Mastering is a peculiar beast. Many think that mastering is going to magically “fix” your mix; this is a bad start! Mastering is used to create cohesion in your project, to give your mixes that extra push should they need it. If you feel that your mixes need to be “fixed”, then it’s probably time to recall your session and work on the weak parts. There are definitely times when mastering can give your song that extra sparkle, oomph, or glue, but the mix should be in a place that’s healthy for the mix engineer, producer, and artist before the mastering stage is to begin.
Below are some pointers that you should take into consideration before sending your mixes to a mastering engineer.
· Headroom, headroom, HEADROOM! Please be sure to give your mastering engineer some headroom to work with. If your mix is hovering around 0 dBfs, then you might want to print your mix again with more headroom. Turn off, or ease up on the limiter that’s sitting on your mix bus if that’s the case, and bounce your mix again. -3 to -6 dBFS should give the mastering engineer plenty of headroom to work with.
· Beware of any heavy processing on the mix bus. Compression to taste is usually going to take place, but too much compression can kill the dynamics of the mix, which can take away from the meaning or emotion of the mix. Compression that’s not set correctly can lead to pumping and breathing, and just a little of this can be bad if not used properly (I hear this in side-chain compression quite often). Compressors can also effect the frequency response of the mix and add color. Also be aware of radical EQ settings on the mix bus. If you’re adding or taking away too much of something, the mix probably needs to be adjusted.
· De-ess the vocals! Many recording engineers will do this during the tracking stage if they have a decent outboard processor. And then the mix engineer might even revisit a de-esser again in the mix stage. If your album is going to be pressed to vinyl, nothing can destroy integrity of a vinyl master like sibilance!
· Make sure all of the files are labeled with a nomenclature that makes some kind of sense. Song titles are usually the best, and if there is any additional info, i.e., vocal mix, instrumental, etc., include that as well. I usually add the bit depth and sample rate to my files too.
· If you plan on releasing the album on vinyl, center your low-end in the mixes (mono basically), otherwise your mastering engineer is going to do it for you and it might throw you off later. Too much low-end content on just one side of the mix can lead to mistracking and can cause the needle to skip or jump out of the groove. To add further clarification, most low-end needs to be centered, not just the bass line.
· Mastering can be just as subjective as any other part of the album production process. No two mastering engineers are going to approach a song in the same manner as everybody listens differently. If you have a particular request, i.e., “would like a little more low-end/bass”, “decrease low mids a bit”, “add more presence/make a bit brighter”, these are all things that the mastering engineer might also notice, but the engineer might also have a differing professional opinion. Please take everything into consideration that the mastering engineer suggests as the mastering engineer will certainly take all of your requests into consideration.
· Mastering, just like mixing or tracking, may require revisions, and the client will be charged for said revisions. With this being said, detailed notes are greatly appreciated.
· Again, if you feel your mixes are not quite where you want them, then you probably need a remix. If the vocals are buried, drums don’t have the presence or sonic characteristics you’re looking for, or you feel that any individual instrument needs to be turned up or down, then you need to jump back into the mix. Mastering can bring certain things out in a mix, but individual levels can NOT be fixed. Again, mastering is not used to “fix” but to add “cohesion” and “enhance” if/when needed.
Below you will find a list of information that can be added to your CD if you choose that route. Some of this information can be displayed on CD players that have the CD text option.
· Album Artist/Performer
· Album Title
· ISRC (https://www.usisrc.org/)
· Message (Might be good to enter website address or social networking page of choice)
There is a ton of metadata that can be added to digital audio files today as well. Metadata might differ from format to format, so I’m going to point you to a web address that will give you the skinny. Tagging your audio files thoroughly and correctly is incredibly important, I cannot stress this enough. To find out more about current tagging standards visit this site for more information: http://id3.org/