top of page

How Do I Prepare My Mix For Mastering?



A mastering engineer preparing a mix for mastering with analogue mastering gear

What’s the old adage about polishing something again? You can’t polish a tuuur….rible mix. Is that right? So it’s far better to get your mix sounding as amazing as possible before it gets to your chosen mastering engineer than relying on mastering to fix problems and remove unwanted blips, clicks and resonances. Ideally your mastering engineer will be optimising your mix and making it sound incredible rather than making it passable due to problematic mix techniques.

As an artist, you've already poured your blood, sweat and tears (well, hopefully not blood.. or too much sweat. A few tears is fine) into creating your music and it’s easy to want to rush this step. But please trust me on this one - take your time, get it right and you’ll have a great sounding track that you’ll be proud of for many years.

I’ve put together a bit of a guide below, where we'll delve into the essential steps you need to take to present a balanced mix, optimised for mastering. Whether you're a seasoned producer or a newcomer to the music scene, hopefully these tips will help you achieve the best results and elevate your sound to new heights. So let’s dive in!


The Key Steps to Prepare Your Mix for Mastering:

Set Proper Levels:

One of the most critical aspects of preparing your mix for mastering is setting proper levels. This is a two parter - Firstly, you need to make sure all the relative levels are good, meaning everything can be heard, the vocals are loud enough, the kick isn’t overbearing (one of the most common mix tweaks I address).

Secondly, make sure the level of the entire track isn’t too close to 0dB and in danger if clipping & distorting.

Clipping or overly compressing your mix can limit the mastering engineer's ability to make necessary adjustments. Aim for a healthy balance of dynamics, ensuring that each element of your mix has enough room to breathe while still maintaining cohesion.

There’s a lot of advice out there about aiming for your mix peaking at -6dB or a specific number but these days, with our DAWs and analogue gear so flexible you don't have to hit any particular number - just ensure it has not clipped (gone over 0dB). Each mastering engineer will have their own gain staging and will adjust your mix accordingly with ease.


Pay Attention to Frequency Balance:

Achieving a balanced frequency spectrum is key to a well-prepared mix. Make sure that each instrument occupies its own space in the frequency spectrum, avoiding frequency masking where one element obscures another. Use tools like EQ to carve out space for each instrument and ensure clarity and separation. Low end is particularly difficult here so if you’re struggling look into side-chaining your kick and bass (if you haven’t already heard of this). Also send your mix to your mastering engineer and ask for any advice, if they’re a professional their monitoring system and room acoustics will be far superior and they’ll be able to hear low end that you can’t hear.


Side anecdote time - Nearly EVERY TIME an artist comes into my studio and hears their own work on my speakers they comment that they can hear things in their own mix that they’ve never heard on their own system. That’s the importance of a dedicated mastering studio and monitoring system.


Check for Phase Issues:

This is a tricky one to hear unless you’re a more experienced audio engineer but there’s a couple of helpful tips I can give you to help you out here. Phase issues can occur when multiple audio signals are out of alignment, leading to cancellation and degradation of sound quality in the stereo field. The best thing to do here is use a  phase-correlation meter, every DAW will have its own meter which gives you a visual representation of any issues occurring in your mix. The other way is to use your mono button! Again, every DAW has this and if you have a monitor controller, it will likely have one too. When you hit the mono button, everything that has been panned left or right will disappear or be reduced in volume (depending on how hard it has been panned. Do this on your entire mix and also try it on each stereo sub group (especially your drum bus) and listen for anything that sounds phasey or a bit odd - it’s more than likely a phase issue. You can fix these issues by adjusting the panning to be more central or flipping the phase completely 180 degrees - all DAWs will have a button or feature to allow you to do this.Again, this is one of the more tricky things to address if you don’t know what you’re listening for so feel free to ask your mastering engineer to check it out if you’re struggling with it.


Address Panning and Stereo Imaging:

Proper panning and stereo imaging can add depth and dimension to your mix. Experiment with panning different instruments to create a balanced stereo field, ensuring that each element is placed appropriately within the mix. Be mindful of mono compatibility, as some playback systems may not accurately reproduce stereo effects. Again, like the phase issue, always checking your mix in mono is really helpful - some systems (bluetooth speakers and some phones) will play back in mono so it’s important that a super wide stereo mix doesn’t completely disappear when played back in mono.


Use High-Quality Files:

When preparing your mix for mastering, it's essential to use high-quality audio files. Export your mix in a lossless format, such as WAV or AIFF, at the highest possible resolution and sample rate. Avoid using compressed audio formats like MP3, as they can introduce artifacts and degrade sound quality.

A good rule of thumb is to export your files at the same sample rate & bit depth as your mixing session, there’s no need to upsample or downsample things at all. Your mastering engineer will do all the file conversion once they’ve mastered it and provide you with the correct file resolutions for your intended format.


Leave Headroom for Mastering:

Leaving sufficient headroom in your mix is crucial for the mastering process. Although there’s no set number to aim, (there’s a long standing myth going around about -6dB) please make sure your mix isn’t clipping. If anything hits 0dB and your meters go red, turn it down! Easy right?


Provide Reference Tracks:

Providing reference tracks to the mastering engineer can be incredibly helpful in guiding the desired sound for your mix. Choose reference tracks that have a similar sonic aesthetic to your own music and highlight aspects such as tonal balance, dynamics, and overall clarity. References don’t have to be exactly like your song but you could let your mastering engineer know - “I like how punchy the low end is on this track” or “I really like how aggressive sounding this track is”. Don’t worry about language, using abstract and creative words is actually really useful for us mastering engineers! I love making things ‘fluffy’, ‘slamming’ or ‘dreamy’.


Conclusion:

So there you go! I hope that’s helped you a little on your mix journey. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your mix is well-balanced and optimised for the mastering process. Remember to set proper levels, pay attention to frequency balance, check for phase issues, address panning and stereo imaging, use high-quality files, leave headroom for mastering, and provide reference tracks. With these tips in mind, you'll be well on your way to elevating your music to new heights and making a lasting impression on your listeners. If you’re unsure about anything just highlight it to your mastering engineer, and they’ll be happy to help (if they’re not, find a new mastering engineer).


Give me a shout through the contact page on the website if you have any questions or there’s any other topics you’d like me to write about.


Click the link to go to my contact page - https://www.raretonemastering.com/contact


Speak soon!

Ben


P.s. if you like all things analogue, mastering & vinyl related please go over and follow my Youtube & social media accounts where I regularly make videos about mastering and cutting records! 







Comentários


bottom of page