Some points to consider while preparing your mixes for mastering. Please read them carefully since they are crucial for a great-sounding master. Feel free to contact me with your questions at any time, I’m happy to help.
Last things first
Always send the final version of your mix, the version you are happy with and which you want to have mastered.
Take your time to get things right. Your master can only be as good as your mix allows.
Bit Depth and Sample Rate
Ideally, you will work from beginning to finish your project in WAV or AIFF format with a bit depth of 32 or 24-Bit and a fixed sample rate of 96kHz and deliver your mix in this native format.
Please do not up or down-sample your audio; always stick to the native sample rate of your session. Sample Rate Conversion can easily mess things up when not done right.
If your session is 16/44.1k, that’s fine – leave it like that.
Don’t normalize files, and do not add dynamic processing such as limiting, compression, or finalizing to the master bus only to get your mix loud. Loudness and glue are best addressed during the mastering stage.
While dynamic processing makes sense when used for aesthetic reasons on individual sounds or groups in the mix, limiting and compression can seal off your material when applied to the master bus. As a result, there will be little room left for good mastering.
In addition to this clean version of your mix, you can send your reference mix, including master bus processing, to give me an idea of what you are looking for.
Bear in mind – an unmastered mix doesn’t need to compete with mastered material.
Mono compatibility and Phase issues
Mono compatibility of your mix is crucial when working on a vinyl release. Out–of–phase content interferes with mono compatibility and can not be cut to vinyl without being adjusted first. This is ideally accomplished in the mix, not while mastering from a stereo file.
Keeping audio in phase also makes a difference for digital formats. Many listeners will stream their music on small Bluetooth speakers or mono gear, where excessive stereo information will be gone. As a result, your mix can sound disintegrated and very different from your intention.
If the stereo image of your mix relies mainly on widening effects, chances are that they cause phase issues. While out–of–phase audio may sound impressive initially, the result is a bit of a cheap trick. Audio has better, more natural tonality and stereo separation if the signal stays in phase. You can get a much safer, wider and more detailed stereo image by adequately distributing the elements in your mix using their panorama settings.
Please check your mix frequently to see whether the audio stays in phase and if fundamental elements will be gone once the signal is mono’ed.
A reliable and easy-to-use freeware tool for checking mono compatibility and phase coherency is the 2BusControl plugin by MAAT, which will ideally sit last on your stereo bus all the time. If the correlation meter swings to the left /out–of–phase, go through the individual tracks in your session by soloing them to find those which cause the issue and rework them until your mix sounds right without affecting the phase. I can get better results during the mastering stage without turning your mix upside down to make it fit.
Always dither your audio while rendering a process that involves automation (gain, panning) and plugins. Don’t be afraid of dithering tacks multiple times in case they will go through several processing stages. Dither averts a range of low-level mess that will compromise your sound in the big picture.
My favorite dither tool is LINPro, also by MAAT. Insert LINpro last on your stereo bus – or 2nd-last, before 2BusControl, mentioned above –, select preset B, and forget!
As long as your mix won’t hit 0dB – without having to use a limiter to prevent digital clipping – everything is good.
There is no need to keep several dB of headroom before mastering. Mixing your tracks with a healthy dose of gain will help you take full advantage of the digital format. Just make sure that your audio never goes into clipping.
Please name your files [artist name] 01, [artist name] 02… for digital formats and CD, and [artist name] A1, [artist name] A2… for vinyl or cassette, and add the track titles only to your order sheet.
We will stick to this convention during the mastering process. Titles and other tags are added to the DDP image and other formats once you’ve approved the master.