GUIDE TO MIXING, EXPORTING AND SUBMITTING AUDIO FOR MASTERING



I have to start this guide by saying that these are all suggestions. The most important part of mastering preparation is that you’re happy with the mixes. The technical specifications below are not requirements, just designed to point you in the right direction if you’re curious.

Every project is different so don’t think of these as rules and experiment every chance you get. Some of these suggestions are for beginners, some for more experienced engineers. Please contact me if you have any questions or need to vent.
 

With that said, here are some ways to prepare your mixes for mastering.


MIXING
(If the mix is already finished skip down to exporting or delivery)

Mix to a specific loudness target (RMS or LUFS) and a specific maximum peak level. This keeps mix elements within a consistent range from track to track. All engineers have their own preferences when it comes to mix levels but I ask that digital peaks don’t exceed -1dBFS, lower if possible. Ideally, your mix should not exceed -14 LUFS. Its best to mix to this target from the beginning of a project as opposed to just lowering the master fader before export, though that’ll work. 

Make sure you can clearly hear the bass and kick drum. Sub and bass frequencies in the mix can quickly become a mess. To clear up this area (20hz - 160hz) try to high pass instruments that may be getting in the way at between 80hz and 160hz. Low mids (160hz - 400hz) are where many tonal instruments have their fundamental, so it’s usually overcrowded. If the mix sounds muddy use a parametric EQ to lower some of this region from instruments that won’t miss it.

Besides paying attention to lows, also be careful with sibilance which is most commonly a problem with vocals and cymbals. Try using a de-esser to tame those harsh sounds without making instruments sound dull. 

I have some great tools to adjust these areas, but if a lot of the instruments are sonically stacked it limits my options. If you’re having trouble with separation or masking, I’m always around to listen and help out.

And to finish up the mix section, be careful with your track beginnings and endings. Its not uncommon for me to receive a mix that ends with a cut-off cymbal decay or reverb tail, so leave at least a couple seconds of space at track starts and ends.

If you have specific track spacing needs, either create a spacing guide with timecodes or render a single track of the entire album with spacing included for me to follow. 



Be careful with the energy in the bass and low mid. Too much build up here can destroy your mix’s excitement, too little sounds thin.



EXPORTING

Most importantly, make sure to export your mixes in the highest resolution possible. My suggestion is to export as stereo WAV files in 24 bit. Any sample rate at or above 44.1kHz will work. The point is to export high resolution, uncompressed files.


This is a good time to make sure the audio is in no way clipping. It’s often nice to audition your mixes with a brickwall limiter across the master bus to get an idea of the finished sound, but always remove it before exporting finals. Also double check your sends and groups to make sure inserts have enough headroom. Many plugin emulations of hardware processors like to be fed signal within a specific range, so keep an eye on your gain staging.

And going off the last point its best to remove or minimize all master bus processing before exporting the mix. If there’s an effect on the master bus that the mix can’t live without its best to export two versions- one mix with the effect and another without. This way I can work to duplicate the effect and we can choose our favorite. This is mostly the case if you love a specific type of mix compression or saturation.


This mix has already been limited. You can tell quickly since drum hits are squared off and peak evenly. This seriously limits my ability to master the track, don’t do it! 

This one’s way better. The drum transients are varying in amplitude which lets me apply compression and limiting on my end. 


DELIVERY

If possible, I prefer digital file delivery over any physical media shipments. Compress all mixes into a .zip file to avoid possible file corruption. Make sure to clearly name the files (you’d be suprised) and only include the final mixes unless we’re auditioning effects.

Also please include a text file with the following:
- Artist name, track titles and album title (with exact spelling and capitalization you want encoded)
- Track order
- Any track spacing or fade notes you may have
- ISRC codes you’d like encoded with the files, if you have them
- Any other special instructions

I use a Google Drive business account but have Dropbox too. If you don’t want to become a member of either of those services, WeTransfer offers up to 2GB file transfers for free without signing up.


If you’ve mixed to a physical format (tape or cassette usually) and don’t have a high resolution digital capture device, I can accept most formats- just reach out and we can talk details.




















copyright 2019 Holy Tapes!
Photos by Greg Maka