Getting the Most Out of Mastering
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Find A Mastering Engineer You Like, & Develop A Great Working Relationship With Them
There are many great mastering engineers, all of whom do exceptional work, but a strong working relationship, and an open line of communication will always lead to the best results.
Your mastering engineer will quickly learn what you like as an artist or mixer, and if there have been notes or revisions involved in your first projects together, there will surely be less in the future.
Relationships like this are valuable and rewarding, and you’ll find that they often come with perks. If someone is going to do you a favour, or bend the rules which govern the way they typically operate, they’re far more likely to do so for a regular client that they have a strong working relationship with!
This is true in all of life and business, but as it pertains to mastering, this could include things like: the ability to send a mix to your mastering engineer before it’s done to get their opinion on where it’s headed, having them pull an all nighter to meet a tight deadline, or even getting a break on a project that doesn’t have the same budget you’re used to working with. Although I can’t guarantee this kind of service from anyone, I can tell you from experience that it makes me happy when my clients are happy.
Preparing Your Mix for Mastering
While it is often the case that processing applied to the entire mix is integral to the production, anything done solely for the sake of loudness should be avoided. If a limiter has been used during the mix, please remove it. Having said that, it can however be helpful to include the limited version when you submit your files, so your engineer knows what everyone is used to hearing.
If you’re new(er) to mixing, and have any doubts about EQ or compression that have been applied to the mix, you should feel free to send a version with and without to your mastering engineer. This will give them the option to either choose between, recreate, or at least be inspired by what you’ve done.
Regarding headroom, there is a widespread misconception that mastering engineers require 3-6 dB as a hard rule, but this is simply not true. What is important is that your true peaks are not reaching, or exceeding 0dBFS.
When you’re ready to bounce/export, you should make sure you're not doing any normalization, and that you export your stereo mix at the same sample rate that you’ve been working at.
Regardless of the bit depth of your session, your DAW is almost certainly processing internally at 32-bit floating point. For this reason, I recommend exporting all mixes at 32-bit float.
WAV and AIFF files are fine, but avoid AAC and MP3 unless it is the only format the mix exists in.
Both stereo interleaved and multiple-mono are fine, but interleaved is preferable. Multiple-mono unnecessarily doubles the file size, and can create more work for your mastering engineer when it comes to file management.
Before you export your mix, make sure that there is silence both before and after the track, and consider removing any fades that you have done. You can always provide your mastering engineer with a timestamp of when you would like the fade to start and end, or a version that has the fades rendered.
If you are using any Waves plugins, double check that the "Analog" or "Mains" setting is turned off. All this does is add unnecessary noise.
If there is other undesirable background hum/noise present in the recording, having a few seconds of hum/noise only, can allow for easier removal/reduction.
Before you deliver your mixes, you should decide whether or not you need alternate versions. This could be instrumental versions, sing back, radio edit etc. It’s much easier for you to export these now, and will likely cost you less in mastering if you do everything at the same time. Going back months later can incur additional charges for setup time etc., as well as the fact that your mastering engineer could have sold a piece of equipment, or changed tubes, making recall problematic.
Submitting Your Files
However you choose to send your files, I would advise that you zip/compress instead of uploading individually.
Label all files clearly, and ensure that the spelling of song names, and all other relevant metadata is accurate. Your mastering engineer will use exactly what you submit! It’s helpful to indicate song order by adding track number ie “01 - Song Name” before each file, and if you’re pressing vinyl, please also let your mastering engineer know where the split is between Side A and Side B.
Also be sure to let your mastering engineer how you will be releasing your music. There are special considerations that need to be made for streaming, and different deliveries are required for physical formats like CD, vinyl, and cassette.
Have ISRC & UPC codes ready to go, as well as album artwork. If you have any questions about this, your mastering engineer should be able to help.
When communicating and sending files, try your best to keep everything in the same place. It can get confusing to be working with Dropbox, to then receive a mix revision or alternate as a Google Drive link, sent through Instagram Messenger, with metadata delivered via text message.
If you use Dropbox, send download links only. Don't “share” the folder with your mastering engineer.
If there is something specific you are looking to get out of mastering ie a certain aesthetic, or a mix problem that you’ve been unable to solve, tell your mastering engineer before they begin to work on your project.
After You’ve Received Your Masters
Communicate with your mastering engineer, and if there’s something you’re unsure about or don’t like, speak up!
Don’t get pushed around on decisions that you deem to be creative, but if your mastering engineer has a technical reason for wanting (or not wanting) to do something, it’s probably a good idea to seriously consider their recommendations.
Backup your masters in 3 places. Most mastering engineers will keep a backup of their work, but it is not their responsibility.
If you have any questions, or comments, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Happy music making!