So you have your mix exactly the way you want it to sound. Now you just need those final touches and that overall enhancement of the mix to become radio ready. As you may know, we do this through a process called mastering.
Check out our Mastering Page for a few more details on Mastering Music. From that page you can also purchase our services if you just need mastering.
What is the goal in this preparations?
Sending off the correct level of your mix. When sending your mix for mastering, it is important that you are not already slamming the master bus. Mastering a track involved expanding the mix using compression, limiting, a little EQ, and other tools that will increase the volume. If you do not leave any room for the song to expand, the mastering process can run into problems.
First scenario is that you hold back the mastering engineer. They may get the mix sounding a little bit better, and maybe just a little bit louder, but not the huge radio ready sound you were expecting.
Second scenario is the engineer pushes the process anyways and it doesn’t sound good. If we push too hard on a mix that is already too loud, sounds can distort, frequencies can cancel out, and peak dynamics can sort of muffle.
If you want that awesome mix to sound loud and radio ready, leave room for the expansion and polishing to work.
So where do we want is and how do we adjust the mix?
When playing your mix, take a look at the master fader for your session. Is it peaking above nominal level (0 db) or even clipping?
When we bounce our final mix to have it mastered, we want to see the master bus peaking around -6 db. Peaks as high as -3 db will be alright as well, but anything higher is risky business.
We have two ways we can go about doing this. The first way we will go over is less common. It is less common for reasons we will go over in the second approach.
- Let’s start off by selecting all the tracks in the mix. Do no select any auxiliary tracks or master faders for sub groups/master bus- just the audio tracks.
- With these tracks selected, go to the Track Menu and select ‘Group’ or you can press Command + G on your keyboard. Name the group ‘whole song.’
- Go ahead and select Mix/Edit group and also make sure ‘Follow Globals’ is selected as well.
- If you aren’t already in the Mix Window, go there by pressing Command + = on your keyboard.
- Press play on your mix and watch the master fader’s level. Grab one of the faders and slowly pull it down until the master bus is peaking in our desired range.
Notice that when you pulled down one, they all went down together. This has gain-staged the levels on the master bus at the beginning of their mixing signal chain.
Why can’t I just lower the Master Fader?
When you lower the master fader, you are not lowering the signals being sent to the master bus, you are lowering the volume of the master bus. Unfortunately there is a difference when it comes to finalizing your mix. But fortunately the solutions are as simple as this tutorial.
I tried this and a lot of the faders keep shooting back up. Whats the big idea?
This brings us to our second method of gain staging the master bus. The first approach we went over here only works if your tracks have no automation. The automation is written to pull the fader up when it plays through. The first method we went over only works if you have no automation on the track which is why we mentioned it being less common.
So lets talk about what we can do differently.
- Create the same group setup as in the first approach but this time we will not be pulling faders down
- click the small arrow to the lower left the title of any track in the group and all the tracks should reveal a parameter attached to it.
- The new parameter will likely be set to ‘volume’, change the selection to volume trim. You should see all the regions turn grey. A horizontal yellow line on each track will appear representing their volume level.
Now hold the the command button and lower any of the yellow lines. You will notice them all going down together trimming the volume of every track without moving any of the fader which are automated.
I recommend bringing your master fader up to your bottom audio track so you can watch the peaks on the master bus while you make adjustments.
Now when you play the song, non of your fader automation will effect your gain staging. Once you get your master bus to our target level of -6 to -3 db, go ahead and print your track. Once you have that, you’re ready to send off your mix to be mastered.