There's no question that mastering is an essential stage of music production. If you want your music to compete with tracks you hear in the club, on the radio, or on online streaming services, then you need to have them mastered properly so your music gets heard. We’ve compared different online services and made this roundup.
Mastering is the final stage in a track's lifecycle before distribution. Once the arrangement and mix have been nailed down, there is a final phase of processing before the music gets sent out to listeners.
Mastering is carried out for a number of reasons. Traditionally, mastering was a necessary process to make sure that the song could physically play on a vinyl record – too much dynamic range and the needle would bounce off the record, making it unplayable.
These days, the main reasons for mastering are: to control dynamic range, improve consistency, to check that the song translates well across different speaker types (phones, headphones, loudspeakers, car speakers etc), refine the overall feel and timbre of the track with compression, equalisation and saturation. Arguably the most important reason is to ensure the loudness is correct for the distribution format. Different distributors such as iTunes, Spotify – even CDs – all have their own specifications for loudness and dynamic range, which must be addressed in the mastering stage.
Historically, musicians would send their mixed pieces to mastering engineers/ mastering houses for the final process. However, today we have access to many great online mastering services that use algorithmic processing to master your tracks. The general advantage of these services (over using a human engineer) is that it is quicker and cheaper.
Abbey Road offer mastering through their website. As one of the world's most iconic studios, there's no doubt that having your music mastered by an Abbey Road engineer would be a good decision..These guys are at the top of their game, absolute experts working in beautifully designed state-of-the-art mastering suites, with access to unique, historic analogue mastering gear. This would probably be the highest quality result, but at a higher expense compared to automated online mastering.
Verdict: Consider mastering with Abbey Road if you are a serious artist with an important release, especially if you have financial backing from a record label. It’s relatively expensive but definitely adds a lot of value to the final product, a trained engineer will always produce better results than AI. It won't be as fast or instantaneous as automated services, but it’s Abbey Road’s engineers and gear, what more to say?
Aria is an automated online analogue mastering service. This is the most futuristic and Sci-Fi method of mastering. Aria uses 100% analog mastering processes, which are available 24/7 and in real time. This is possible thanks to their robotic arm, it looks like a cross between a high end mastering studio and those claw grabber arcade games. The arm executes precise adjustments to analog gear, meaning the studio can be operated without a human engineer.
Verdict: A fast and affordable method for getting your music mastered on analog gear, and gives you control over the process. We recommend this to musicians seeking the tone of analog mastering, without the cost of a mastering engineer.
Bandlab is an online DAW that offers free algorithmic mastering. The Bandlab platform works like most DAWs however it is all browser-based, meaning you produce music on a website rather than downloading and installing any software. Bandlab has a mastering section that will automatically master your tracks with an algorithm designed by their engineers. Whilst it doesn’t offer much customisation in the mastering process, it won’t cost you a penny to master your tracks with bandlab.
Verdict: This is an entry level mastering service. The most attractive quality is that it’s free, fast and simple. You don’t need any technical knowledge to get your masters done. It won't be as high quality as a bespoke mastering service or using an actual engineer. But if you need quick masters on a £0 budget, Bandlab is a great option.
Cloudbounce is another online automated mastering service that uses machine listening to determine the best mastering chain for your track. The Cloudbounce mastering engine will control the audio processors including compressors, EQs, limiters and stereo imagers. This is a digital service, without the option for analog mastering.
Verdict: Another fast and affordable automated mastering service. This has more customisation options than some platforms, but is still relatively simple. Recommended for upcoming artists who release music for free online. Good if you need functional mastering without breaking the bank, or the hassle of talking to an engineer.
eMastered is an automated online mastering service designed by Grammy winning engineers, and powered by Artificial Intelligence. It claims to be a fast and simple mastering service.
Verdict: eMastered is more in-depth than other platforms, giving you more control over the fine details of compressors, EQs and stereo width. Its AI-powered engine will analyze your song to make improvements. Another attractive feature is the reference mode, where it will try to match the mastering style with any track you upload. This feature could be really useful if you want to get your music to sound similar to certain playlists, albums or genres.
Dub studio is a mastering studio in Bristol that specialises in dub plate and vinyl cutting. If you are looking to get your tracks mastered for Vinyl then this is a good one to look at.
Verdict: Whilst not an automated mastering service, Dub Studio, and associated Higher Level Mastering provides users with the chance to get their music looked over by some of the top experts in mastering. Great value for money in vinyl mastering and cutting.
Landr is one of the biggest names in online mastering. They offer affordable and instant mastering with a good amount of customisation options. They also offer distribution/release, helping you to sell and stream your music over the web on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play Music, and many others.
Verdict: Landr is a comprehensive service, as it does more than just mastering. It can help you to distribute and promote your music and gain insights from audience data. It’s relatively affordable, and fast. We recommend this for beginner and professional independent artists who self manage their projects. It can save a lot of time by handling the mastering and distribution sides, so you can focus more on making music rather than fiddling around getting tracks on Spotify.
Sage audio is a mastering studio in Nashville, Tennessee. They offer high quality mastering worldwide with a remote online mastering service. They use experienced engineers in a purpose designed mastering studio with a selection of top grade analog hardware. They claim that they put creativity and soul into their masters to give music its heart and magic. Believing a refined workflow, studio acoustics play a vital role in getting the best possible sound
Verdict: Cheaper option than abbey road for quality engineers and studio. If you want your music looked at by professionals in a proper mastering studio, but don’t want to fork out too much cash, then Sage Audio could be one to check out.
Schnalz, free online mastering
Verdict: Recommended if you need a quick and free fix for your projects. Live mastering so you can hear and make changes in real time. Limited options but simple, fast and free.
There are many mastering studios and audio production companies which offer online (non-automated) mastering, with in-house mastering engineers. The following list contains some places we recommend you check out. Some companies may be geared towards certain genres, so have a look through and see what you think is the best match. All these companies offer similar services with similar processes. You might want to search for any studios in your local area, some places even let you come and watch the engineers at work.