Getting Ready to Master Your Home Recording - dummies

By Jeff Strong

When mastering your music, you can save yourself a ton of time and energy if you keep a few things in mind during the mixing stage. When you’re wearing your Mixing Master hat, the following reminders can make the mastering process go a bit more smoothly:

  • Check your levels. Listen to your mix quietly, and you can tell whether one instrument stands out too much in the mix. Also, burn a CD of your mixed song to test on other systems (your car, a boom box, or your friend’s stereo system).

    Listen carefully. If the bass drum is even slightly too loud, it eats up the headroom of the rest of the instruments, and you can’t get the volume of the song very high.

  • Check your EQ. Even though the mastering engineer EQs the entire song, make sure that you spend the time getting each instrument EQ’d as best as you can in the mix. If you don’t get your EQ just right during the mixing process and the bass guitar sound, for example, is muddy and needs to be EQ’d during mastering, you lose some of the low end on all the instruments.

    This makes your mix sound thin. If your bass is EQ’d properly in the first place, you don’t have to make this adjustment to the entire mix.

  • Test your mix in mono (turn off the stereo panning on your master bus). This helps you hear whether any instrument’s volume or tonal characteristics are seriously out of balance with others.

  • Apply compression to your mix before you record the 2-track mix just to see what your music sounds like compressed. Don’t record the compression, though. Leave that for the mastering engineer. By testing your mix with some compression, you may hear whether certain instruments are too loud in the mix because this becomes more apparent when the mix is compressed.

  • Listen for phase holes. Phase holes occur when you record an instrument (for example, piano or backup vocals) in stereo and the two tracks are out of phase. To listen for phase holes, pay attention to how the instrument sounds in the stereo field.

    You have a phase hole if you hear sound coming only from the far right and far left and nothing seems to be coming from the center of the stereo field. If you have this problem, just reverse the phase on one of the two channels for that instrument.

Even though a lot can be done to your music in the mastering stage, don’t rely on mastering to fix problems in your mix. Get your music to sound as good as you can during mixing. If you do this, the mastering engineer has an easier job and can make your music sound even better. If you don’t, you’re stuck with a bunch of compromises in the mastering stage.