Mastering is one of the most important parts about finishing a song. After spending many hours and days finishing a mix, it can be the key ingredient to give your song a more commercial feel. When a mix is properly prepared for mastering, not only your final product will be much more satisfactory, but you will also avoid any further troubles and save considerable amount of time and money. In order to get the best results out of mastering, here are some best practices to prepare your mix for a mastering engineer:
1.Have reference songs and notes for the mastering engineer. Having a finished, commercial song will not only keep you on the track as far as how you want your mix to sound, but it will also give the mastering engineer clues about how bright or muddy the song will sound.
2. Listen for any background noises, plosives, click artifacts and fix them before submitting them for mastering. Mastering will make pretty much everything clearer, so a little pop, a dog bark or a siren in your mix might sound huge on your master. This also goes for soloing the vocal track and making sure that there are no external noises which have bled into the recording.
3.Check where you start and end your bounce. You would be surprised how many tracks end abruptly, due to the mixing engineer not paying attention. Make sure that you have bounced your mix session from the very beginning until the end, and did not omit any parts.
4.Do not submit lossy file formats like mp3, m4a or acc. While lossy file formats are effective for reducing file size, they do this at the expense of audio quality. Lossy file formats eliminate the parts of the sound in a song that you don’t notice or can’t hear by creating a noise called ‘approximation error’, which may increase levels and cause clipping in an audio signal, that could create issues with headroom when the file arrives to the mastering engineer.
5.Leave enough headroom for the mastering engineer. If you mix your track too loud, after mastering your track might sound distorted, if there is any room left for making it louder. This is where the term ‘headroom’ comes from. Ideally -6dbfs range as your peak level would be appropriate. Peak level is a great indicator of sudden changes in level to avoid clipping (which creates distortion), but it is not a useful indicator of perceived loudness. For this reason, another important factor that contributes to the headroom is the average level, which is done through what we call RMS metering.
Unlike peak level, which displays sudden changes to loudness, RMS metering displays average signal level overtime which indicates the perceived loudness through the entirety of a song. So, for instance when we have a kick drum signal, peak level is going to solely take the loudest part of the signal (which is the attack).
In contrast to this, RMS metering will take all of attack, sustain and decay into account, then it is going to take all these different levels and come up with an average of them. So, RMS metering can be not only be used to identify sounds that are eating up headroom, but also to match loudness levels with commercial masters.
6.Try not to have a compressor, limiter or EQ on your master fader. Not only this will crush the dynamics of your mix, but also if your mix is over-compressed, it is impossible to undo that during mastering.
7.Bounce your mix at the same sampling rate and bit depth as your mixing session. The idea is to have your file in native resolution, which is the bit-depth and sample rate that you recorded and mixed. Today high bit depth and sample rate sessions such as 24-bit/96kHz can be easily created, and they shouldn’t be downsampled before mastering, because that might create peak levels, which might create distortion issues.
8.Do not dither! Please leave dithering to the mastering engineer.
9.Watch out not to create fades in your mix. You can leave clip handles to the head and tail of your session and the mastering engineer will create the fades, just let her/him know.
10. Have the song information text ready for master metadata. Song information includes title, artist name, song titles in order, and ISRC codes.
ISRC stands for ‘International Standardized Recording Codes’ and it is a standardized metadata facility to not only identify a recording, but also to keep track of sales.
Have you ever prepared a mix for mastering before? What were some of the guidelines you followed? Feel free to post your comments below!
Alper Tuzcu is a Berklee College of Music and Denison University alumni, and a Boston based guitarist, songwriter and producer. His new EP ‘Lines’ was released on November 2017 and his debut eclectic album ‘Between 12 Waters’ featuring 8 different vocalists is available on Spotify. In addition to being a musician, he regularly teaches workshops and masterclasses internationally. You can follow him on Instagram orTwitter, and for more information you can visit his website www.alpertuzcu.com