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First things first: any effect on the master buss is a weapon of mass destruction.
Second things second: louder always SEEMS to sound better. At least until you learn to listen very critically to your mastering attempts. So for your first attempts you'll think it sounds fabulous- but a few weeks later it'll probably hurt your ears and turn your stomach. All part of the home brew mastering learning curve so don't be surprised or upset about it.
Learn to use your compressors and limiters on the master buss. Listen to the affect it has on your mix. Play with the settings and see how the effect changes. Figure out how to get the volume louder without changing the overall sound.
Then you'll notice that its really hard to do because the mix gets screwed up when you do that. This or that will be out of balance (where the hell did that hi-hat come from?!) ... then head back to your mix and fix that element. Squish away again and see what pops out of balance this time.
Repeat until a) your happy with the master or b) scared to make any more tweaks because it might be as good as you can get it for the moment.
Then, once dynamics are starting to feel like a useful tool for mastering... whip out an EQ and see what it does to the mix. You can always turn it off so crank those (virtual) knobs around and see where the "meat" and "tin" and "honk" and whatnot is in your mixes. You'll probably start seeing patterns ("Hmmm, everything seems a little muddy in the lows and low mids...")
Guess where you fix that? Yup, back in the mix. Better yet, fix it in your room. You may be finding the resonant freqs of your recording space. Difficult to do much about... but if you don't know what they are you can't do anything.
It takes a while to get at all good at it but you'll learn a lot about every other aspect of your process in the meantime. Just give yourself plenty of time to practice before making copies of your mastered CD for the whole world: its a new skill that will take a while to get down, just like learning a new instrument.
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