Ends Today: Problem Solving Sale | Shop Now »

How To Prepare a Mix For Mastering? 10 Steps to Your Next Release

Feb 15, 2024

Applying those final touches to get your next mix project ready for mastering? Follow these steps to make sure you get the most out of your masters.

How To Prepare a Mix For Mastering? 10 Steps to Your Next Release

Just because your mix sounds finished, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ready to be mastered. Whether you’re mastering your own music, using an AI-powered online mastering service such as Waves Online Mastering, or handing your precious project over to a mastering engineer, there’s a few stages to consider beforehand to ensure your masters come out as professional and as polished as possible.

Waves Online Mastering - Try for free

In this article, we’ll be breaking down how you can prepare your mix for mastering, but if you’re still at the mixing stage it’s worth checking out our Tricks of the Mix blog section for endless inspiration on how to improve your mix.

In This Article…

1. Check Your Premaster Requirements

2. Reference Against Other Tracks

3. Reference on a Range of Playback Devices

4. Make Any Necessary Adjustments

5. Check Mono Compatibility

6. Apply Mix Buss Processing

7. Remove Master Buss Processing

8. Check Mix Headroom

9. Export Your Premaster

10. Check Your Premaster

Before we take a look at how you can ensure your mix is ready for mastering, it’s worth making sure you first understand what mastering is, and why it’s important for your music.

1. Check Your Premaster Requirements

Before you do anything else on this list, you need to know what you’re aiming for in your premaster. Each mastering engineer has their own preferences as to what file format, sample rate and bit depth they like to work with. The same goes for headroom. Find out what’s best from your engineer of choice, and be prepared to supply it as they like it!

Checking your premaster requirement

If in doubt, or if you’re mastering your own music, export a WAV file with the same settings as your DAW project. Generally, that will be a bit depth of 16 or 24-bit, and a sample rate of 44.1kHz – or likely 48kHz if you’re working with audio for film or TV.

If you’re using an online mastering service like Waves Online Mastering, you can follow the user guide to ensure your premaster meets the file format and loudness requirements. Whichever way you’re mastering your music, you shouldn’t apply any dithering, as this falls within the remit of mastering.

Now we know what our end goal is, we can carry on with the rest of our premaster checklist.

2. Reference Against Other Tracks

If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to reference your mix against as many other similar productions as possible. The goal here isn’t to copy other artists’ mixes, but instead to use them as an anchoring point for your ears. Chances are that by now, you’ve listened to your mix for hours on end and you might have lost sight of how your mix should really sound.

Reference against other mixed tracks

Not only that, but you can ensure that your mix will hold up against other professionally mixed and mastered tracks when played alongside them on streaming services, on the radio or in a bar or club. Don’t forget to level match the reference tracks with your own mix, thus avoiding assuming that the louder track sounds better due to loudness bias.

As you listen, make notes on where you think you might be able to tweak your mix. Is the low end lacking? Are the hi-hats too harsh or is that snare just too loud? As well as listening to your mix, you can use analysis tools such as PAZ Analyzer to really compare certain elements of your mix such as tonal balance and stereo width. If mix referencing is a totally new concept to you, check out this beginner’s guide here.

3. Reference on a Range of Playback Devices

For the same reason that you should reference your mix against other tracks, it’s important to check your mix on various playback devices too. Better still, combine points two and three and check several reference tracks on several different playback systems for maximum reference points.

Reference on a range of playback devices

While you may have produced and mixed your track on a pair of decent studio monitors, that’s not how the rest of the world will consume your music. More likely, they’ll be listening to your finished production on a laptop, earpods, a car stereo, bluetooth speaker or other consumer-grade audio device. For that reason, it’s important to listen to your mix on as many of these devices as possible to get a feel for how it translates.

Listening on headphones might help you to identify an issue with the stereo field, or a car stereo might point to an overwhelming low end. Again, make notes as you listen to your mix and reference tracks. This 5-Step Mix Referencing Method is a great way to make sure you’ve covered every base when referencing your mixes.

