Prepping your final mixes for a professional mastering session may be somewhat confusing if you’re used to mastering your tracks yourself (aprocess where you’re the boss and anything goes), or if you typically choose to bypass the masteringstage (leaving your stereo mixes asthe final versions people will hear). Happily, the basic rule for handing your tracks to a pro is an easy one: Leave the mastering engineer as many sonic options as possible. To that end, here are four missteps to avoid if you want your mastered tracks to really rip it up.
Mastering is supposed to enhanceand even energize your mixes, so the process needs to be all about you and your music. In otherwords—get selfish. The perfect masteringengineer for you is someone who truly understands what your music is about, and who is willing to listen intently and seriously to youraural wishes. If the engineer seems bored, overworked, or in love withhis or her personal mastering process (which is typically repeated time and time again for all clients,regardless of musical style), thenwalk away.
Other warning signs of a bad match might involve someone who seldom masters your type of music,someone who is totally unaware ofthe reference tracks you want yourown sound modeled after, and someonewho immediately takes the position that home-studio tracks sound like crap before even listening to your mixes.
Remember, you are spending good money to entrust someone’sears and skills with crafting a far better mastering job than you could everdo yourself. Make this person earnyour trust and respect before theystart messing with your music.
Now this seems like an extremely obvious—perhaps even insulting—tip,but you’d be surprised at how manypeople ask me to bring up the levelof individual instruments in the mastering process, as if I have some to psecretplug-in that can magicallytransform stereo mixes into multitracksand then back to stereo again.(I don’t.) It’s your responsibility to getyour mix levels and signal-processing sounding exactly the way you wantthem before you get to the masteringprocess. Too much reverb onthe vocal? The mastering engineerwill not be able to diminish it. Leadguitar too low in the mix? While anEQ or compression tweak might clarifythe guitar sound and make itmore prominent in the audio spectrum,you’re not going to be able tocrank up that puppy like you couldwhen you had it on its own faderduring the mixdown. Fair warning: Ifyou’re unsatisfied with a mix whenyou bring it into the mastering studio,there’s a damn good chanceyou’ll still be disappointed when youbring it out.
Many artists put a limiter or a compressoron the master bus to give astereo mix that extra oomph. Get ridof it! Compression not only limits theamount of dynamic information yourengineer can work with, it can alsoadversely affect the sound quality ofyour entire mix if you use a less-thanhigh-end unit or squash the stereosignal to near o...