Generally speaking, give up your day job and become a professional ie. gain experience. By this I mean track & mix 40-60 hours each week for a couple years. There are no shortcuts. Some people learn faster than others. Volunteer as a gopher/intern somewhere. Maybe a commercial studio, maybe a performance hall.
If for commercial release, don’t master your own material. IMO few people can do that because you really need objective ears in a professionally designed sonically engineered room with expensive speakers. For non-commercial “finalizing” tracks I suggest Wavelab Pro, and use it as a learning tool for things like error recognition, listening to delta files so for example you can actually hear what compression or EQ is doing, different types of shaping, dithering, quantizing etc. You really can learn a lot about audio just by some of the features in Wavelab Pro. Ultimately, remember it’s the song that counts. If the song is a turd, mastering will only polish the turd.
Avoid being seduced by software tools of the month. For a beginner, most of the tools are included with Cubase Pro. Really LEARN them. That will most likely take months. Eventually, you will find gaps depending on your objectives, but wait until you really see what you need. Just one example might be Wavefactory Trackspacer, but learn and use the Cubase factory tools first until you feel you really need 3rd party tools. Do some initial research about tools, then buy them, and really LEARN them. By learning each parameter, I mean know in your head, the expected audio change/objective before you even move the parameter. Push each parameter to the extremes and listen and learn.
Tricks: I don’t believe in magic. I believe in illusions, and they can be found everywhere. Forums, subscription sites such as SOS, and Youtube. Subscribe to the good tutorials, and avoid the bad ones. Greg Ondo for Cubase specific issues, and Dave Pensado for general topics are a good start.
Methods: Most forums has a “production techniques procedures” type sub-forum. Again you will recognize the good contributors, and this may be genre dependent. Learn how to mic. Gain staging, Compression…series and parallel…when and how to use each. Know the basic EQ linnear/phase/dynamic. Know M/S for EQ and compression, and IMO never rely on a limiter for very much gain unless for effect such as used in EDM. Get your dB’s prior to feeding the limiter.
Equipment: Decide the hardware you need vs. software. In the software realm, avoid the tool of the month. There will always be something bigger and better next month. Competition has become tight, and that’s good for the consumer. But it also includes a lot of potential marketing bs “magic” false and misleading advertisements. IMO increasingly 3rd party developers today are having to create your desires telling you what you need and where your problems lie, where as in the olden days, the basic tools addressed them…sometimes very creatively. Of course there are numerous exceptions, but addressing your basic question…stick to the basics.
A general seduction is “owning” way too many VST tools, and then you never are able to really LEARN them. Avoid “shootouts” unless you want to admire your tools instead of actually completing tracks. Usually free is not as good as paid ones, but there are exceptions. There are some tools that the developer could sell, but has chosen to be free. Finally, always remember these are just tools. Get a good hammer and stop looking at your neighbors…at least until you smash your finger.
PS I’m not a professional. Most of them are too busy for forums.