Get Ready for Mastering
In this article I show you how to prepare your mix for mastering. Get your music ready for mastering ahead of time BEFORE you send in your files and you'll save yourself a lot of back and forth effort. Any questions, give me a shout.
NOISE. Noise is anything that is bothering you...hiss, buzz, click, crackle, dropouts, booms, sibilance, phase, interference, etc. Solo each track LOUD and listen for noise. Both signal AND noise will only get LOUDER in mastering!
SOUNDS THAT STICK OUT. Harsh cymbals, vocal sibilance, biting sound effects, etc. may be hard to help in mastering without adversely affecting the whole mix. Try to tame these before sending in your mix.
WAVY GRAVY. Parts need to have consistent volume levels. Mastering can't magically even out instrument levels throughout a song. Watch out for abrupt gain shifts, tonal shifts, awkward fades, etc. especially in lead instruments and vocals--make these levels consistent and you'll get a better master.
COMPETING PARTS. Watch out for guitars, horns, keys, snare, etc. getting in the way of the vocal. This goes for too much going on in the low end as well. I actually love complex mixes, but less is (often) more and can make a stronger statement. Make bolder mix decisions when things compete (change levels, EQ, panning, delays, etc.).
OVERCOMPRESSION! There's just no easy way to un-compress music and make it sound good. Please dial back the compression so that your tracks sound dynamic, and less "exciting" (more like a demo!) but the instruments are still balanced. Then mastering can make it as thick and punchy as you want.
REMOVE UNNECESSARY PLUGINS. Reconsider the your track, group, and master channel effects (especially compression and pseudo-mastering plugins like wideners). Use only what you need to get the tones and consistency you want, but give your mastering engineer a more dynamic (more 'demo' sounding) mix and they can punch it up nicely for you. PLEASE contact me with any concerns NOW, before you spend time exporting your files!
REMOVE IN & OUT FADES unless you need to dial in your own very specific taper. We can create fades at higher resolution in mastering.
HOW LOUD SHOULD MY MIX BE? Any level is fine as long as there is NO CLIPPING. No need to raise or lower the track level as long as peak meters never enter the red zone.
EXPORT at 32-bit in stereo at the NATIVE project sample rate. DO NOT RESAMPLE / UPSAMPLE YOUR PROJECT TO A HIGHER SAMPLE RATE - it will NOT provide more fidelity. Keep tracks at whatever their sample rate was when you recorded/mixed it.
DOUBLE-CHECK that the exported mix file is stereo, 32-bit, at the native sample rate of your session (e.g. 44.1kHz) and that it includes all instruments. Don't forget to unmute any instruments that need to be in the bounce.
REFERENCES. For each track you submit, provide the names of one or more commercial songs of which you like the overall balance, tone, loudness, or sheen. Include any roughs, premixes, etc. that may help me see your vision more clearly. Describe to your mastering engineer what you like about each reference track you provide them
If I am mastering from stems/groups instead of from a stereo mix, I will finish your mix and achieve your final balances in my treated room before mastering the track. I'll be following your guidance/references for balances, panning, depth, and width.
CONSISTENCY: Your stem outputs should have no group compression, yet maintain a more or less consistent level within each song section. Automate as needed to create this consistency. Tone, texture, and groove should be mostly dialed in.
EFFECTS must be routed to their relative subgroups. Send drum reverbs to the drum group, vocal delays and reverbs to the vocal group, etc. Give me three to six 32-bit stereo stems (example: lead vocal / bkgd vocals / drums / bass / other instruments).