Mix Tips

Some of the things I discuss most frequently with new clients:



File Format and Resolution

WAV or AIFF files (stereo interleaved or split mono) are fine for mastering, and should be created at the native resolution of your multitrack record and mix sessions.  If, for example, you've recorded your project at a resolution of 24bit/96kHz, then print your mixes at that resolution as well.  The same is true for a project recorded at 16bit/44.1kHz or any resolution in between - the mix files should be at the resolution of the recording.

If you're planning to sell your record through the iTunes Music Store, providing me with mixes recorded at the project's native resolution allows me in turn to prepare high-resolution masters for Apple in compliance with their Mastered for iTunes guidelines. In this case, the mix files must be 24bit.

Converting your mix files to a sample rate or bit depth higher than that of the mix session will result only in larger file sizes, not higher fidelity.

And just in case it does not go without saying, MP3, AAC, and other lossy file formats are not suitable for mastering.


Loudness and Headroom

I've always enjoyed mixing into a compressor strapped across the stereo buss of my console or DAW.  I love the "glue" that buss compression can impart to my mixes - it's an important part of my toolkit.  If you like to work this way as well, more power to you - done well, a compressed mix can result in an terrific master.

On the other hand, limiting - especially when applied to a mix in order to make it LOUD - can be poison for mastering.  This is important to understand.  Not only can heavy limiting irretrievably crush the dynamic life out of your mix, the super-slammed levels it's commonly used to achieve these days often leave no room at all for mastering.  Using an L2 or similar to hype the level of a reference mix for your client is one thing, but you really don't want that extra processing on the mix file intended for mastering.  Ideally - and especially if you're working at 24bits - print your mixes with at least 3-6dB of headroom above its peaks.  And this does not mean to simply turn down the output of your mix buss signal chain before printing your mix - ideally you want to build this headroom into your mix from the start.  

Instead of a super-hot mix file with clipped and squared-off peaks like this:

Aim instead for a mix level that looks more like this:

With those clean and open peaks and all that headroom above, there's plenty of space for mastering EQ, compression and/or limiting to work their magic and help me create for you the best master possible. Even if what you're after is a loud master, it's so much easier to accomplish in a musical way if the starting point is an open and dynamic mix with plenty of headroom.


Housekeeping

The mastering process can often act as a kind of magnifying glass, making more apparent a lot of the nuance and details of a mix.  Unfortunately, if there are also any low-level noises, ticks, pops, hums, bad edits and the like in your mix, these will often be much more apparent after mastering as well.  It's good mix hygiene to go through your individual tracks and clean up as many of these gremlins as possible, even if you think it's stuff no one will ever hear.  You might be be surprised at the things mastering can reveal in a mix.

If possible, also try to leave a couple of seconds of silence in your files both before the beginning and after the end of your mix.

Useful information to provide for your session includes the correct spelling and punctuation of the artist's name, the album title, each of the song titles, and the album's correct running order or song sequence.  If you have any special requests regarding song spacings or crossfades, please let me know in advance.

Please also let me know in advance whether you plan on CD manufacture of your project, or if you intend it for online distribution only. If you're planning a CD release, please send me your ISRC Registrant Code in advance if you have one so that I can embed it into your project's CD manufacturing data (DDPi).  If you have not yet obtained a code for yourself (and I recommend all of my clients do), everything you need to know can be found at http://www.usisrc.org.


Lastly

Be ready. It sounds like a no-brainer, but the best advice I can give any client is to be sure that you're happy with your mixes. Mastering is not mixing, of course, and the ways in which mastering can "fix" a problematic mix are often pretty limited.  In a stereo mix, almost everything is interconnected to one degree or another, often making it difficult to act only upon individual elements of a song's arrangement.  EQ intended to enhance the crack of a snare drum, for example, may produce sibilance in the vocal track, or adversely affect the color of a guitar or keyboard.  Likewise a change intended for the bass guitar may also affect the kick drum, etc.

If there's an aspect of your mix that bothers you for any reason, trust me - fixing it prior to mastering will be well worth the time and effort, and will almost always be a simpler and more musical solution than what can be accomplished later.

Take the time to really nail your mix, and you will have taken the biggest step you can towards a happy mastering result.