Before you decide to send your song to be mastered, it’s worth spending some time referencing your mix.
Compare it with other mixes in your library, listening carefully to the frequency range, dynamics and levels of the instruments. It’s important to choose a track that is similar in style to yours. Choosing a rock track when yours is EDM won’t be of any assistance.
Listening to how your mix compares with a professional mix can provide valuable information about what you need to change, if anything, to get a professional sounding track.
CLEAN UP YOUR TRACKS
Making sure that your individual tracks are properly edited is another important step in ensuring your song is ready for mastering. Go through each instrument in your arrangement, and check there is no unwanted noise. Bouncing any midi to audio can help with this.
Delete any empty regions. Sometimes they can contain low level noise which will decrease headroom. Some plugins model the analogue hardware they emulate. Too much analogue tape hiss will have a negative impact your song.
It’s worth checking each instrument soloed through headphones for any stray pops or clicks, especially on lead instruments like the vocal.
LEAVE GOOD HEADROOM
Headroom is a very important factor for good mastering results. Mistakes are quite common here. Headroom is how much space your audio has before it starts to get distorted and compressed. If you don’t leave enough headroom, the mastering engineer won’t have enough room to work their magic.
Recording mediums have a limited amount of headroom. Recording a signal that is greater than the medium is capable of handling will result in the waveform will being clipped. This will, in turn, result in distortion.
Gain staging is a way of avoiding this. Try not to let the peaks of your audio hit much above -10 dBFS. Be sure to maintain headroom on your busses and especially on your master output. This will give you good headroom for mastering.
MASTER BUS PROCESSING
Master bus processing is an area of contention. Whilst some engineers swear by it, others claim it can be counter productive.
It’s personal choice. If you do use it, do so sparingly - light eq and compression with some saturation should be enough for tonal shaping. If you’re using big boosts or cuts to get the desired frequencies, you may want to revisit the individual instruments.
Try to avoid limiters and over aggressive compressors. These can all be used at the mastering stage, where levels can be raised and the dynamics evened out.
If you can’t decide which plugins to use on your stereo bus, maybe don’t use any. With that said, it’s all trial and error and there are no rules. Just listen to what sounds good.
More often than not, you should be able to get the sound you’re after by manipulating the instruments themselves.
CHOOSE A HIGH QUALITY EXPORT FORMAT
Choosing the right export format makes a significant difference to the audio quality of the file to be mastered.
Selecting the right sample rate and bit depth in your DAW is very important.
The sample rate should be set to the rate at which you recorded your files. More than likely, you will have had to choose this at the beginning of your session.
For bit rate, choose 32 bit if your DAW offers this, or 24 bit if 32 isn’t
available. Remember to check the dither box if you’re selling anything other than 32 bit.
With these settings, your DAW will export a high resolution WAV file you can use to create a HD master. A HD track can stream up to 4 times the amount of information of a CD quality recording and up to 20 times that if an MP3. That means your music should sound fuller, sharper and more brilliant.