One of the most interesting things we’ve noticed is that many artists, band members, and even some recording engineers do not know what mastering really is, what can and can’t be achieved in mastering, and why mastering might be an important part of their project.
Because of this, it’s not surprising that many artists (and some engineers) do not understand what type of files to send in for mastering, how to prepare them, what to be aware of in the final stages of mixing, and what to expect after the material is mastered.
In order for us to get the most for you out of your recordings there are a number of things you can do to help optimise the material that you submit.
Please take time to read the following submission guidelines thoroughly .
Arguably the most important thing is that you like the overall sound of your mix. Mastering is about enhancing music to bring out the best elements in it, rather than changing it. It is a common misconception that poor mixes can be fixed during mastering. The reality is that only a good mix can be enhanced to sound great.
Before sending a track for online mastering, make sure that you are happy with its EQ balance. If in doubt check your mix against a commercial release which is similar in style. This is a useful way of finding out whether your mix contains too much bass, mid range or treble. If you are mixing with small speakers, please remember that they may not reproduce bass accurately. Sometimes significant amounts of bass can be found in the region below 50 Hz, which is often outside the reproduction range of small monitors. Using a sub-woofer to check bass level can be a good idea.
The mastering process tends to exaggerate vocal sibilance, so it should be well under control before you send us your mix. We will of course apply de-essing to a mix with too much sibilance. However, please bear in mind that you have access to the individual vocal tracks, whereas we need to apply de-essing across a specific frequency range of the entire mix. In other words, de-essing at the mastering stage is not ideal, since it affects all the instruments that reside in the sibilant frequency range.
Most modern music requires a degree of compression to glue a mix together. This can be on individual tracks and often also across the master output. However, you should be aware that overuse of compression will suck the life out of your music and will rob it of the dynamic range it needs in order to be of interest for the listener. Once dynamic range has been taken out of the music, it becomes impossible to restore. If in doubt use less rather than more compression.
Check your levels
During the main section of your song, the max peak level should be about -6db. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Giving us enough headroom to work with will give you a better master. We will use EQ and compression alongside other tools which boost the peak level of your song.
Please do not just lower the master fader; leave the master fader at 0db and lower (or raise) every single channel together in your mix until the overall level is peaking around -6db on the loudest section of your song.
If the levels still look unusually active, delve a little deeper and check if any individual plugins are clipping. If a plugin has been set to force hot levels out to your DAW, there’s a good chance clipping will occur. (Some analogue clipping can sound great, but digital plugin clipping is the total opposite – you really don’t want this on your mix!) Most plugins have an input/output level trim so if a channel looks to be overworking itself, check the inserts for any clipping and adjust accordingly.General Mix Levels and Processing
Follow these tips and you should give us the best start possible to optimising your music.
Try and keep peaks on the main mix bus between -10 to -4dBfs (Digital Full Scale) but no higher than -3 dBfs. If they are higher we would recommend lowering the individual mix element faders and group faders to reduce the level on the master output bus. You need to leave the master fader at 0 and work the faders and groups within the session (if Mixing in the box)
If mixing on a console please keep the digital capture recording levels conservative (-4dbfs peak) suggested.
The reason to do the above (both in the box and recording the console output) is not to do with headroom for mastering, (mastering is carried out in the analog domain so headroom is irrelevant). It’s because of intersample peak distortion which starts to happen as low as 4 db below dfs in some computer workstations. When digital mixes have intersample distortion it becomes very hard to get a good clean result from analog hardware as it responds badly to these peaks that your software meters cannot even detect as they happen between sample cycles. Working natively at higher sample rates does a lot to alleviate this issue but only if the parts in the session were recorded at that sample rate. Do not upsample files under any circumstances. You are better off at 44.1K if that is what your session was originally.
Check the inserts on the Mix Bus
Please don’t add a limiter to your mix bus. Quite often, digital limiters don’t offer the same sonic finesse of analogue limiters used by most mastering engineers (particularly in the higher frequency spectrum) and you’ll be depriving a mastering engineer of an essential part of their job. Let us do what you’ve hired us to do.
Check your mix in Mono
Checking your mix in mono is vital – there are countless reasons why your mix may end up being heard in mono.
If your song is broadcast on the radio, often it will be in mono if the signal is particularly weak. Even advanced technology still utilises mono signals – most radio iPhone applications broadcast in mono, unbelievably! When listening in mono, your track could run into major phases issues when processing reverb or delay and sometimes the effect can be totally lost.
It is a good idea to provide us with a reference song or commercial release that you like the sound of. This will help us to understand what kind of sound you are looking for. Make sure the reference is similar in style and production to your own material.
File Formats, Fades, Start/End Points and Submission
Please submit your files as 44100hz or higher, 24 or 32bit WAV files. We do not accept MP3s.
The sample rate should be the sample rate of the source DAW session. Please do not up or down sample -sample files as this can be very harmful for digital audio.
If you have clearly defined fades that you want to make sure are incorporated into the final master we suggest you fade the ends of tracks as you would like them to be in the premaster you supply.
Submit clearly labelled files. The songs must be clearly labelled with artist name, album title or release, all song titles and, if applicable, the ISRC codes.
What about loudness and general quality?
At Solid Mastering mastering we can increase the level of your track and seek to minimize side effects. How loud your track can go without the inevitable side effects of distortion, loss of depth, loss of punch (impact of drums) and loss of space depends greatly on the integrity and balance of the mix. It will vary between tracks. Also bear in mind that the “louder” your track is the less likely it will sound good when broadcast on FM radio or when converted to a lossy format such as MP3. If a loud master is your primary concern please provide a single level reference track before the job starts. Be aware that whilst we will minimize side effects this decision usually means that to varying degrees audio fidelity and tone takes second place. Large level increases affect the tone/stereo image/drum punch etc. of the track so consider perceived volume with care as some tracks will hit high perceived levels more gracefully than others. There is no isolated “loudness button”, mastering is a holistic procedure of which loudness is one element and is also highly dependent on other sonic qualities.