Preparing Your Mix For Mastering
Most mastering engineers, including myself, specify how the mixed song should be sent to us but unfortunately not everyone always follows our instructions. Yes, it does make our job easier if the mix/pre-master is properly prepared, but more importantly it makes the final release ready song sound so much better!
Of course, we will still do our best to make it sound as good as possible but there's only so much we can do with what we have in front of us.
In this blog, we're going to take a look at preparing your mix for mastering so that your final song sounds the absolute best it can.
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Firstly, we're going to look at the difference between mixing and mastering and how each process works in conjunction with the other.
What is the difference between mixing and mastering?
In music production, mixing is the stage that comes after recording, arranging and editing your song. It's done to make the track sound balanced and clear by setting levels, removing muddiness and frequency clashes with EQ. Mixing also involves balancing out dynamics with compression, adding effects such as reverb and delay. Spatial effects such as panning are also very important in mixing as they can give sounds more space in the mix, as well as stereo width.
Mastering is the final production process which comes after mixing. Usually, mastering is done by someone different and the mix is sent to them as an audio file.
In a nutshell, mastering is the process of 'polishing' and enhancing the mix with tools such as EQ, compression, multi-band compression and others. The final process in the mastering chain is limiting. This is where a limiter is used to raise the loudness of the track by compressing it to avoid clipping. Limiting will make your track lose dynamics due to the extreme compression that it applies, so it's about finding that balance of loudness without losing too many dynamics.
Now we've covered what mixing and mastering are, I'm going to go through some guidelines on how best to prepare your mix for mastering.
How to prepare your mix for mastering:
Of course, there is no definitive way of preparing your mix for mastering and some mastering engineers may send slightly different requirements, but the following guidelines will show you how I ask my clients to send their mixes:
Make sure your mix is clear and balanced, because any problematic frequencies that can't be fixed in the corrective stage of mastering will be boosted by the limiter!
Make sure your mix/pre-master audio file is peaking at about -6dB as this will allow headroom for the mastering process.
Bounce the mix as a high quality audio file. Usually a .WAV file is standard. No mp3s as these are compressed and lower quality!
Don't put a limiter on the master output before bouncing the audio file! This is done in the mastering process and putting a limiter on your mix before you send it off defeats the object of mastering!
The art of mastering often has a bit of a mysterious vibe associated with it for some reason. I think it's not always understood exactly what it is, which can generate a bit of confusion. This can feed the illusion of mystery!
Hopefully this blog has given you a clearer picture of what mastering is and why it's important to prepare your mix properly for the final stage of production.