To get the most out of the mastering process, you have to prepare your mixes properly, in this guide we’ll explain how to prepare your track for mastering, the main issues and how to avoid them.
Many mixing engineers and artists are unaware of the best way to prepare their songs for mastering. Most of the steps are incredibly easy to implement and will make your masters sound a lot better in no-time.
To correctly prepare your track for mastering ask yourself these 3 questions
– Does your track have clipping?
– Do you have any effect in the Master Bus?
– What are your project settings?
If you can answer them then you’re half way there, if not, don’t worry! Even if you don’t understand what clipping is or where to locate the master bus, we will explain every detail so you can correctly prepare your song for mastering.
Does your track have clipping?
To correctly prepare your track for mastering is very important that your track doesn’t have clipping issues. But, what is clipping? Clipping is a form of waveform distortion that occurs when the signal (or an amplifier) is overdriven and attempts to over the limit. When this happens the signal is cut causing unpleasant sound. In digital audio, the limit is 0dB when working on 16bit or 24bit files. 32-bit floating point files don’t have this issue as the limit point is not defined and may go over 0dB. Below you can see an explanatory image:
It is very common on inexperienced engineers to raise the main fader while producing so they can hear the mix louder. First of all, it’s not recommendable to mix with loud volumes because listeners won’t probably listen to your mix so loud, and proportions on the mix change a bit depending on the volume. The mix won’t be better if you hear it louder either, although it might feel that way.
As most sequencers work on a 32-bit floating point you might not hear the clipping in the mix, but when you render it to 24 or 16bit the file is cut to the signal limit that is 0dB causing major distortion. The same will happen if you render to mp3 or if you even if you render in 32bit-file and upload it directly to any online media like SoundCloud or YouTube.
Many people worry too much about loudness and raise the volume in the mix, don’t worry about that, mix your song with normal levels and when you’re done you can master your tracks through MasteringBOX.
How can I solve this?
The solution for clipping is very easy, just lower the master fader, as long as you don’t have clipping it will be ok, although the best would be to leave between -3dB and -6dB of headroom. You can find your Master fader in the mixer, usually on the right side. To access the mixer in Cubase press F3, in Protools “Ctrl+=” or “Ctr+?”, in Ableton Live “Ctrl + Alt + M”, in FL Studio press F9 and in Logic “Cmd +2”. If you are using MAC just user Cmd instead of Ctrl in the shortcuts mentioned before.
You can also produce clipping on individual tracks if you don’t work on 32-bit floating point, so make sure to check that too!
You will be warned by MasteringBOX if your file has clipping, now you know how to solve it!
Do you have any effect in the Master Bus?
When you prepare your track for mastering, you shouldn’t have any effect in the Master bus unless it is extremely necessary for the sound you want to achieve. So open your mixer and go to the Master Section, disable any effect in the Master, especially dynamic effects like compression and limiting.
Some DAW’s like FL Studio and Ableton Live have a limiter in the master channel by default, so please check the master bus because even if you don’t remember adding any effect there, you might have it.
When you disable a compressor or limiter on the master bus please make sure to lower the master fader too or you’ll probably end up with clipping.
What are your project settings?
The last step to prepare your track for mastering is to check the Bit depth and the Sample Rate in your project. It’s a good idea to use higher Bit depth on render but is important that you don’t use a different Sample Rate. Typical Sample Rate will be 44.1Khz, but it might also be 48Khz, 88.2Khz or 96Khz. If you don’t know what your Bit depth and Sample Rate is, you’ll be “safe” rendering on 32-bit/44.1Khz in most cases.
Try it and master your mix with MasteringBOX!
They’re a lot more things to consider for a perfect mix, but for now, these are the 3 main steps to correctly prepare your track for mastering. Open your project, render your track now and upload it to MasteringBOX to test if everything’s correct, if you followed the instructions correctly you’ll get a green notification. If a red or blue notification shows, check the message to understand what’s going wrong.