A Checklist for Mastering

Mastering is one of the most critical and often mysterious roles in the current industry. Usually, recording engineers and producers are working on a song right from the demo to the final mix, this is where a fresh set of ears is extremely valuable.

It is quite important to establish a good rapport and a working relationship between a Mixing and Mastering Engineer. In this post today we will discuss a few pointers and things that a Mix engineer should look at before sending their mixes to be mastered.

  1. Fix the Mix:
    Understanding where to draw the line with your mix is very important before you send a track out to the mastering engineer. There are many scenarios where the Mix engineer will underwork a mix expecting the Mastering Engineer to fix the balance between the Kick Drum and Bass Guitar. You have to understand, that the mix engineer is working only with a two-track, he can only change the balance of you mix to a certain extent. So, ensure that you are satisfied with the balance and the layout of your mix.
    Mastering is more like applying a final coat to your mix and ensuring that it sounds tonally in place wrt to other music out there.
    There are multiple instances where mix engineers want to share the final finished sound with their clients (since the clients will be comparing this to other songs out there) and end up changing the mix to a point where it sounds too tonally worked not leaving enough space for the mastering engineer to come in.
  2. Check for Clicks, Pops and Bad Edits:
    It can be really frustrating for a Mastering engineer to rework and reprint the master just because you forgot to check for any clicks pops or bad edits within your mix. Some Mastering engineers might be nice enough to redo the master at no added cost but most will charge you for a revision. Go through the entire session and ensure that you have fixed all these problems if you can give it to a separate pair of ears to check for anything that sounds off.

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  1. Remove all Buss Processing:
    This one is a no brainer. Most of us like to mix with some buss processing on, and i’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to do, it’s just that you sometimes end up processing your Mix Buss so much that you’ve essentially taken away control from the mix engineer.
    Let’s look at something as simple as compression; If you already have a high ratio compressor working you mix buss, it’s going to get harder for the Mastering engineer to have control on the dynamics of the track.
    There are certain situations when you should keep the buss processing on, say if you’ve started your mix by applying a compressor and you’ve been mixing into the compressor the mix would fall apart if you take this compressor out. Ideally in situations like this, the mix engineer should work with a compressor with low ratio so that there isn’t too much gain reduction/compression that is imparted to the mix.
  2. Make sure your Levels are OK
    Most Mastering Engineers prefer to have their mixes at a certain level before they can start the mastering process. Some prefer them at -3dBFS and some at -6dBFS, in truth any mix that does not clip will work. Even if your mix is peaking at -10dBFS that’s fine. When working with a session that has 24bit depth, you have so much dynamic range that this doesn’t really make a difference to it.
    As long as you’re not clipping your mix buss you are good to go.
    The loudness wars are almost over but for mix engineers its still very important to deliver mixes that are loud enough to labels or their clients. I have often seen great mixes declined just because they weren’t loud enough. We all know, louder does sound better, but usually in a case like this mix engineers should deliver a mix to the client that has a limiter or some basic mastering processing applied to it and bypass these when sending it to the mastering engineer. This way they can keep their client happy and also get the best out of the mix.
  3. Share References:
    As a mastering engineer, I usually like to understand what tonality and approach the client wants for their song. This is best achieved by asking for references from the clients and the mix engineer. Usually, a mix engineer will work a mix keeping a reference in mind and have a general perception of what the final output should be. Share your references with the mastering engineer, this will help him understand which direction you would like to take the song. Sometimes there might be an idea that can’t be executed or there might be a flaw in the idea itself, its best to clear these things out before you actually end up with a Master that you are unhappy with.
  4. Nomenclature:
    This might sound very basic, but it’s quite important to integrate into your workflow. Nobody likes to work with filenames like “Song 3 Final V3 Premix Finalest”.
    Don’t use the word FINAL, this just doesn’t apply to what we do.
    Use a simple nomenclature like “XYZ_V3_Premaster”

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