My philosophy for mastering places the highest importance on monitoring. I know what sounds correct and I know what sounds “off”. Mastering is the creative process of combining a trained subjective taste to an objective and technical goal of speaker compatibility aka translation. Beyond that it’s about creating a solid program of material that flows well.
I treat every project with great care. I empathize with the audience and the artist. The tight rope between those two sides is mastering.
The first phase I go through is to fix anything that’s too far out of whack (if anything). If I’m able to, I’ll talk to the artist and have them fix it in the mix first. There are just certain sounds some people can’t hear on their systems for some reason. It could be because of their room, speaker positioning, grade of speaker etc. If you can bring a problem you’re hearing to their attention, sometimes it can be more easily recognized, even with the drawback of a bad monitoring situation.
Sometimes the mixes are mixed down and that’s that. You have to work with it.
The 2nd phase is finding what makes the track pop. There’s usually something I hear that I can massage out of the sound. It could be brilliant right out of the gate, and it’s important to recognize that too. Sometimes you will get what I like to call Fonzi mixes. Fonzi from “Happy Days” would look in the mirror to comb his hair. He would stop right before making contact with the comb and go “ehhhh?!” as if to say, “you don’t even need to touch that hair, it’s perfect”. Some mixes are like that.
Even in the case of all tracks being Fonzi tracks, there’s usually some balancing to be done from track to track volume wise to make the overall program feel coherent like they belong on one album.