I'm trying to learn more about mastering. I'm very much a beginner in this area. One thing that has stumped me a little in the learning process is what is a good level to bring things to. I've read a lot about the loudness wars and really want my music to be mastered better than a lot of music is being mastered currently. A lot of my favorite modern albums have little dynamic range compared with albums 30 or 40 years ago. Currently I've been mastering everything so that my limiter doesn't have to squash anything. My limiter on the master buss, with a few exceptions here and there, is set in such a way that if I moved the knob just a notch forward my limiters needle would come up some and squash the sound a little. My limiter is not actually limiting most of the time, I just use as a tool to keep all the dynamic range I can. I do use some compression for sure to glue the mix together but my limiter is nothing more than a meter right now.
Here's my question: Is there a better way to go about this? Is squashing the sound to a little to bring the volume up actually not damaging the quality any? How do you master? I'm not experienced in this at all, so any help is much appreciated. Thanks!