GUIDE TO MIXING, EXPORTING AND SUBMITTING AUDIO FOR MASTERING


I want to be sure to start this guide by saying that these are all only suggestions. When mixing yourself or in a studio on a budget not all of these might be possible. Also, every project is different so don’t think of these as rules.
With that said here are some ways to prepare your mixes for mastering and submitting audio.


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 peaks don’t exceed -3dBFS, lower if possible. 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 in a pinch.

Make sure you can clearly hear the bass and kick drum. These are areas that can become a mess very quickly. To clear up subs and bass (20hz - 160hz) try to high pass instruments that may be getting in the way at between 90hz and 180hz. Low mids (160hz - 400hz) are where many tonal instruments have their fundamental, so it is usually overcrowded. If the mix sounds muddy use a parametric EQ to dip some of this region from instruments that won’t miss it.
I have some great tools to adjust these areas, but if there are a lot of instruments sonically stacked it limits my options.

These are the most problematic areas for DIY engineers and project studios. If you’re having trouble with bass + low mids there are countless YouTube tutorials that focus on “punchy low end” or something like that you can check out.


Besides paying attention to lows, also be careful with your track beginnings and endings. Its not uncommon for me to receive a mix with a cut off cymbal decay at the end, so try to leave a second or two of space at the starts and ends.  I like to build fades and set track gaps here so don’t worry about that. But on the more creative side, it’s helpful to consider varying the ways that songs end.  For instance when each song on an album ends with a sustained chord + crash cymbal it can affect the album’s flow.


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 always export as stereo WAV files, ideally in 24 bit. Any sample rate at or above 44.1kHz will work. The point is to export high resolution, uncompressed files.


Also its very important 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.

And going off the last point its best to remove or minimize all master bus processing before exporting the mix. I have a collection of truly amazing analog hardware processors, and using them is one of the highlights of my job. 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 compressor’s sound or a type of 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

For many reasons 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. Also include a text file with exact spellings and correct capitalization for tracks, the artist/band name and the album title. Include the track order and any ISRC codes you’d like encoded to the files as well.

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


All that said, if you’ve mixed to a physical format (Tape, Cassette, CD) and don’t have a high fidelity digital capture device, I can accept most formats- just reach out and we can talk details.