Mastering Tips Introduction - Getting Our Minds Right Before Mixing and Mastering Home Recordings
As with many things, people often start their journey to gain knowledge on a topic with an error in logic, or at least a mistaken assumption. This is certainly true in the case of the mixing and mastering of home recordings. With songs mixing, the initial error that is made, is that many home recording artists strive to duplicate what they are hearing in their favorite releases by their favorite established artists.
The reason this is a mistake to approach songs mixing this way is that what they are listening to on their favorite recordings is not actually a songs mixing. It is in fact, a mix that has been through the mastering process. You see, the sound of a mix and the sound of a mastered mix are very different. Trying to copy the sound of a mastered song in the mixing phase is not only a waste of time, it will damage the quality of the recording if and when it is mastered.
Mastering Tips for Better Songs Mixing in the Home Recording Studio
Explanation of Tip 2: Your mixing needs to be relatively quiet because it must leave room ("headroom") for the primary goal of the mastering process, which is to raise the overall average volume of a mix. In other words, mastering makes the volume relatively consistent throughout the song. This makes the mastered version of the song "seem" louder and punchier.
The mastering engineer does this by using a variety of compressors. He or she sets "thresholds" to prevent volume spikes and also compresses and sets thresholds on specific frequencies.
Think of these thresholds, created with compression and/or compressed EQ, as a "ceiling," and a "floor," which creates a "container" that volume and frequencies must live in. This container prevents the master recording from peeking over "zero" or dipping too low on the output volume. Therefore, we must provide a "quiet" mix for the mixing and mastering process so there is enough headroom for these tasks. Otherwise, the mix's journey through the mastering phase will risk pinched, choked or distorted sound.
The next few song mixing tips are related. As a group the following three tips represent a real opportunity for home recording artists to remove much of the frustration from the song mixing process and will greatly decrease the time spent songs mixing.
(Normalization is the term for evening out the natural volume differences within a song between its sections. i.e. verse, chorus, bridge etc.) Leave this to the mastering process.
Explanation for mastering tips 3, 4 and 5: Get your levels between instruments and/or vocals the way you want them. Do not get bogged down attempting to achieve absolutely perfect separation between your various sounds. Concentrate on the most obvious EQ traffic jams and make minor EQ adjustments to address the worst areas.
You Must Trust the Mastering Process
It is important to provide a mix for mastering that has a full but natural, frequency range. The high end, mid range, and/or bass frequencies should not be severely boosted, or stripped, of their natural frequencies.
Remember, your songs mixing is not meant to sound like a master. A good mix should even sound a little flat or dull compared to a typical mastered song. Your low mid range may even sound a little muddled or indistinct but you must resist the temptation of agonizing for hours attempting to achieve perfect separation between your sounds. This is especially important for the home recording artist.
If you have recorded each of your tracks well, then realize that all the frequencies that the mastering engineer will need are there. The song mixing process uses very specific tools that are able to target and pinpoint exact frequencies in order to boost or de-emphasize them as is needed.
The mastering process will also take care of the wide separation and stereo image we all desire. A mix that is overly equalized just uses up headroom. Let the sounds and tracks of your mix arrive to the mastering process in a relatively natural state.
We must let the mastering process put most of the gloss and shine on our mixes.
If you allow yourself to understand and truly trust the mastering process, your reward will be significant and profound. You will be able to remove most of the tweaking and re-tweaking of EQ, and chasing minuscule adjustments there that are so frustrating and discouraging to many home recording artists.
You will be able to re-focus your efforts on your creativity and the actual performances you capture to your recorded tracks. Your recording sessions will simply be a matter of laying well played tracks, that arrive in the recording software with healthy volumes, balance and minor eq adjustments and finally, a well exported final mix to a WAV or AIFF stereo file, ready for the songs mixing process.