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22/1/2014

10 Things to Check Before Sending Your Mix to a Mastering Engineer : AskAudio Magazine

10 Things to Check Before Sending Your Mix to a


Mastering Engineer
Paul Wickliffe on Jan 19, 2014 in MIXING MUSIC 0 comments

So, you've recorded, arranged and mixed your project... But, you're not finished yet. If you decide to send
your mix to be professionally mastered, here's 10 essential things to check first.

1 - Understand The Limitations Of Mastering


Mastering can improve overall fidelity, augment or diminish specific sonic aspects and punch-up the density with compression. However, as
most tracks are submitted as two-track stereo, any positive change for one aspect may negatively impact another. You may wish to hear
more ride cymbal, but it will also boost sibilance (the letter S) in the vocals. Changing the EQ of the mix will change the balance as well. In
order to submit mixes as close to the finished product as possible

2 - Compare your mix to the pros


Find CD quality audio from finished, commercial works that sound close to your ideal. Play your mix and the CD simultaneously and switch
back and forth while listening. Listen for spectral balance; is your mix brighter, boomy or muddy in comparison? Listen to the sound of each
instrument in solo and compare it to the pro recording. Use a moderate volume permitting you to carry on a conversation with someone
seated beside you without raising your voice.

3 - Use a full range, well balanced monitoring system


Just because you have a pair of NS-10 monitors, that doesnt mean you hear everything. You need a pair of neutral sounding un-hyped
speakers, preferably with a subwoofer to know everything in your mix. Make sure they are positioned at least three feet from the walls and
your room doesnt ring at certain frequencies. Listen while sweeping the Signal Generator plug-in to determine if some frequencies sound
louder than others. If there is unevenness, your mixes will likely reflect the inverse of the acoustic anomalies. If you cannot afford professional
grade speakers and acoustics, get a good pair of headphones with an extended (but not hyped) bottom end. Headphones are especially
good for checking your stereo imaging, as you should be able to locate where the sound appears in the stereo field.

4 - Use a phase meter on the stereo buss


Stereo means more than using two mics. You should be able to locate each sound in the stereo field. If it has no center or sounds like it is
behind you, it is likely out of phase. That may be a cool effect in headphones, but when you listen in mono, the sound disappears.
Remember 1 + (-1) = 0. If you have a piano or an acoustic guitar in stereo, panned wide, put the channels in solo then look at the phase
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22/1/2014

10 Things to Check Before Sending Your Mix to a Mastering Engineer : AskAudio Magazine

meter. Doing this will make sure your mix has the same balance in mono or stereo. Use plug-in Phase Scope in Pro-Tools.

Insert this Phasescope plug-in on the stereo buss.

The circle represents an oscilloscope with Lissajous patterns. You should expect the mix to be displayed around a vertical axis, meaning it
is well centered. A thin vertical line is mono. If you see any activity on the horizontal axis, something is out of phase. It will correspond to
events in the audio, so its pretty easy to see and hear whats causing it. If you hear a cymbal crash or stereo piano note at the same time
the horizontal axis flares up or the phase line at the bottom flies to the left, you have probably found the problem. Play the same section
again with that channel in solo to confirm it. Correct the phase by using a phase or micro delay plug or narrow your pan settings.

5 - Send the files in the maximum resolution used in the origin recording
If your multi-track session was a 24-bit / 48 kHz WAV or higher, render your mix file the same format and label it as such. If your CD will be
made from files of multiple sample rates, include an advisory of that or put them in separate folders. Do not master from an MP3 unless it is
all youve got.

6 - Do not use a Maximizer or Peak Limiter on the source files


Leave at least 2 to 3 dB headroom on the rendered file. You can mix with buss compression if you wish to hear its effects, but leave the final
compression off when rendering. Distortion in the source file is a bell that cannot be un-rung. Dont become a casualty in the loudness wars
(hint: we all lose).

7 - Clean but dont clip the head and tail


Leave at least 250 ms of dead air before the first note. Its good to have some ambiance before the song begins but remove any noise or
count-offs if you can. Leave a full ring out at the end, but remove any movement noise or amp buzz if you can. You will get a cleaner board
fade if the mastering engineer does it after the compression, just tell him where on the clock to start and end the fade.

8 - Have your text together


You need this for the master metadata: CD title, artist listing, song titles in order, UPC and ISRC codes, special index spacing and
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22/1/2014

10 Things to Check Before Sending Your Mix to a Mastering Engineer : AskAudio Magazine

examples of track crossfades. Titling information appears on CD players with alphanumeric displays, which will also work for radio
broadcasts. The ISRC codes are unique serial numbers assigned to each song, which are used for tracking airplay and digital distribution.
The UPC code is the bar code on your CD packaging necessary for most retail distribution. Please check all your spelling and grammar
because the mastering engineer must assume misspelling is intentional these days. Text will not show up on your computer or iTunes
unless the project has been registered at gracenote.com. US residents can get their own ISRC user code at usisrc.org

9 - Choose form of delivery you want


There are four common forms of master delivery: PMCD, DDP, WAV and Mastered for iTunes. A PMCD (pre-master compact disc) is a
playable CD from which an identical copy is made into a glass master for pressing CDs. I use top quality media, set a slow burn rate on the
CD burner and run an error check on the finished disk. I make two identical disks in one package so that if theres a microscopic flaw in one
disk, it is highly unlikely to occur in the same place twice. The box also contains PQ codes (printout of mastering data). A DDP master
(Disk Description Protocol) formats the master as a folder of digital files, one long continuous stereo file of the entire CD and four smaller
files, which contain text and timing information. Its used to send masters to pressing plants halfway around the world via the Internet. WAV
files are simply 44.1 kHz / 16 WAV files from which MP3s are made by distribution services like CD Baby. Mastering for iTunes uses their
own codec (conversion software) to render superior fidelity and dynamic range for mp3s. See: http://www.apple.com/itunes/mastered-foritunes/

10 - Leave sufficient lead time to get a reference disk and / or master


You want to hear the finished product before you press and want to keep a spare master on hand because the plants dont often return your
master when the are done.

mastering, mastering mix, mastering tips, mixing, mixing and mastering, mixing music,
limiter, phase

Paul Wickliffe
More articles by this author
Professional recording engineer since 1976. President, Chief Engineer and Founder of Skyline Studios, New York City 1978 - 1994 and Skyline
Productions 1995 - currently. Nominated for 1986 Grammy for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. Recorded, mixed, mastered and or produced
over one thousand CD / LP projects (a partial lis... Read More

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