5 Reasons Mastering Plugins Do More Harm Than Good

mastering plugins

Mastering was a unique professional process reserved for big-budget releases.

But today there are many DIY mastering choices available. From online AI-powered mastering to suites of mastering plugins for your DAW, preparing your mix for release has never been more accessible.

However, can anyone really use plugins to master their music and achieve good outcomes?

It’s not always clear. Actually, using mastering plugins to create your own masters from scratch is harder than it might seem at first.

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In this guide, we will show you the top 5 reasons mastering plugins do more harm than good.

1. They’re expensive

Mastering suites and plugin bundles are some of the expensive music production software out there.

After all, mastering is a sensitive process that requires top-notch processing to work effectively. The research and development it takes to create specialized mastering plugins don’t come cheap.

These high-quality tools cost lots to own outright and aren’t often found in rent-to-own pricing.

That implies that even though mastering with plugins is cheap in the long run, the upfront costs are still high.

When you factor in the steep learning curve and difficult process it takes to get the best results, the high cost is even harder to stomach.

It’s never a bad idea to spend money on quality tools for your plugin folder, however, unless you plan to start mastering music regularly you may not use them enough to justify the cost.

mastering plugins

2. They’re too complicated

When you arrange with a stack of mastering plugins or an all-in-one suite, you’ll have to start learning the way to use it.

Mastering is the most technical job in the music production process. The plugins top engineers use have all the technical complexity you’d expect from a professional setup.

That means good mastering plugins often take lots of experience and background knowledge to make use of.

If you don’t understand the finer points of dynamic rangeloudnessmetering, and frequency balance, you’ll need your work cut out for you with pro mastering plugins.

Like other high-end gear, these highly effective audio tools tend to focus on performance over ease of use.

That means even basic operations like compression or EQ can be complicated and nuanced when it comes to mastering.

3. They’re too much work to use properly

Mastering plugins are designed to deal with any situation a pro mastering engineer might encounter.

It means that each possible control can be tweaked in painstaking detail.

To set the right you’ll still need to seek out the sweet spot for every relevant parameter in the mastering process.

That’s lots of work—even if you already know what you’re doing.

Unlike instant, AI-powered solutions, a thorough mastering job still takes a couple of hours of tinkering to do by hand.

When you just start your journey, the time and frustration that comes with learning can grind your creative flow to a halt.

It’s great to take a look at your mix with an analytical eye, but mastering requires a completely different approach—especially when it comes to plugins.

4. They’re easy to screw up

With all that fine-grain control and highly effective performance, it’s easy to make mistakes that wreak havoc on your master.

If your target is to get a loud track that brushes up against the maximum possible level, you’ll be walking a tightrope.

Step over the line and you’ll create clipping and harsh digital distortion. Undershoot your goal and you’ll lose precious dB of level.

How comfortable are you with modern metering techniques? Do you know the way to evaluate loudness correctly?

You’ll have to understand it completely to make the best decisions with mastering plugins.

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If that weren’t enough, every processor in your mastering chain impacts the others. For instance, even a gentle boost in the low end can completely alter the gain structure and push you over the line.

Once you’ve set up a chain of different plugins, each adjustment can be a source of issues.

With so many factors to keep track in mind at once, you’re sure to create problems that might not be obvious until you’ve exported your work.

5. You still need a pro mix room to use them effectively

The most important tool in a professional mastering chain isn’t the advanced software or priceless analog {hardware}.

It’s the listening system and the room where the engineer does their work.

Mastering is the most demanding listening situation in the music production process. If you’re dealing with a complete mix, you need to be able to hear every single tiny detail.

That’s why mastering studios pay lots of thousands for acoustic treatmentspeakers, and high-end conversion.

Mixing naturally has a little more room for error built-in. If you can get your mix sounding good on your monitors—or even headphones—a great master can take it the rest of the way.

However, mastering plugins need an environment that’s purpose-built for mastering to actually shine.

DIY mastering options

There are many approaches you can take when it comes to mastering your music.

Mastering plugins can do the job, however, they come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re not ready to provide them a try, automated online mastering is your best bet.

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