5 Reasons Mastering Plugins Do More Harm Than Good

Mastering used to be an exclusive professional process reserved for big-budget releases.

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

But can anyone really use plugins to master their music and achieve good results?

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

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Here are my top 5 reasons mastering plugins do more harm that good.

1. They’re expensive

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

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

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

That means 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 challenging process it takes to get the best results, the high cost is even harder to stomach.

The research and development it takes to create specialized mastering plugins doesn’t come cheap.

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



2. They’re too complicated

Once you’re set up with a stack of mastering plugins or an all-in-one suite, you’ll have to start learning how to use it.

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

That means good mastering plugins often take a lot of experience and background knowledge to use.

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

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

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

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

3. They’re too much work to use properly

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re just getting started, the time and frustration that comes with learning can grind your creative flow to a halt.

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

4. They’re easy to screw up

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

If your goal 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 how to evaluate loudness correctly?


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

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

The most important tool in a pro 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.

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 bound 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 well

The most important tool in a pro 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 music production. When you’re dealing with a whole mix, you need to be able to hear every single tiny detail.

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That’s why mastering studios pay hundreds of thousands for acoustic treatment, speakers and high end conversion.

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

But mastering plugins need an environment that’s purpose-built for mastering to really shine.

DIY mastering options

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

Mastering plugins can do the job, but they come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks.

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

Master a track to see what LANDRs’ AI mastering engine can do for your sound.

The post 5 Reasons Mastering Plugins Do More Harm Than Good appeared first on LANDR Blog.

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