Today we’re going to go over 6 tips that will help you prepare your mix to come into a mastering situation and get the best results with the grammy-nominated Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski.
Let’s get right into the tips!
Tip 1 Don’t Clip Your Mix
Obviously you don’t want to square off your mix, you want to keep as much information as possible! When you start to square off, you are losing your transients. Squaring off can also happen with extreme limiting. Those transients are the parts that give you the extra impulses of detailed information like spacial reflections and overtones. And they aren’t things that a mastering engineer can bring back. So number 1… and a very easy thing to handle, is to just make sure you do not clip you mix. Keep your levels down so you’re getting all the information out of your mix and presenting it to your mastering engineer.
And a further step with regards to the tip, compressing the master buss just for volume, then turning down the master fader does leave you with the same type of impact you could get with leaving a little more quick transients at the top. Your mastering engineer can always push it a bit as desired by the client. But you open up more options if you let it breathe a little. “Toggle those bits” as I heard it said once. So perhaps try bringing down the feed to the master buss ( for example, lower the levels of the group busses and tracks etc. that route to the Master buss).
Clipping gets worse when going through data compression algorithms like AAC and MP3’s and when played on streaming services.
*And one last bit as a personal perspective; Any production or engineering decision regarding the pursuit of the artistic ideal for the song, Right on! Awesome! I believe let the decisions serve the expression. Always If it’s right for the song… What I mean here is the unintended consequences of clipping. Distortion and un-incorporated peaks.
I’ll add more on the master buss topic down below…
( I could talk more about that in more detail later in this thread. At least as far as my soapboxes are concerned 🙂 )
Tip 2 Master The Highest Resolution
Another thing you want to do is make sure you bring the highest resolution you’ve been working at to your mastering engineer. You want to make sure you don’t do any sample rate conversion. There is no need.
I’m a big fan of high-resolution audio and I think people should be working at high-resolution audio for a lot of different reasons. One of them is to get the most out of the math that is involved with processing things like plug-ins, automation, fades etc. Another is the lowering of the noise floor and headroom gained by having high resolution.
It is also future proof! Making sure that you have content and music that is ready for the future is very useful! As an industry, we are always striving to increase fidelity and the listening experience. You want to be prepared for future formats and methods of distribution. Give your mastering engineer the highest rate files for each track. It does not matter that they are all the same or not. Your mastering engineer can handle that for you. Again, giving them the most flexibility to deliver the correct resolution for each format of distribution. Upsampling does not give you any more information. ( * a side topic for this is that there are good arguments to made for the case of upsampling. But there are no benefits unless it’s further up the chain; before the final mix. )
Personally, I choose to use analog equipment for the majority of my work because I like the way it feels and I like the the way it sounds. Tubes and transformers, or clean and fast. So when I go out to my gear, I am using the D/As and A/Ds at the highest rate.
So in short if you’re recording at 24bit, 32bit, 48k, 96k, whatever it is keep it there and if you have mixed rates, lets say you started one song at one rate and one song at another, there is no need to coalesce them into the same thing to find the highest common denominator. Your mastering engineer would prefer to have them as they are.
Additionally, My suggestion would be to always work at the highest resolution you can. Try to start with 96/24, or higher if you can.
Tip 3 Don’t Overprocess the Master Buss
I would say the least that you can do, the better. A mastering engineer cannot undo things like over compression. If you are compressing the master bus and limiting it, for example, to make it loud, because you think to deliver a loud mix will end up with a better product, it’s actually quite the opposite.
The first thing I’d have to do when it’s loud is turn it down because when the energy level is getting to the top I cannot add any EQ or anything that’s going to add more energy to that because it’s already to the top! I’ll have to turn it down before I can even start.
That’s one reason for doing that. The other is I can’t take away those things. You want to keep those dynamics and changes within that. A mastering engineer cannot get those back. My made up analogy is “You can’t take the flower out of a cake that’s already been baked.” I can mess with it and try to adjust it in various ways but I can’t undo that.
I’m not against processing on the master bus that does something with intent; if it gives a feel, it gives a sound, a direction that you’re trying to go with it, whether it’s an EQ or compression. But I would be very careful doing those things because you think you need to give a loud mix to impress your client.
If you’re doing it because it gets you somewhere that you want to go, then great! But if you’re doing it for another reason like loudness or brightness, then I’d say don’t be too heavy handed. We can push it at the mastering stage, if desired and can actually take it further than when it’s brought to a mastering engineer as an “overheated” mix.
Tip 4 Don’t use Multiband Compression
I am not a fan of multiband compression; In fact, for mastering, I’m against multiband compression. Multiband compression is like any other tool; used in a fashion that gets you where you want to go, a great tool is a great tool! A great hammer when you need a screwdriver, it’s not so good. If you need to put a nail in then a hammer’s good!
When I’m doing a mix and I might think the overheads sound can be sculpted a bit, maybe I’ll throw on a little multiband or dynamic EQ or something that will help me with something in particular. On an overall mix though, I’m against it for a lot of reasons- beyond just the phase problems at the crossover points.
You are changing the nature of the instruments within themselves across different bands that aren’t related to what might be their peak. When you start messing with the compression ratios, attack and release characteristics, as well as thresholds of all that across all these different bands, you are changing the nature of the instruments to themselves, which is throwing off the balance of the mix that was made there in the first place. It’s getting rid of those decisions because you’re changing the nature of it.
I don’t agree with the use of multi-band compression in a mastering process. I would use it only in a specific situation where it had to be used and have exhausted all other resources and I still need to solve a problem and it can’t be remixed for whatever reason.
I have used it, but it is very easy to overdo it and screw things up with multiband compression! So if you feel like you have to, be very light about it.
Tip 5 Leave Headroom Before Mastering
Make sure you leave enough headroom so the mastering engineer can work. What I would like to see is 3-4db of headroom from the peak – 0 and up to 12db RMS headroom.
The mastering engineer can pull it up to where you need it to be for each type of master, but they can’t undo the things that you to do get it there- and again, they could take it further if there is room headroom available.
Collaborate with the mastering engineer! They are there to work with you not against you. They are not there to tell you what’s wrong- they want the best out of your record as the artist does as a producer or engineer.
Choose someone to help guide or help talk you through the process. Working with a mastering engineer who is not the mix engineer can help you with valuable feedback to elevate your mixes as well.
Tip 6 Mastering Engineer Needs the Reference Mix
Mastering engineers need to hear what the client has been listening too. If your mix has been approved by the label or the artist, and it’s something you’ve been pushing a little bit; usually it’s because you know that they’re going to compare it to things that they are already familiar with. Remember, those songs are already done, mastered, and released. However, your songs have not.
You have been listening to a mix that is compressed and has these characteristics to it. What I would want to be delivered to me would be the unheated mix that hasn’t been pushed. I would also want to hear what the client has been listening to that made them approve the mix in the first place.
Back to a previous point about bringing something that is not too compressed or processed on the master bus, that’s what I would love to work with. However, I would still like to hear what has been sent off to the label and artist because I need to know what characteristics led them to approve it.
Don’t forget to enter to win above!