Mastering Top Ten Checklist

  1. During mixdown, be aware of where your instrument’s frequencies overlap. Pulling out a guitar may well destroy the vocal. Hiding a bass drum will affect the bass guitar. Go to your mastering session with the knowledge that at this stage of the chain, almost everything is a compromise. That’s not to say it can’t sound better - it usually does - just that we’re going for an overall sound at this point rather than fine-tweaking a single instrument. Open up your ears to the bigger picture and don’t get hung up on particular instruments.

      Vocals that are sharp or flat, instruments that are not in tune, bad EQ of some critical instrument or voice, distortion, outside noises and off tempo rhythms are difficult (or impossible) to correct in the mastering room. Better to go back and remix the track to get them perfect before coming to the mastering session.

      Make your mix sound open and as good as possible in the room you’re mixing in. If necessary, go with any dodgy studio acoustics. Mastering is about trying to get music to sound good wherever it gets played so don’t attempt to do all this while you’re mixing; just concentrate on the mix and we’ll attempt to fix the room responses afterwards.

  2. DO NOT “finalize”, limit or compress the entire mix when mixing. This almost always sounds bad when applied at this point, especially if you are unsure of your monitoring. If mixing to a digital recorder, do not normalize to O DBFS. In fact, don’t normalize at all and peak your tracks at -6 DBFS instead of 0 DBFS. Leave the mastering engineer some room to work.

  3. Don’t trim your files too tight at the beginning and end. Mastering engineers like to hear the countoffs and we like to do the fadeouts. Whenever possible, make a digitally identical A and B file on two different optical discs when mixing. Bring or send both A and B discs to us and keep a C (digital safety copy) at home.

  4. Know which mixes you like best and you want to start with, but be open-minded about using another mix if it fits the album better. Always bring or send the most original material (earliest mixdown generation) to the mastering session, even if we’re going to work from copies or compiled copies, having the original material around can save the day for a number of reasons.

  5. Have a mastering budget in mind that allows you to relax. Ask in advance how many hours we think it will take, how much per hour we will be charging and how we want to be paid. Understand however, that until we hear your material, we will not be able to give you an exact estimate, but we know from experience how long it “normally” takes. Also realize that the more changes you make, the longer the session will take. Don’t do a session if you only have enough money for two hours and try to get everything done in that period of time. The rush to “get it done” will cost you more in the end. Also, be prepared to pay for the service after we are done unless other arrangements have been agreed upon ahead of time.

  6. If attending in person, get some sleep and be relaxed for the mastering session so you’re on the case when you need to be. Don’t make your ears bleed the night before, by staying up all night listening to heavy metal records. Get some sleep instead. Eat some food before the session, but not right before, as it may make you sleepy. Be calm. This is critical listening time. The idea here is not to do any mastering session when you are tired or not in peak condition. If you have a cold or allergies, your hearing might not be the best for the session.

  7. Documentation, Documentation, Documentation. It is highly desirable and saves time if you have all your audio files correctly labeled. Bring or send any paperwork we will need to identify the songs you want mastered. This includes things like all dates, starred and circled takes, test tones, names and types of machinery/equipment used and reasons for the alternate takes, etc. Be specific... don’t just list tracks as “alternate mix”, but rather “alternate mix with guitar solo up after the bridge” and notes such as “this is not the preferred take” and why. Have any copyright problems resolved before the mastering session and don’t put yourself or the mastering engineer at risk by bringing in copyrighted material that is not your own.

  8. Trust your mastering engineer! They have made many more albums than you have. Talk to them about how you perceive your music, how you want it to sound, what deficiencies you would like to correct (if possible), the general feel you want to convey and what it is you expect from the mastering session. Be fair in your expectations, yet don’t be reluctant to ask questions and tell us exactly what you want (if you know what you want), even if you end up using adjectives that don’t exist in dictionaries. NOW is the time to discuss your concerns, not after the session is completed, two weeks have elapsed, all the material is off the computer and all the settings have to be redone. You are paying the mastering engineer for their expertise but you are the one who is paying the bill and has to be pleased with the results.

  9. Bring or send some well done examples of other material that you want your songs to sound like and discuss them with the mastering engineer. If attending in person, take a little time (at least ten minutes) before you start the session, to listen on the mastering monitor system because it WILL sound different from the one(s) you recorded and/or normally listen on. After listening to something familiar, don’t ask the mastering engineer to “make it sound like that” if your mixes bear absolutely no relation to it in the first place. We can do amazing things during mastering, but we can’t do complete 96 channel automated remixes, let alone re-record your album.

  10. If attending in person, please be on time for the session.

P.S. If there is a problem with the mastered CD-R after the session, let us know of the problem but do it in a professional way. The whole idea behind mastering is to get you a superior product for replication. Good communication is the most important thing between a client and a mastering engineer. Don’t blow it. Let us know what you perceive to be wrong, where it is on the CD-R, what kind of system you listened to it on when you heard it, what you think might have caused it and how you want it corrected. If it is something in the mixdown or beyond the control of the mastering engineer to fix, then ask us help in fixing it. Mistakes and problems happen. Work together to find a solution... don’t become part of the problem. Mastering is supposed to be fun and exciting, not tedious and nerve racking. So have fun and let ’er rip.

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