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Whether you are going to master your music yourself or decide to hire a mastering engineer, here are some mixing tips to help you get the most out of your mastering session. Don't over-EQ when mixing. A mix is over-EQ'd when it has big spikes in the frequency response as a result of trying to make one or more instruments fit better together. This might make the mix tear your head off, because it's too bright or has a huge and unnatural sounding bottom. Listen to an example of a mix where the cymbals are way too bright, so it makes the entire mix sound bright as a result.
(music playing) In general, mastering engineers can do a better job for you if your mix is on the dull side rather than too bright. Listen to this example of a dull mix. (music playing) Now listen to the same mix after it's been brightened.
(music playing) Likewise, it's better to be light on the bottom end than to have too much. Don't over-compress when mixing. Over-compression means that you have added so much mix-bus compression that the mix has robbed off of all of its life. You can tell that a mix has been over compressed not only by its sound, but by the way its waveform is flat lined on the digital audio workstation timeline.
You might as well not enough master if you squash the recording too much already in the mix, since an over compressed mix deprives the mastering engineer of one of his major abilities to help your project. Squash it for your friends and squash it for your clients, but leave some dynamics for your mastering engineer. Here's an example of a mix that's been over compressed. (music playing) Here is a mix that hasn't been over compressed and will give the mastering engineer more flexibility.
Take notice when the level is a lot lower. (music playing) Check your phase when mixing. It can be a real shock when you begin to master only to find out that the lead singer disappears from the mix because something is out of phase when you listen in mono. Even though this was more of a problem in the days of Vinyl and AM Radio, it's still an important point.
Since many so-called stereo sources such as television broadcast or FM radio are either pseudo-stereo or stereo only part of the time. Check it and fix it if necessary before you get there. Here is an example of a mix that's out of phase in stereo. (music playing) And this is what it sounds like in mono. (music playing) If you are making a vinyl record or CD, know the song sequence.
Sequencing, or the tune order on the CD or the Vinyl record, is especially important and making this list before hand will save you money and mastering time. Many engineers and producers have the mistaken impression that once the final mix is finished, it's off to the mastering studio. There needs to be one additional session known as a sequencing session, where you do any additional editing that's required and listen to the various sequence possibilities. This is really important if you were releasing in multiple formats such as CD and vinyl in different countries or territories, since they may require a different song order due to the two sides of the record.
Having the levels match between songs is not important. Matching levels between songs is one of the main reasons you master your mixes. Just make you mixes sound great and the difference between the levels and songs will be fixed during the mastering process. Getting hot mix levels is not important. Print your mixes at slightly lower overall levels, and leave it to the mastering engineer to get the hot levels. A good practice is to print the mixes as with peaks reaching -10 dB or so. Having some headroom will allow you to make up the gain in the mastering process using better sounding compressors and limiters.
Here is a before and after example of the differences between level in a mix and a master. (music playing) Watch your fades. If you trim the heads and tails of your track too tightly, you might discover that you've trimmed a reverb tail or essential attack or breath.
Leave a little room and perfected in mastering where you'll probably hear things better. Here is an example of a fade that's been cut too tight, so it cuts off the reverb tail. (music playing) Try using a fade that sound something more like this. (music playing) Alternate mixes can be your friend. A vocal up, vocal down, or instrument only mix can be a lifesaver when mastering.
Things that aren't apparent while mixing sometimes jump right out during mastering and having an alternate mix available can sometimes provide a quick fix and keep you from having to remix. You can master from those alternate versions or even edit between the versions if necessary. For instance, editing the courses from the vocal up mix into the original mix if you find that the course vocals where mixed too low originally. Make sure you document things properly with through notes for your mastering engineer with the clear file naming convention. You can always ask the person doing your mastering what file naming conventions he or she prefers.
We'll look deeper into alternate mixes in an upcoming video. In order to get the most out of mastering, it's important to always keep mastering in mind during the mixing process. Following these points will result in a better product and make your mastering session run a lot smoother.
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