Below you will find some useful tips to prepare your mix for online mastering:
1. General Sound
Arguably the most important thing is that you like the overall sound of your mix. Mastering is about enhancing music to bring out the best elements in it, rather than changing it. It is a common misconception that poor mixes can be fixed during mastering. The reality is that only a good mix can be enhanced to sound great.
Before sending a track for online mastering, make sure that you are happy with its EQ balance. If in doubt check your mix against a commercial release which is similar in style. This is a useful way of finding out whether your mix contains too much bass, mid range or treble. If you are mixing with small speakers, please remember that they may not reproduce bass accurately. Sometimes significant amounts of bass can be found in the region below 50 Hz, which is often outside the reproduction range of small monitors. Using a sub-woofer to check bass level can be a good idea.
3. Vocal Sibilance
The mastering process tends to exaggerate vocal sibilance, so it should be well under control before you send us your mix. We will of course apply de-essing to a mix with too much sibilance. However, please bear in mind that you have access to the individual vocal tracks, whereas we need to apply de-essing across a specific frequency range of the entire mix. In other words, de-essing at the mastering stage is not ideal, since it affects all the instruments that reside in the sibilant frequency range.
Most modern music requires a degree of compression to glue a mix together. This can be on individual tracks and often also across the master output. However, you should be aware that overuse of compression will suck the life out of your music and will rob it of the dynamic range it needs in order to be of interest for the listener. Once dynamic range has been taken out of the music, it becomes impossible to restore. If in doubt use less rather than more compression.
5. Levels and Loudness
You should aim to achieve a mix where the levels peak somewhere between -6 to -3 dBFS. This is the ideal range for mastering. Do not apply any effects to your mix which are designed to make it louder. Your focus should be on getting the mix to sound as good as possible and leave us to get it up to a commercial level of loudness. We do this using a combination of tools and techniques, and the end result is usually better than any normalising or maximising plugin you may be using.
6. Clipping and Limiting
Make sure that your track does not clip (exceed 0 dBFS), as this causes distortion of the signal which may become audible during mastering. Whatever you do, please do not apply any limiting to the whole mix, as this can create unpleasant sounding artefacts which cannot be undone during mastering.
7. Track Length and Fades
Please leave a few seconds of silence at the beginning and end of the track to make sure that no material is cut off. This happens surprisingly often and can spoil a perfectly good recording. As part of our mastering we will trim the track so that it starts and ends at exactly the right time. If you want your track to fade in or out, you can either apply the fade yourself or leave us to do it for you.
8. Reference Material
It is a good idea to provide us with a reference song or commercial release that you like the sound of. This will help us to understand what kind of sound you are looking for. Make sure the reference is similar in style and production to your own material.
9. File Formats
Your mix must be sent as stereo .wav or .aif file, ideally at a 24-bit word length, though 16-bit is also acceptable. We can work with all sample rates of 44.1 kHz and above, and generally recommend that the mix be left at the same sample rate as it was recorded with. Compressed formats, such as .mp3, .mp4a or .wma, are not suitable for mastering, as they are not of a sufficiently high quality.
10. Track Information
Before the online mastering session you will need to provide us with all the relevant track information. This includes song titles, song order, song spacing and album name. If you have ISRC codes, you will also need to provide us with those, as they will be encoded into the final master.
11. Production Master
If you need a final production master that can be used at a CD manufacturing facility, we can provide two different types – a DDP master file set and a Red Book standard audio CD. The former can be uploaded, whereas the latter would be sent to you by post.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at any time.