Mastering preparation and delivery
(© Jeffrey de Gans v9.0, 20 September 2019)
This page is made to help you to make the right decisions when delivering your mixes for mastering. This document contains some practical tips and tricks to make things just a little bit easier for the both of us.
Delivery of mixes for mastering, do’s and don’ts
A lot of people use masterbus processing nowadays, which will give you a rough idea of what the mix will sound like after mastering. But beware that for mastering, masterbus processing is not always the way to go.
When it comes to some buss compression, tape/tube sound or EQ that adds something to the sound, don’t worry too much, that could/will be fine. limiting/clipping on the masterbus is far from fine and it will be really hard or even impossible to make a decent master.
A general rule for processing on the master bus is: if you use it to make things louder, remove it!
If you really like the way the processing sounds on the master bus, I suggest you send those mixdowns together with the un-processed files. They can sometimes be a useful pointer as to your sound preferences.
Your mixes should have a decent level without reaching or exceeding 0 dBfs (digital clipping). Digital clipping can NOT be undone during mastering. When the damage is done, there is no way back..
Don’t be afraid to print your mixes ‘not loud enough’, in the digital world there is plenty of headroom and it doesn’t really matter whether the highest peak is at -1 or -50 dBfs (please forget about the unwritten -6dB rule, it’s a hoax). I will take care of the final loudness.
This is what a clipped/limited file looks like. NOT suitable for mastering.
Max peak is at -6dB, it is still limited/clipped and so NOT suitable for mastering.
This is what a proper level mix looks like, no clipping and enough headroom.
I prefer 24bit or 32bit float files, 16bit is also acceptable. Print/bounce/render your project in the sample-rate that you worked in. Let’s say you did your whole project in 48khz, print in 48khz. If necessary, I will take care of the Sample Rate Conversion (SRC). File formats should be mixed down stereo WAV or AIF.
MP3’s or other lossy formats are NOT suitable for mastering. Also saving an mp3 as a WAV file doesn’t make it a high resolution file again.
Please make filenames as short as possible without becoming confusing. The most desirable filename is simply the song number, title and mixversion (if applicable).
This is not the way your filenames should look like
Bounce FINAL MIX.wav
Bounce FINAL FINAL mix.wav
Bounce FINAL FINAL mix (really).wav
Bounce FINAL FINAL mix (now for real).wav
Untitled Bounce FINAL Mix (please use this version).wav
Untitled Bounce FINAL Mix (please use this FINALversion).wav
What also happens is this, the mix in 3 versions:
Correct filenames should look something like this:
01 song 1 v1.2.wav
01 song 1 v1.3.wav
01 song 1 v2.0.wav
02 another song v1.1.wav
02 another song v2.1.wav
In case of an (CD) album with ISRC codes, CD text, UPC/barcode etc, please use this excell sheet to give me all the information I need. If you want more information on ISRC and UPC/EAN codes please click here.
Most DAW’s let you have 0 offset at the start of a track when printing. This can sometimes lead into the problem that, for instance, the attack of the first bass-drum is missing.
It’s best to print/bounce with some silence in front and at the end of the track. That’s a lot better then missing the first attack of the downbeat or that really important reverb-tail at the end. Starts and ends will be taken care of during mastering.
After you printed your mixdown with the tips I just gave you, it’s time to double check before sending it out! Do this check by actually LISTENING to the complete mixdown from start to end, preferably on a decent set of headphones. Check for mix/edit mistakes, muted stems, glitches, noise, distortion and everything else. It won’t be the first time that after printing there are ‚hickups‘ in the audio or you hear things that only show up after doing the final mixdown. If you are 100% sure that everything is OK it’s time to send.
Don’t just print/bounce your mix and and consider it done.
Realtime is not always the same as offline printing..
Mixed down stereo Wav or AIF files in 24bit or higher. No mp3 or other lossy format.
Make filenames as short as possible without becoming confusing. 01 Yellow sugar v2.3.wav
Your mixes should have a decent level without exceeding 0 dBfs (no digital clipping)
Don’t use limiters on your master-bus. If you use it to make things louder, remove it!
Make sure your starts and ends are OK, so no missing attack or reverbtail
Quality check before sending, always listen to the complete track from beginning till end!
Masters, media-types and file formats
You have to decide how you will be releasing your music. Is it just a digital release or will it be a CD release as well or maybe even Vinyl? In the modern world it’s no exception that I deliver 5 types of masters for one project. The list below will give you an idea of file formats that could be delivered.
- 16bit 44.1khz WAV
- 24bit 96khz hi-res WAV
- Apple Digital Masters (I am a certified ADM provider)
- Streaming masters
- Vinyl masters
Please tell me before I start mastering what formats you will need so that I know what to do. Some formats will be free of charge, some other formats I will charge. Check my rates page for more info. By default you will receive masters in 16bit 44.1khz and hi-res 24bit format.
Releasing an album? Track-order, pauses, transistions etc are really important for the overall flow of an album. It can really make your album a real album instead of a bunch of tracks put together.
ISRC codes? Get your codes before the mastering takes place
Think about if you want to participate in the loudness war or not. The war is over, nobody won.
In the modern world most music ends up on a digital platform or streaming service like Spotify. This means that you need to take certain things into account. I made a dedicated webpage on how to deal with these kind of things.
If you read all info and you are still not sure if what you are doing is the right thing, please contact me and ask. I am here to help you!
With kind regards,