To get the most out of the mastering process, you have to prepare your mixes properly. This guide will 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 track for mastering. Most of the steps are incredibly easy to implement and will make your masters sound a lot better in no time.
Prepare your track for Mastering: Ask yourself these three questions
– Does your track have clipping?
– Do you have any effects on the Master Bus?
– What are your project settings?
If you can answer them, then you’re halfway 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 track for mastering.
Does your track have clipping?
To correctly prepare your track for mastering, your track mustn’t have clipping issues. But, what is clipping? Clipping is a waveform distortion that occurs when the signal (or an amplifier) is overdriven and attempts to go over the limit. When this happens, the signal is cut, causing an 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 for inexperienced engineers to raise the main fader while producing to hear the mix louder. First of all, mixing with loud volumes is not recommended because listeners probably won’t listen to your mix as loudly, and proportions on the mix change a bit depending on the volume. The mix won’t be better if you hear it louder, 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 of 0dB, causing significant distortion. The same will happen if you render to mp3 or 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 finished, you can master your tracks through MasteringBOX.
How can I solve this?
The solution for clipping is as straightforward as just lowering the master fader. As long as you don’t have clipping, it will sound ok, although the best solution would be to leave between -3dB and -6dB of headroom. You can find your Master fader in the digital mixer, usually on the right-hand 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 above.
You can also produce clipping on individual tracks if you don’t work on a 32-bit floating-point, so make sure to check that too!
MasteringBOX will warn you if your file has clipping, but now you know how to solve it!
Do you have any effects on the Master Bus?
When you prepare your track for mastering, you shouldn’t affect the Master bus unless it is essential for the sound you want to achieve. So open your mixer and go to the Master Section, disable any effect in the Master, particularly dynamic effects like compression and limiting.
Some DAW’s like FL Studio and Ableton Live has an audio limiter in the master channel by default, so please check the master bus. Even if you don’t remember adding any effect, it may still be present.
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 it’s vital that you don’t use a different Sample Rate. A typical Sample Rate would be 44.1Khz, but it might also be 48Khz, 88.2Khz, or 96Khz. If you don’t know your Bit depth and Sample Rate, you’ll be “safe” rendering on 32-bit/44.1Khz in most cases.
How to prepare your track for MasteringBOX
There are many more things to consider for a perfect mix, but for now, these are the three main steps to prepare your track for mastering correctly. Open your project, render your track now and upload it to MasteringBOX to test if everything’s correct. If you follow the instructions correctly everything should be fine. If a red or blue notification shows, check the message to understand what’s wrong.
Post image under Creative Commons License by Samuel L. Livingston
eso me ahorra algunos interrogantes
Nice work! Thanx for it tool!
Thanks for suggestions
The clipping discussion about bit depth is completely technically inaccurate. Internal floating point processing, 32 bits being one of the formats, allows you to represent smaller signals accurately, which become important with DSP techniques because when doing multiply accumulates, rounding errors at low bit depths can stack up and cause audible issues. Unintentional clipping is bad, but it is not caused by bit depth conversion.
Quantization is what you are discussing when reducing bit depth, from floating to fixed point and it has nothing to do with exceeding 0 dBFS. Switching bit depths used to be a big deal but the vast majority of programs now use automatic dithering to handle these issues and can convert different bit depths on the fly. The point is a 0 dBFS signal in 32 bit and 24 bit have exactly the same maximum peak level, converting between the two formats absolutely does not cause clipping. It causes truncation of the least significant bits which can add qunatization noise. Dithering is a way to mask the noise and make it less audible.
I have heard many people say to leave headroom in your file, but few can come up with a plausible technical explanation as to why, they are just repeating myths they have heard. What you are actually doing by leaving 3 dB to 6 dB of headroom is reducing your dynamic range by 3 to 6 dB. In practice this reduction is rarely the limiting factor for your tracks SNR, but changing between levels, i.e. gain is literally the easiest DSP processing you can do to audio as each sample is multiplied by a fixed integer. If I send in a file that peaks at 0 dBFS, there is no change to the signal by applying -3 or -6 dB of gain to the file to add headroom if needed, say for something like a compressor where you are applying make up gain that could exceed 0 dBFS, though arguably the compressors output should be set up so that make up gain does not cause clipping. Clearly you should not be letting any track clip, or any processing stage clip, and you should have your gain structure set up so no track is boosted above 0 dB because gain above zero dB is going to amplify noise, while attenuating will attenuate noise.
I have also heard claims that you need to leave headroom for the conversion to lossy formats like mp3, and this is also a myth. The way lossy compression like mp3 work is by reducing the number of bits in frequency bands to allow for a smaller number of bits to represent that portion of the signal dynamically based on psychoacoustic masking. This processing by design will not increase the peak of the input signal, which is the only way clipping could occur with encoding.
What can happen with lossy conversion is poorly chosen settings, like rolling off the high end at 15 kHz and assuming lots of correlation which can obliterate the stereo field. Unfortunately sites like Soundcloud and You tube are not transparent about their processing and you are pretty much stuck with whatever they are doing. If I was having problems, I would try sending in a -3 or -6 dB file and see if it helped, but if it does, it is working around poorly chosen encoding settings.
I tend to agree with you about master bus effects, that is what mastering is suppose to be, though there is a school that believes applying a 2:1 ratio “glue” compressor on the master bus is the way to go.
Thank you for your in-depth comment. There’re many reasons that can cause clipping when there’s absolutely no headroom (Peak normalized at 0dB) but the main reason that we ask for headroom is that the musician makes sure not to go over 0dB, 3 to 6dB of dynamic range will not be noticeable, but clipping will be.
I disagree in some of your statements, if your 32bit file goes over 0dB (which will usually happen) and you convert that file into 24bit you will get clipping cause the file will be cutted at 0dB, try if for yourself, practical examples are the best.
Additionally you should not apply any effects on the master bus, specially dynamics effect, again a 2:1 glue compressor is something that might be applied in mastering too.
Thank you for the article.
I was told that if levels are too hot going into the mix buss it is best to lower the levels of your tracks rather than lowering the master fader.
Is this a myth?
Gracias por los comentarios y la teoría. sugiero ejemplos prácticos con vídeo, por ejemplo, un vídeo como se mezcla después de haber sido grabada; así como la guitarra, el bajo, etc, cabe agregar, incluyendo en el vídeo lo dicho teóricamente, es tan solo una humilde opinión sugerida… por cuanto a los que recién empezamos nos ayudaría a entender mejor. No se preocupen de escribir tanto en quien sabe más, creo yo, es más importante ver el vídeo de lo escrito y dicho por parte de los que saben… enseñar. Muchas gracias por tan importantes aportes…. Creo, me parece que lo dicho por DEANKOBAYASHI es muy cierto…
I just want to ask people who have used Mastering Box to do mastering, does it do a good job? Would you recommend it?
What about cutting out the clippings during sound editing, this is just a suggestion, well in all i think MASTERINGBOX is the way to go.
Great job thanks alot .I really do appreciate
can I turn on noise reduction and add pitch shifting or autotune effect?
You guys are life savers
Thanks I really had problems but this really helped me a lot
How do you make your MP3 to be 4MB ?
Muchas gracias por su información. Me gustaría contar con un equipo para realizar el trabajo de masterización, pero no cuento con el. Sólo ejecuto canciones con guitarra acústica, armónica y mi voz. Me gustaría obtener el mejor resultado. Gracias
I appreciate this