistant feature mentioned above and making finer adjustments. In particular, you'll hear how they use the low-end focus module to tighten up the low end, followed by applying the imager, which uses multi-band stereo imaging to improve the sense of stereo width and space.
Available as: VST/AU/AAX