Preparing your tracks to get mastered? Follow this guide to find solutions to common mistakes producers often make.
1. Mixing Too Loud
This is probably the most common mistake. It’s easy to start writing a track thinking you have lots of headroom, but after a few sounds, you notice the master is clipping, so you stick a limiter on it and presto! Although this solves the issue at the time, it leaves the mastering engineer no headroom to work with. Start your track by turning down the very first channel considerably, and turning up your speakers. This way, you still hear everything nice and loud, but you allow yourself a good amount of headroom to work in to. A good rule of thumb, is to try and prevent peaks from exceeding -6 dBfs.
As I said before, you generally should not apply any dynamics processing (compression/ limiting) to the stereo mix, but using it on individual channels/ busses can be a great tool to control your levels. However, don’t always look to the compressor to beef up your sound or give it more punch. Sometimes the best solution is to simply turn the volume up or down, or get the envelope tight within the synth/audio..
Traditionally, the compressors’ role is to reduce dynamic range. That means reducing the difference between the loudest peaks and lowest troughs.
I come across a lot of material that is just flooded with noise, and it’s hard to make out the detail in the music. Too many frequencies occupying the same space and clashing with each other. It’s also common for people to constantly boost the sweet spots on most sounds, which adds to further clashes..... Instead of boosting frequencies, try to use your EQ to cut out frequencies of the sound that are not necessary. In doing so, you will allow the more important frequencies room to breath and therefore will not be cluttered by unwanted noise.
As it sounds, mud is sloppy and can overcome a mix very easily. Although some sounds might not seem “bassy”, a lot of sounds will have low frequency content. After a few layered on top of each other, things can get out of hand and you’ll have a muddy mix... not to worry however! Your EQ is the best tool for cleaning out the gutters! Make sure you cut out the lows and even low-mids appropriately. If you have a lot of similar sounds, group them in a folder or to a bus and process them as a whole.
5. Stereo Image
Now you might find yourself stuck, because although you’ve EQ’d a bunch of sounds, some still occupy a similar frequency range by necessity. This is where panning comes in. Try to imagine your sounds as part of a landscape, and put them in the spot you think best suits them. Kick and bass driving the middle, hats out to the side a bit, leads moving in and out, left and right. Create a dynamic and interesting space to keep the ear happy, but also to leave room for sounds to breathe.
A difficult beast to tame, bass can get out of hand very quickly. If your speakers aren’t so good or too small, you probably won’t get a good representation of the sub frequencies. If they’re too big, you’ll flood your room with unwanted subs. That combined with the acoustics of your room can make for a challenging task to get right. Try to reference your work on different systems and in different rooms. With time you will learn to compensate for it... Or stop being a cheapskate and buy some good monitors!
What To Expect From Mastering
A lot of people want their masters to sound loud and similar to their favourite artists... Which is fine, but having a professional sounding track starts with you. Mastering can only enhance your work, not transform it entirely. The better your mix is, the better the master can be.