SoundCloud Mastering Review: Competitive Option or Waste of Time?

soundcloud-mastering-review

You probably already know about SoundCloud, the site where even new musicians can start uploading tracks, connecting with fans, and even collaborating with each other. But if you haven’t been on the site in a while, you may not realize that SoundCloud now offers mastering, powered by Dolby, to all site users.

Is SoundCloud mastering right for your music? Hopefully, our review will help you find out.

A Little About SoundCloud

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SoundCloud was founded in 2007 by a Swedish artist and a Swedish sound designer. The site was founded, in part, because there wasn’t really a site out there for sound designers and musicians to post the sounds they made. Photographers had Flickr and filmmakers had Vimeo, but until SoundCloud, the internet looked somewhat bleak for the sound-inclined.

The site was also designed to help artists collaborate, even if they’re across the world from each other. For instance, SoundCloud offers private track and playlist sharing, which enables you to send your music to collaborators even before it’s ready to be released to the world.

SoundCloud is also somewhat unique in that it allows artists to instantly upload tracks for free — making reaching future fans easier than ever.

Features and Benefits of the Site

Mastering

The main feature that we’ve been focusing on today is SoundCloud’s mastering capability, which was added on July 14, 2020. We mainly like that the mastering option was made in collaboration with Dolby and that you can choose from a range of mastering presets. (We go into more detail about the mastering process in the “How Does It Work?” section.)

Mastering File Formats

SoundCloud accepts a wide range of file types. If you want to master a track, make sure it is one of these file types:

  • WAV (both 16-bit and 24-bit)
  • FLAC
  • AIFF
  • MP3

SoundCloud also limits track lengths to 10 minutes. However, if you have something longer that you’re looking to master, you can send them an e-mail and they’ll consider it.

Mastering Interface

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SoundCloud keeps its mastering interface simple. It’s intuitive and non-threatening for musicians new to mastering. You simply choose a section of your track (this will be your preview) and wait for the Dolby mastering program to “listen.”

From there, you can choose your mastering preset. Each preset is represented by a colorful graphic, and you can read descriptions of each before selecting one.

If you opt to purchase a full-mastered version of one of your tracks, you can pay once you’ve listened to the preview. Of course, if you have a Pro Unlimited membership, you get three free masters per month (more on this in the “Pricing and Plans” section).

After You Master

Once you’ve mastered a track, you have the option to upload it to SoundCloud. We like that you can upload tracks without a distributor, so it’s easy to upload demos and works in progress, too.

However, SoundCloud also lets you connect with potential fans through direct messaging. You can also post comments on tracks, which can be a great way to connect with other musicians.

If you opt for a paid membership, you can get paid for your plays on SoundCloud, and you can also have all of your tracks distributed across all major music platforms.

How Does It Work?

SoundCloud’s mastering feature is still relatively new, but we decided to check it out. We opted to try the SoundCloud sample option, where you get a free preview of a mastered version of the track you upload.

If you also want to try before you buy, you can do what we did. You simply go to the “mastering” section of the site and upload your track.

Then, you select the portion of the track you want to hear a master of. SoundCloud will automatically choose the most dynamic portion of the song, but you can adjust this selection if you want.

Then, once the master of a portion of your track has been finished, you get to listen to it. You can switch back and forth between your original upload and the master, which lets you clearly hear the difference.

SoundCloud has more sonic options than other sites when it comes to mastering your tracks. When we tried a sample master, you could choose from four presets:

Thunder– This option brings out bass frequencies. It’s good for tracks that don’t already have a heavy bass presence.

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Sunroof– This one accentuates midrange and high frequencies. It’s useful for hip-hop and other genres that are primarily beat-driven.

Aurora– Soundcloud describes this one as “ethereal, light, and airy,” and we think that’s accurate. This setting is especially good for ambient and experimental tracks.

Clear Sky– This one is designed primarily for pop songs, although it could also be useful for other genres. It gives your mix a lighter feel, and it keeps bass frequencies under control.

We like that you can simply toggle between these mastering presets, even mid-playback. This helps you make sure you choose the master you really want. And if you’re putting together an album or EP, choosing the same mastering preset each time will really help you to make sure your finished work has a cohesive sound.

SoundCloud’s mastering is powered by Dolby technology. This technology effectively “listens” to your music like an engineer would. It then helps shape the sound to maximize both loudness and clarity.

Once you’ve listened to previews and selected which mastering preset you like best, you have the option to purchase a full master of your track. How much this costs depends on your membership type, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Why Choose Soundcloud Mastering over the Competition?

If you’ve been making music for any length of time, you know that there are multiple mastering sites out there. While it’s true that some of these may suit you better than this one, here are some reasons to select SoundCloud as your mastering site:

You get engineer-like masters without the high cost

The Dolby mastering technology used with SoundCloud mastering is designed to function very much like an actual engineer has listened to and mastered your track. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty close (and a lot cheaper).

You have a wide range of presets

We like that you have four different mastering presets to choose from. We also especially appreciate the fact that SoundCloud takes the time to explain each one– not every site does that.

SoundCloud has other features you may like

The site has come a long way since its early days. You have the option to monetize your tracks and get your music promoted with a Pro Unlimited account, and you also can access Repost, SoundCloud’s career development and promotion service.

Prices and Plans

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SoundCloud itself seems to play it a little close to the vest when discussing mastering — even on their main mastering page, they simply say that you can master on SoundCloud for a fraction of the cost of paying a sound engineer.

However, SoundCloud does have a membership hierarchy when it comes to paying for your track masters. If you have the basic (free) membership, you’ll need to pay $4.99 per song.

If you have a Pro Unlimited account, you get three free masters each month and then only need to pay $3.99 for each master after that. However, a Pro Unlimited membership costs $12/month when billed annually.

While we’re always fans of free masters, we still think that the price is worth it for SoundCloud mastering.

Pros

  • SoundCloud mastering is powered by Dolby, a legendary company when it comes to mastering audio
  • You get a wider variety of mastering presets than you get on many sites
  • Mastering fees are fairly affordable
  • You have access to previews before buying

Cons

  • You do have to pay for each master, which can be a downside
  • Artists in non-mainstream genres might benefit from more mastering presets
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Verdict

After carefully reviewing all we could find about SoundCloud mastering and then trying it out for ourselves, we can say that we recommend this mastering service. We especially like the variety you get in terms of mastering presets, although we still think that musicians who don’t make hip-hop or pop could benefit from a wider variety of presets.

We’d recommend that you take advantage of SoundCloud’s free sample master in order to choose a preset before purchasing a full master. Check out SoundCloud mastering today!

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