Step 11 - Mastering
Mastering is simply the act of creating a master (as in a master
recording) from which all other copies will be made. In the digital
music age there is no loss in sound quality when a copy is made, so
you essentially distribute the master itself to all of your fans. Either
way, the same 2 primary elements apply to mastering your recording.

1. Balance.

You cannot control the listener's stereo or listening environment, so
you want your recording to have an even distribution of frequencies,
so that the lister can adjust their stereo's equalizer to their own
preference. If your mix is bass heavy it may sound great on your
speakers, but if the listener's stereo is already bass heavy it will sound
over-bearing. The mastering engineer achieves balance by listening to
the mix on several different sets of speakers or studio monitors, and
by using a spectrum analyzer. There are
spectrum analyzer plug-ins
that you can use.

2. Gain.

Remember, we mix in negative dbl. So the "hottest" peak on your
recording should fall right at zero, and all other peaks will fall below
zero. The listener will use their own amplifier to add positive dbl on
their own stereo. The only problem is that their amplifier will add noise
just like any other analog device. So the less amplification is needed to
reach their desired volume, the better. The mastering engineer will use
compressors to bring the lowest peaks closer to zero. The mastering
engineer should compress the music as much as he/she can without
making it sound over-compressed. Thus, mastering is an art that
requires good ears, equipment, and patience.
DO NOT master your own mix.

I have said this over and over again at seminars, yet I have still
broken the rule a number of times. If you mix a recording it
becomes virtually impossible for you to be an objective and
scientific mastering engineer. By utilizing the Johnson Recording
Method, you should have saved a good amount of money on the
recording process so consider hiring an experienced mastering
engineer. In fact, there are several links to mastering engineers
on this web page. If it is still out of your price range, have a
friend (that was not involved in the rest of the recording process)
do it. Just, whatever you do,
DO NOT master you own mix.