Mastering is all about critical listening for a human being and number crunching for a software algo and not something a single plugin can do for you, both(or so it seems), however Landr online mastering service does work well enough provided the mix you give is also done at its best. There was another mastering suite for Windows AAMS Automated Audio Mastering Software or something like that…
I contacted this guy many many years back when I was in college to ask him about his take on developing a software that does mastering from you mixdown wave file becos that was all the input required for his amazing software. He lives in Netherlands if I remember and he told me that he worked as a mastering engineer for years and eventually figured out that mastering had nothing to do with mixing in the technical sense and more to do with working with phase, frequency response and multiband compression issues and some media related configuration done on the file audio data. This all seemed esoteric so I asked him for some code. He said he wrote it Delphi and gave me some snippets that process DSP stuff and the output was a long list of floating point numbers. I gave up on that after a day of mooning over it…there is some Voodoo math going on. He essentially uses mastering templates based on well mastered songs from his collection and quite possibly does a frequency response curve overlay and some compression based assumptions as starting points or destination points. Those data are saved into a template file and the new audio file to be mastered is effected upon. His software took about 45 min to work on a single song about 4 min long. The results are however startling. The kicks sounded tighter and bass more defined,clashes in frequencies were non existent or very well ‘solved’, highs became clearer and vocals leapt out of the speakers. Now that amazed me the first time becos it seems his assumptions were correct and are purely technical devices implemented in algorithms and nothing to do with mixing based mic’ing or drum and bass locking or parallel compression or 3KHz guitar presence boost and all that stuff…something else is going on, becos he never even saw what my project stems were… To make a comparison, mastering is like the shrink wrapping and packaging industry for any given item that can be packed(unlike a jumbo jet). The original manufacturing and the packaging are two distinct phases and while related are not implemented in the same fashion.
So I started to read up and ask him more but he declined as I was becoming too pokey! What I can suggest from my experience of premastering your tracks in a DAW, is to make sure your mix sounds fantastic on its own first, WITHOUT using any limiter or maximiser on the master bus. Make sure that the drums and bass are locking well and individually they have -6db headroom in you group stem for them. Increasing girth for the bass can be done by using chorus algos and limiting and spend some time doing EQ if it’s clashing with the kick. Or EQ the kick to fit with the bass. Once the clashes are solved start to work on volume and dynamics and fine tune your drum and bass sections the best you can.
Big tip here: Mix in mono. Use a dedicated plugin or just your DAW to mix in mono AT ALL TIMES. Check for pan issues, reverb drowning, instruments out of phase or vanishing away. A/B with the stereo mix.
Next similarly work on your vocals and make it come out to the front, in liaison with drums and bass. Make sure that they all 3 sound fantastic to the best you can.
Then bring in the instruments one by one and figure out which panning setup works best first. Individually remove instruments out of the way of the vocals.In that basic pan setup then start on carving a sharper picture by using EQ for each instrument. Use compression only when EQ has done its job. Using compression will change its eq curve so you can either go back and fine tune or use a post compressor EQ again of required.
When the entire mix sounds balanced to you without any limiter and still headroom left at the master bus you can add a limiter and it will blow your mind for most mixes:)
For volume based adjustments remember that slapping a compressor immediately makes anything sound subjectively better so instead just use the volume faders to balance any sound or track rather than put a compressor on each insert.
EQ, delay, compressor and reverb are all you need to make a good mix, stick with the basics first. They are your core foundations. Also hardware does some amazing magic when it comes to mixing stages:) 1950s gear are called products from the golden age of audio engineering becos those engineers had a lot of time to research what sounded good and even the components they designed reflected that patience and passion.
Another tip is to use exciters to get that oomph sound, however how you use it will determine whether it let’s the track shine or damages the mix.
Finally submit to Landr or to your Mastering engineer From my experience ‘some’ of my tracks done this way with care were told by my record label and live engineers that I sometimes work with out here that it sounds mastered already and that they don’t need to remaster it! But it takes a lot of time too, so maybe it was worth it. I am all about lo-fi and cassette these days, can’t really bother with DAWs anymore…
The thing about monitoring is that I did not have pro grade monitors like I have now(creative soundblasters or JBL gaming speakers and similar nonstudio gear), and also these mastering tools don’t make use of any monitoring done live obviously so it seems to me that having monitors is greatly overrated. If Mastering is indeed a technical job and not audio art anymore at that stage, your monitor is just a luxury investment. For mixing it’s very useful if response is flat, but given the gamut of variances and the amount of great works being engineered on pretty much all kinds of gear from lo for to hi fi, I am not too sold on monitoring as the primary ingredient in getting a good mix…It’s like saying that a particular type of paper will produce the best kind of art…not buying it. The painters vision and technique is what matters end of the day. Any paper good enough to paint on will do the job for you for the most part as long it does not leak the paint or smudge. Also Beethoven had no monitors and he was almost deaf, the worst engineer for any production!