There is a lot of information out there and some of it can be conflicting, so here are my top tips for ensuring your mix is in great shape, so you can get the best possible result from Mastering.
Silence at the beginning and end of your production…
When exporting your final mix, make sure there is silence at the beginning and end so the Mastering Engineer can perform fade in/out when Mastering.
If you’re using Ableton Live then you can use ‘Insert Silence’ in the ‘Create’ Menu to add time to the Timeline before your music starts and use the Loop Brace to easily select/deselect the region of the Timeline you want to export.
No Plugins on the Master…
Before exporting, make sure there is nothing on your master channel.
Some engineers will allow you to have some EQ and compression on the master if it is a part of your mixing process, but it is essential that there are no limiters or heavy compression used on your master channel when exporting.
If you’re unsure what is considered acceptable, ask your Mastering Engineer.
Is there is sufficient Headroom?…
Ensure that the peak level of your composition does not reach or exceed 0.0 dB on your master channel. If it does, then digital clipping will occur, which in most cases is undesirable.
A good rule is to allow 3dB of Headroom.
Headroom is the difference between the peak level and 0.0dB therefore, 3dB of headroom would mean that the peak level does not exceed -3.0dB on your master channel.
At the very minimum you should have 1db of headroom, that would mean that your composition would not reach -1.0dB peak volume at any any point.
It should be noted that the actual peak volume of your mix does not matter, as long as it is not incredibly quiet (below -20.0 dB peak) or exceed -0.1dB.
Balance your instruments carefully…
The volume of your instruments relative to each other is of the utmost importance!
A Mastering Engineer can make certain frequencies louder or quieter to make some sounds feel louder than others, but cannot change the overall volume of a complex instrument.
For example; If your Kick is too loud then it will make it difficult to process the Bassline and could even effect your other percussion. If your Kick is too quiet then this can affect multiple sounds as the mastering engineer has to drastically change the mix using eq, compression/expansion to bring the other sounds down and the Kick up to an acceptable level. Or, If your hats are too loud then that could negatively effect your lead synths etc…
If you’re unsure if an instrument is too loud or quiet, then listen to your favourite track in a similar genre to get an idea of how loud your instruments are in comparison.
Generally the Kick and Bass are the loudest instruments in a mix. Every other instrument should be balanced appropriately taking into consideration the length of the notes the instrument plays and what octave/frequency range the notes are in. For example; a main lead/melody would be louder in the mix than high pitched strings because its notes are shorter and lower in pitch than that of the string instrument.
Send the highest quality mix possible…
Make sure the file you send to the Mastering Engineer is of the highest quality possible!
Digital Audio has limitations and knowing these limitations will allow you to get the best possible result. Aliasing and Dithering are two important topics in Digital Audio.
Aliasing occurs when you try to record/store a frequency to a Digital Audio file (known as Sampling) that is more than half of the Sample Rate. That’s anything above 22.05khz if you are using a Sample Rate of 44.1khz. Synth Plugins and audio effects, such as Distortion, can often produce frequencies higher than 22khz which may not be apparent to you during your mixing process but can cause Aliasing in an exported file. Also, it typically sounds better to reduce the Sample Rate (Downsampling) than it does to increase it (Upsampling).
Therefore, it is recommended that you record and mix at a Sample Rate of 48khz and remove any unnecessary, high frequency information from your mix using a Lowpass filters on individual instruments. This will allow you to export at 48khz and minimize high frequency digital distortion known as Aliasing.
Here is a video by Dan Worrall explaining the use of different Sample Rates and as well as the Oversampling feature found in some Plugins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jCwIsT0X8M
Dither is the process of adding noise to reduce errors when Sampling (recording to a digital audio file). Most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations such as Ableton, Logic) use a 64bit Mixing Engine but most audio effects are 32bit. This means that using any audio effects will instantly convert your audio to 32bit data.
Therefore it is recommended that you export your track at 32bit to avoid any unnecessary addition of noise to your final mix. If you only have the option to export at 24bit (such as older versions of Logic) then you should apply Dither when exporting your final mix to reduce errors.
Now you’re ready for Mastering!
You should end up with a mix that is well balanced and stored as a 48khz 32bit WAV or AIFF Digital Audio file with at least 1dB of Headroom.
What you will receive is a loud, punchy and pristine Master ready for distribution.
If you would like your music mastered by Fixation Studios, please Contact Us!