Mixing And Mastering Tips: Preparing A Mix For Mastering

Preparing your mix for mastering is essential if you want to ensure the mastering process runs smoothly.

It can save you time and money on the mastering process as well as help you get the best sounding song possible.

In this article, I will tell you exactly how to ensure that your final mix is as good as it possibly can be before entering the mastering process.

Let’s dive right in!

First thing first – What is mastering and why is it important?

You’ve probably asked yourself why your recordings don’t sound as polished as a commercial record release? The answer is probably in the mastering process.

Mastering is the final step of audio processing and the process of taking your final mix and preparing it for distribution.

That includes correcting mix balance issues, balance particular sonic elements of a stereo file, and optimize playback across all systems and media formats available. This is done using tools like equalization, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement.

If you’ve worked until the early hours for days on end polishing the mix you don’t want it to fall apart when you approach the finish line.

Mastering can also add consistency across your album. All tracks in an EP need to have a consistent sound when it comes to levels and sound characteristics. Your listeners probably don’t want to adjust the volume for each song because there are different levels between tracks.

So how do you prepare a mix for mastering before sending it to an engineer or mastering service?

Follow these steps and you are good to go…

1. Reference your mix

When you’re mixing it’s important to compare it with a professional commercial track. Remember I said that mastering helps your tracks sound polished and professional? Well, it’s not a lie but the mastering process will never save a bad mixed track.

Choose a reference mix that is a high-quality audio file with similar instrumentation and sounds to the track you’re working on. What differences do you spot in levels, stereo width, and dynamics?

You need to make sure that everything sits perfectly in the mix before sending it to a mastering engineer. That includes frequency range, dynamics, and levels. A great technique is to listening in different environments with little or no acoustic treatment.

Your fans will probably not sit in a studio with acoustic treatment while listening to your track. You should also reference your mix on a few different sound systems like laptop speakers, earbuds, car stereos, and home sound systems. Your mix should sound perfect through every system.

2. Make sure your tracks are properly edited

The next step is to make sure that all your tracks are properly edited. This goes without saying, delete any empty regions and apply short fades to the start and end of each clip so all the transitions are smooth. This step is crucial if you are working with recorded audio (compared to MIDI). Recorded audio like vocals tends to have annoying clicks and pops that need to be fixed before mastering.

3. Bounce high-resolution mix files

One of the most important things to remember is that no quality is gained from up-converting a .mp3-file to a 24bit .wav-file. You should always bounce your mix in “Native Resolution”. Native Resolution is the process of creating a bounce with the same bit-depth and sample rate that you have recorded and mixed in.

If your session is 48kHZ, 24 bit – export it at the same settings. A good rule of thumb is to always record, mix and submit 24bit/44.1 kHz .wav or .aiff-files to your mastering engineer. All top-rated audio interfaces for Mac and PC allow for high-resolution recording. The mastering process can do many wonders but it can’t repair a low-resolution audio file.

The sampling rate affects the frequency range of your track while the bit depth affects the dynamic range. Exporting in Native Resolution ensures that both frequency range and dynamic range remain intact.

(P.S. If you’d like to claim two free mastered tracks from LANDR and get access to the vault so you can grow your audience click here or the image below)

4. Leave good headroom

You should always leave good headroom. So what does that mean? Headroom is how much room your audio signal has before it starts to clip. If your mix is close to peaking, the mastering engineers won’t have much room to work their magic. A good rule of thumb is to keep the body of the waveform around -18dBFS and the peaks around -10dBFS. You should follow these guidelines as you record your audio.

You should probably monitor your master bus throughout the mixing process, but it’s not too late if you haven’t. This is easy to do since all major DAWs contain a basic meter on the master bus channel.

Play your track from start to finish and check exactly where the level reaches its highest point. If you hear clipping or notice your master bus flashes red you’ll need to lower the overall level of your mix. Remember to always listen to the entire mix after lowering the levels. Sometimes there can be individual channel levels that cause distortion/clipping. If that’s the case you should start there.

5. Bus Processing

The amount of processing and plugins added to your master bus is a heated discussion in the mastering world. Some mastering engineers appreciate it, while others believe it causes more harm than good. Go ahead and use a mix bus plug-in if you believe it adds a lot of value to your mix and brings you closer to your desired sound.

You should be extra careful with plugins that impact the overall headroom of the mix. Since mastering will handle levels and dynamics, limiters and harsh compression will almost certainly do more harm than good. If you're unsure what plugins you can use on the master bus, provide two copies of the mix to your mastering engineer (one with processing and one without).

Some excessive processing that you shouldn’t add to your master output is:

  • Limiting
  • Compression that lowers the peaks and dynamics by more than 3dB.
  • Aggressive equalization that lowers frequencies more than 3dB.
  • Stereo enhancement plugins.

6. Leave a few blank bars at the beginning and end of your track

Before bouncing your mix files it’s important to leave some space at the beginning and end of your track. This is especially important if you’ve recorded live instruments.

Why?

Mastering engineers can analyze these silent bars to identify, isolate and clean the track from the same noise that may occur in other sections of your track.

Many inexperienced producers only bounce the regions in between the start and end loop markers of their DAW. By doing this you could end up cutting off the tail of a reverb which will sound unnatural.

Conclusion

Preparing a mix for mastering can be challenging, but it’s worth taking the time to understand. Sending a bad export to your mastering engineer won’t give you a sound as polished as a commercial record release.

These steps are guidelines. Having the mindset of preparing your mix for mastering from the get-go can save you countless hours. When you bounce your final mix, you know you haven't backed yourself into a position where you have to start from scratch.

To sum things up, the best mixes for mastering is:

  • 24bit/44.1kHz
  • Lossless .wav or .aiff files
  • Has the loudest peaks around -10dBFS
  • Keeps the body of the waveform around -18dBFS
  • No compressor or limiter on Master Bus
  • Low-level and dynamic
  • Bounced in stereo

Hopefully, this guide has helped you gain new insights on what to deliver to your mastering engineer or mastering service.

Now, before you go, claim two free mastered tracks from LANDR.

Guest post: Martin and is the founder of HomeStudioIdeas.com. He's been playing, recording, and producing music for the last 10 years. He started Home Studio Ideas to help musicians and home producers develop their skill, explore awesome gear and to be successful in the music industry.

(P.S. If you’d like to claim two free mastered tracks from LANDR and get access to the vault so you can grow your audience click here or the image below)

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