If you’re a budding musician, you may be wondering what to do now that you’ve finished the hard work on your track. You may already know that the next logical step once you’ve finished your track is to send if off for mastering. This is much easier said than done. A lot of musicians aren’t aware of how exactly to prepare their tracks for mastering. It takes a little more effort than just downloading a file and emailing it to your buddy down the street. Mastering is a complicated art that requires years of technical skills to get just right.
What is Mastering?
If you think you have a vague idea of what mastering is but aren’t exactly sure, we’re here to help. Mastering is the process of taking a track and preparing it for distribution, commercial use, or to just be listened to you by your friends.
Mastering involves a whole lot of technical details and processes including evening out the levels of your track, optimizing playback across all systems and media formats, and compressing the track so it doesn’t take forever to load. Using an audio master engineer with a master studio is an essential step in the master process and creating a complete track that is ready to be played on the radio, uploaded to the Internet or sent off to record companies.
You’re probably thinking, “Okay, great, so I need to master my track, but how do I do that?” Below are easy tips for preparing your tracks for mastering and things you need to do before you send your audio file out to a professional master who will have a dynamic range of skills and master equipment in his master studio in order to make the very best of your recording.
Remove Master Bus Compression, Limiting, and Equalization
A lot of people may be tempted to use a special processor, online master, or plug-in to pre-master their tracks and get a better sound. This may seem like a good idea at first and you may even think that it’s going to be helpful when you send your track out to get mastered—think again.
Adding master bus compression, limiting and equalization to your tracks before you send them to get mastered can make it extremely difficult or even impossible for the mastering engineer, also known as a music master, to correctly master your song. You really don’t want to make these people’s jobs any more difficult than they already are, so resist the urge to pre-master your track. Leave it to the professionals instead.
Get Rid of any Noise on Your Tracks
When your audio file track is mastered using the latest in digital technology, it basically gets a whole lot clearer and louder. This means that even the slightest imperfections or background noise is going to be very noticeable after it gets mastered.
Do your mastering engineer and your musical integrity a favor by ensuring that you’ve removed every last trace of background noise and reverb on your track before you send it off to get mastered.
Make Sure Your Track is Clean and Dynamic
Another thing you should make sure you do before you send your track off for mastering is cleaning it up and adding dynamic features. Reduce frequency buildups that only detract from the main focus of your song, because these buildups only make your sound unclear and muddy. You can also try using low-pass filters on instruments and vocals with low frequency to help reduce the frequency buildups there. Also, make sure your track is as dynamic as possible, never overuse compression which can take your song from great to blah and make it difficult for the mastering engineer to create the best master possible.
High-Resolution Files Are the Best
This one should be obvious, but a lot of people new to the mastering game don’t realize that you can’t just send any file to your mastering engineer. Mastering engineers require high-resolution files to work with, preferably 24bit. .WAV or .AIF files. Make sure the files you send are non-compressed and not converted so that your mastering engineer can have a wide range of options to work with. Of course, it’s not impossible to master files that aren’t high resolution but you won’t be getting the best bang for your buck and the final quality of your track will suffer.
Don’t Get Too Fancy
Adding fades, crossfades, or spaces in your track is a no-go when it comes time to send it off to get mastered. You don’t have to worry about impressing the mastering engineer or showing off your subpar pre-mastering skills. That’s what the mastering engineers are there to do and that’s what they are trained for, so just let them do their jobs.
They will add song fades for you as well as spaces and they’ll probably sound a lot better than anything you could come up with in your basement. If you have a vision for things like fades and spaces in your track, you can let your engineer know and they will incorporate it for you.
Make a List of Notes and Song References
Just like you can let your mastering engineer know if you want fades or spaces in specific places, you can also let them know of other specific details you have in mind. A lot of artists know what specific sound they want the mastering of their track to achieve, including things like equalization and compression. Make a note of these things and send it to your mastering engineer to make sure you both are on the same page.
It also greatly helps mastering engineers if you compile a list of songs in your genre that have the same feel and sound you want your song to have. This way your mastering engineer has a list of reference points and your notes to be able to create a truly customized mastering for your track. Putting together these materials and having an in-depth discussion with your mastering engineer about your vision can reduce revision times and unnecessary back and forth.
Choose the Right Person to Master Your Track
The last thing you need to keep in mind when preparing your track for mastering is finding the right mastering engineer. While your buddy from high school may master as a side business in his basement during his free time, he may not have the right equipment or years of training it takes to create a unique and professional mastering.
Mastering is an extremely important part of getting your track ready for the world and potential record companies to hear. You always want to put your best foot forward and have a highly-skilled professional work on your track. If this means shelling out a few extra bucks and turning your friend’s offer down, then it’s worth it for a track that sounds and feels exactly how you want it to.