In this article, we will go through some beneficial techniques on how to prepare your mix for mastering.
The reason why you need to ready a mix for mastering is due to multiple reasons. Most importantly, it allows the mastering engineer to master the track in the best possible way.
Additionally, an unprepared mix sent out for mastering will come back for revisions. Hence, reducing efficiency, productivity, and the number of projects a mixing engineer can complete.
Our goal with this article is to ensure that the mix does not reach you again for revisions so that you can focus on other necessary tasks and projects.
The faster you can complete a mix, the more projects you can take and, in turn, expand your network with other artists.
9 Steps to prepare your mix for mastering stage
Here are the tips and techniques you can implement right now to prepare any mix for mastering.
1) Analyse the mix
Before sending out a mix for mastering, the first step is to listen to the mix a few more times. In this step, ensure no breaking points in a mix.
Since most people will also listen to the song in their car, test your mix using the car’s stereo system. The goal is to try the music as much as possible and on multiple audio systems.
Start by fixing any poking frequencies, mix imbalances, and volume levels that are coming on too strong.
2) Be confident about the Mix
If you think that the mix sounds great, then it probably is. Don’t waste any time over-analyzing or finding mistakes in a blend.
Most of the time, you’ll find yourself EQ-ing out an unnecessary sound that won’t matter when the mix is played as a whole. Or applying plugins that don’t add much to the song.
As a mixing engineer, you’ll become aware of such things over time but always ask yourself if this adds anything deep to a mix.
Stay confident about the project, ask for advice, and move to the next steps as you approach the end of the mixing phase.
3) Leave enough headroom for mastering
Leaving a considerable amount of headroom is extremely important for mixing and mastering.
Not hitting the red signal on the master fader is not the only requirement here. A mixing engineer also needs to take care of leaving enough headroom at the end of the mix.
Use gain staging to leave enough headroom for mixing purposes. As you mix a song, keep the headroom space available for the mastering phase.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much headroom you need to leave. However, do not hit the 0 dB level on the master fader at any given point. Lower the gain levels as soon as you encounter this happening.
Moreover, it recommends you leave about 6 dB of headroom for the mastering engineer. This means that the loudest peak of your audio mix hits the -6 dB mark on the master volume fader.
4) Glue the Mix Together
Gluing your mix means you do not have highly dynamic peaks and troughs. Therefore, ensure having a cohesive blend in which all tracks sit together.
A mixing engineer can easily make a dynamic song less dynamic. A few ways to do so are to apply buss compression, saturation, filtering, etc.
Moreover, a mixing engineer controls all audio files that can be tamed individually. Hence, making it easier to reduce the dynamic sort of a song in a more progressive and natural-sounding way.
But, when a mastering engineer tries to tame such a dynamically active song, it can create all types of problems. Moreover, it can make the music sound hollow and thin.
All in all, make sure the songs are not too transient-rich before sending them out for mastering.
5) Mix buss Processing / Leaving limiter ON-OFF
The mix bus processing should be applied very carefully, keeping the needs of a project in mind. Mix bus processing is where your mix can be affected negatively, even with minor changes from different plugins.
When preparing a mix for mastering, it is good to remove mix bus plugins that don’t add much to a mix other than loudness, like the limiter.
But that does not mean you have to remove every single plugin on the master fader. You can keep the plugins that add character and cohesiveness to the mix.
Furthermore, if you have a limiter on the master fader, take it off. The mastering engineer needs sufficient headroom for plugin processing, which the limiter takes away.
Send out two files, one with and one without the limiter, on the master buss if you love the sound of the song using the limiter.
6) Send multiple mix version(sometimes)
Sometimes when you are unsure, which mix sounds the best, sending multiple mix versions is the best idea. Send these to the artists involved in the production phase and the mastering engineer.
Doing something as simple as this will help you take pressure off your shoulders. Most importantly, you get different perspectives from each person involved in the project.
This step will allow you to take multiple feedbacks on the mix and make suitable revisions. Hence, reducing the time it takes to complete a mix.
Once you have enough feedback from the crew, send the most liked version of the mixed song for mastering.
Also, you can capture the essence of all the mixes into one finalised mix version. Then, repeat the process of getting feedback and sending it out to the mastering engineer.
7) Reference tracks
One of the best ways to prepare a mix for mastering is to use reference tracks. A reference track lets you know the way to make a song based on its genre.
Use plugins that allow switching between two audio files. Put your mix in one slot and the reference track in the other. Then use the A/B button to start comparing both channels.
One such plugins for switching between two tracks is ListenHub by Sonnox.
However, make sure to level match the gain of the reference track because these songs are already mixed and mastered and have loudness higher than your mix.
You can find reference tracks on your own by filtering out songs based on genre, tempo, and other factors.
But I recommend asking the artists to send one or two reference tracks and the audio files for mixing.
8) Leave space at start and the end of the mixed track
Before you export out the audio track to the mastering engineer, leave some silence at the beginning and end of a track. 2-8 bars or 4-10 seconds of silence will give the mastering engineer enough flexibility to create fade in and fade out effects if necessary.
Moreover, if they do not need the silence at each ends of the tracks, they’ll cut it themselves. But, make sure that you have provided them with enough dead space. It is always a good idea to do so.
Leaving space at the beginning and end of the tracks makes sure that you do not cut out any part of the song accidentally.
9) Audio file export settings
The last step is to export the audio session using a simple naming style. Don’t use long names as it is bound to create confusion and difficulty when re-open the same project after months.
Use a simple naming convention. I like to name the files by the song name and a suitable version. For example, songname_Version1. It is easy to remember and lets you know the song’s name and its different versions.
Take care of these tips while bouncing and exporting mixing sessions into audio files.
- Bounce with the same sample rate as that of the mixing session,
- Use Wave or AIFF for bouncing audio tracks,
- Avoid MP3 format,
- keep dithering as none,
- Choose the sample rate as 44.1
- Keep the bit depth the same as that of the mixing session,
- Prefer 32-bit rate depth for exporting files,
- Use a different bit rate if the mastering engineer asks,
- Check 2nd cycle pass in logic to avoid plugin-related issues and latency.
As we reach the end of this article, I hope you gained some helpful insights to prepare your mix for mastering.
Lastly, if you have any additional tips that you think deserve a spot in this article, feel free to mention them in the comments below.