How to prepare your track for mastering
After you’ve spent days mixing your track and are ready to start mastering it for Radio, Spotify or YouTube, there are a few steps you must do in order to ensure you have your tracks ready for mastering. Whether you are mastering it yourself or sending it off to another studio or company to get it mastered, there are certain things you need to do in order to ensure your mastering process is a smooth one.
Check Frequency Analyzer
Use a frequency analyzer on the master buss output of your session, look for any significant frequencies that are standing out. Your goal is to maintain a healthy balance of the whole frequency range when mixing.
Mastering a song that is very dominant in the low-end information will lead to uneven and muddy mixes that don’t sound good on any source. Unbalanced frequency mixes will ultimately lead you back into the mix process where you will need to address those problematic frequency areas first before you can create a great master.
Check Levels and Automation
Be sure to check all fader levels and make sure you are certain that the volume knobs are where they need to be. I have often created masters where I accidentally muted aux sends or reverbs prior to preparing my mix for mastering. Be sure your automation is turned on as well. You would be surprised how often, especially in larger sessions, you may accidentally mute, lower or turn off a channel’s audio information.
Check Low End
Low end is probably the amateur mix engineers hidden nightmare when they first begin recording music. Because low end is often difficult to hear on regular monitors without a subwoofer or headphones that don’t reproduce the low harmonic information very well, it can lead to muddy or cluttered mixes.
If you overlook the low end when getting ready to master, the limiter will have a hard time doing its job because there is just so much low end activating its gain reduction that you will ruin your master.
When you are ready to master, be sure to check that all plugins are being used appropriately or have been removed. In larger session that may contain 30 or more plugins, you may run into problems quickly with plugins not working correctly, especially on computers with insufficient resources.
I’ve had single plugins crash the whole session leading me to start over from the beginning. Remember that plugins are like mini-computer programs. Most of the time they work but when they don’t, they can really screw things up.
Check Your Mix Using Different Playback References
Throughout the entire mix process, you should be using different sound references to sculpt and craft your mixes. From your studio monitors to headphones to your car stereo to the speakers on your phones, you should be using multiple playback references to complete your mix. This process is especially important when you are getting ready to master your tracks.
Often times using different playback sources, you will hear problematic areas that need to be addressed in your mixes. When you mix solely on your own monitors or headphones, you get used to the sonic footprint they have and think they are accurately putting out the audio information. They are not. There is no such thing as the perfect studio monitors. Every type of studio monitor has certain frequencies they enhance or embellish whether it be due to their tuning or housing. Try different play back sources, you won’t regret it, trust me.
Finally, when you have made every attempt to create a satisfactory mix, it is time to create a stereo render or bounce for mastering. When creating your stereo mix be sure to bounce at the rate you will be mastering in. Be sure to bounce in a format that is accepted by the DAW you will be using to master in. You should strive for the highest output quality your DAW offers at this final stage of the mix process.
Mastering is the final step of the recording process. It is where your mix has the opportunity to attract listeners or deter them. If you run a professional studio, this is the most important step that will lead to clients returning or not. Take the time to review the steps above to get the best sound possible when mastering.