How To Prepare Your Music To Be Mastered

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How To Prepare Your Music To Be Mastered

If you've been on our website lately, you might have noticed a few new functions. The first was a brand new BEATGASM playlist to the side of posts and our home page, bringing you summer influenced dance music while you browse our site. The second is a new feature called "Master Your Track," which sits at the top of our website and leads to LANDR.

The mastering service makes the final process of creating and bringing your music to the world that much easier, and we've teamed up with them to bring aspiring producers the extra edge they need to get labels and other artists to pay attention. LANDR boasts instant results at a fraction of the cost, and below they've given us some tips on mastering and best practices for their system.

THE THING ABOUT DYNAMICS AND MASTERING

Mixes that are dynamic and have a lot of transient activity sound better, punchier, groovier, less fatiguing, more interesting, and exciting to the ear.

Leaving room for dynamics in your mixes is easy — the key is understanding transients and headroom.

WHAT ARE TRANSIENTS?

Transients are the attack portion of a sound. It’s what gives a snare its crack, or a kick its slap or thump. They are the lifeblood of punch and groove, and are necessary if you want your music to really hit people in the chest instead of flopping over them like a wet cardboard box.

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An example of a transient. Note the attack (initial hit) and decay

And here’s the same hit, this time slammed with compression.

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A great example of a track with no dynamic left

WHAT IS HEADROOM AND HOW CAN IT HELP A MASTER?

Headroom in a mix can be summed up simply as the physical space left for the mastering process.

Here’s a track with very little headroom left. In a nutshell this means that there is little to no room left for the mastering process.

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A track without headroom

And here’s the same track mixed with lots of headroom. Notice how much space there is to work.

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A track with ample headroom

HOW CAN I MAKE ENOUGH HEADROOM FOR A LANDR MASTER?

The trick here is to record and mix at sensible levels. Best practice is to have your peak levels hit around -6dB on your track or master faders. Any higher and you risk clipping, which can sound pretty terrible in digital.

Notice how the level on the master fader is peaking around -6dB

Peak-at-6dBFS

The DON’T CLIP RULE

The most common problem is mixing too hot and then putting a limiter on the master bus to keep things from clipping. While a limiter might keep the overload lights from turning on, it’s still harming your dynamics by reducing all your nice transient peaks into the dynamic equivalent of Death Valley.

One problem we see a lot with LANDR masters are mixes crushed with a limiter and the master fader pulled down to achieve the suggested 6dB of headroom. This is cheating and you will get caught.

I say this because a master fader lowers the gain after it hits the limiter, not before. The damage is already done at this point.

What’s the solution?

Don’t worry about making things loud at the mix stage by adding all kinds of compression and limiting. Just concentrate on making your mixes sound the best you can and leave the “loudnessing” to the mastering stage.

You wouldn’t cook a pizza and then cook it again. So it also doesn’t make sense to master your track and then send it off to be mastered.

Proper-mix-levels

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Example of a mix with plenty of headroom below.

WHAT ARE THE BEST FILE FORMATS TO SUBMIT TO LANDR?

Always send the best possible version to be mastered. Export your track as either WAV or AIFF in the same sample rate and bit depth as your session.

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If you need mp3’s or any other lossy file format for distribution, wait until you have your final mastered track and generate them from that. Don’t send an mp3 (or m4a or ogg or wma) to be mastered. 16 bits can get a bit noisy when you start adding up a lot of tracks. Always use 24 bits. There’s no real reason not to. It’s exceedingly good for any application.

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Leave dithering for the mastering stage

SAMPLE RATES AND MASTERING

Sample rate is a bit less clear. There’s lots of arguments about what’s good, bad, and ok with no clear winners. Lots of great sounding records have been recorded at 44.1kHz. Using higher sample rates are fine, but make sure your computer can handle the additional strain.

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The higher the CPU, the harder your computer has to work.

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Example of high CPU because of a session at 96kHz

If you know what your final output needs to be, make sure to work at the appropriate sample rate and avoid unnecessary conversion step at the end. For instance CD=44.1kHz, Video=48kHz, Spotify/Soundcloud= Sample rate doesn’t matter.

We hope these are helpful and best of luck with your masters. You can always contact support@landr.com for advice and feedback.

Original Post: LANDR Blog

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