Mastering means different things to different people, especially in the age of the loudness war, but I won't bang on about that. Traditionally a mastering engineers job is to make a set of songs - an EP or and Album - sound consistent and cohesive as a whole package. Recordings may have been made in different locations, mixed on different desks or used different plug ins etc etc.. Making them all sound as one is a difficult and delicate job. On the other hand there is the single which has a more freedom.. then there is dance music. Uh oh I'm about to bang on about loudness again. If the desired effect is to have a really loud master then you need to start with the mix. As a mastering engineer I don't have a magic power button to make the tracks sound amazing if I've been given an average or poor mix, I can make an average or poor mix sound better but it won't sound amazing. So what's the learning ? Learn to mix well and your masters will sound better, you'll save loads of time and you won't be disappointed when you get an average master sent back to you.
As a young producer I would expect this magic mastered track to come back and blow me away which kind of happened once or twice but after a while I realised the engineer had simply made my shit mix a fair bit better.. still on reflection I would never play that track out because it was a poor mix to start with so it just doesn't stand up to the other tracks I play. Years pass, wrinkles appear, hair falls out (mainly due to mixing stress) and I realise my tracks will only ever sound amazing if I nail the mix, then the mastering engineer can just add the sparkle and shine rather that correcting my schoolboy errors.
I aim to treat your music in a transparent way, unless you request otherwise. When I have tracks mastered I want them to come back sounding the same, but better !
I've been producing music since I was 16. It's been full of peaks and troughs and at times pretty isolating but it's also brought me together with people that understand the world I think about which enables discussions and learning that I could not do without. I got my break when I signed to Turbo in 2012 which was huge for me... about 12 years of hard work finally paying off, I did three records with them and have since worked with DSNT, THEM, Power Vacuum, remixed Tiga, Rebekah, Max Cooper, Suuns, Daniel Myer plus many more. I now run my own label called 'User Experience' - check it here.
My style is broad and I like to keep my methods varied, if ideas lead me somewhere I go with it. This has pushed me to explore all sorts of different sound design and processing techniques which I use in my productions.
I make library music for TV which has been used on various channels around the world. Sound design for animations and idents are also part of my work.
Mixing tracks is quite straightforward if you have a well treated room and flat response monitors, listening at sensible volumes is key as well as keeping an eye on the meters to really understand what your compressors are doing, as they could be just adding gain.
Of course mixing is very different between styles of music, different techniques are used for specific tasks but the fundamentals remain the same. Balance, dynamics and eq, what you do with those is up to you but an understanding of them is essential.
I am more focused on and experienced with electronic music so bear that in mind when reading this.
Don't get bogged down with mixing to early in the writing process. Let the ideas flow, don't worry about the issues you can hear (unless you are recording instruments + vocals - fix those early on) just get the ideas down.. then what I find best is to quickly and roughly map out the structure then I start mixing and correcting any problems with the sounds. It's all to easy to get sucked in to tweaking every single little parameter of your kick drum or synth and after an hour or two of that you lose interest because the original spark has long disappeared.
Keep your ears fresh, keep the monitoring levels low and take a break every hour other wise you'll make a bad mix. Another top tip is to gather 5 or 10 reference tracks that you really like and keep coming back to these to see how your mix compares. Checking you mix through headphones is advisable.
If you are just starting out check this great article from sound on sound.