4. Make Any Necessary Adjustments

You should now be armed with a list of tweaks for your mix that help bring it more in line with other similar tracks, or will help it to translate to all-manner of playback devices more coherently. Now is your last opportunity to make any changes to individual tracks within your mix. Beyond this point, you’ll be working with your stereo mix buss as a whole.

Make any necessary adjustments to your mix before mastering

Hopefully you’ll only have to make minor adjustments to your mix at this stage, but you may need to apply more drastic changes in some cases. Either way, don’t be afraid to loop back round to steps two and three, and rinse and repeat until you’re 100% happy with your mix.

5. Check Mono Compatibility

While this next step technically falls down to the mastering engineer to check, if they discover an issue with your mix’s mono compatibility at the mastering stage, they’ll be forced to remedy the issue across the entire stereo mix. This might have negative implications for other elements of your track that aren’t responsible for the mono incompatibility.

Check for mono compatibility

If you discover such a problem before sending your mix off to be mastered, you have the opportunity to identify the specific cause of the issue and fix it on the individual channel, therefore leaving the other channels intact. These 7 Tips for Mono Compatibility in a Stereo Mix will help you to make sure your mix is mono-friendly throughout the frequency spectrum.

6. Apply Mix Buss Processing

Depending on your mixing approach, you might already have some mix buss processing applied while you’re mixing. This chapter from the Start Mixing with Plugins course explains how applying some basic buss processing at the start of your mix may help you to mix each element in context. In that case, you can skip onto step seven.

Apply Mix Buss Processing

If you haven’t already been mixing into some buss processing, you might decide to apply some subtle processing now in order to gel the entire mix together into a more cohesive composition. Generally, this might involve applying some gentle glue compression, saturation, or colorful EQ in order to shape the overall tone of the mix and add some character. Check out these 8 Mix Buss Compression Tips for more inspiration.

7. Remove Master Buss Processing

It’s possible that while referencing your track or exporting a previous rough master, you’ve applied some master processing such as EQ, compression or limiting. As you’re now going to be handing the baton over to a mastering service or mastering engineer, you’ll need to remove or at least bypass those processes.

If you supply a mix that has already had the dynamics excessively squashed with compression and brickwall limiting, your mastering service or engineer will have limited scope to improve the quality of dynamic range and overall loudness of your track. For that reason, it’s best to leave those steps for the mastering process stage.

8. Check Mix Headroom

If you’re following this premaster checklist thoroughly, you will know by now how loud you should be exporting your mix ready for mastering. In the case of Waves Online Mastering, your mix should be peaking between -2dBFS and -4dBFS, with an RMS of around -15dBFS. This ensures that there is enough headroom for any mastering processing to be applied without taking the audio above 0dBFS and into clipping territory.

Check Mix Headroom

You can use a plugin such as Waves WLM to check your mix has the appropriate amount of headroom at its loudest point before you export it.

9. Export Your Premaster

Once you’re happy with your mix and its loudness, it’s time to export it according to the file format you’ve established from step one of this article. It’s also good practice to follow a standardized file-naming convention, as this helps you and others to keep on top of different file versions throughout the entire project.

Export Your Premaster

If you’re using a mastering engineer, they may give you a naming convention to work with. If you’re mastering your own music or using an online mastering service, a good rule of thumb is to include the artist name, song name, file-type [mix/premaster/master], and a date. This means you can quickly see the most recent or outdated versions of your project.

10. Check Your Premaster

In an ideal world, you’d come back to your premaster a day or two later so that you can check your mix with a fresh set of ears. In reality, that isn’t always possible, but do try to take a quick break away from your mix. Listen to a few other tracks to reset your ears then give your premaster one final critical listen over. You should be listening for any anomalies in the export, ensuring you’ve exported the full track, leaving enough time after the track finishes for any delay or reverb tails to die out fully.

Check Your Premaster

You should also check your file format in the file’s properties to make sure your track did indeed export according to the correct settings. Once you’ve done all of that, time to supply your premaster to your mastering engineer or simply upload it if you’re using Waves Online Mastering.

Loading....