Preparing for a Mixdown and Master

Preparing for a mix down and master:
By Fabio Lendrum

Mixing and mastering are the two final stages of finishing a track. Essentially they are what help the track translate into every day consumer hifi and headphone systems. Mixing can take quite some time but here are some tips to help you prepare yourself for a potentially long session.

Before diving into a mix and master simple things like clearing/cleaning your desk, ensuring you have water nearby and minimising distractions such as mobile phones or people talking in the background are a good start. You want a fresh mind and more importantly a fresh pair of ears. If you feel tired or sonically fatigued, chances are that you are you going to end up with a pretty shoddy mix, and end up boosting a lot of high frequencies to help engage your own attention.

I don’t mind mixing late into the day or evening but I try to be aware of how I am feeling. If tired, I recommend a 15 minute break where I literally do nothing, well nothing associated with music at least.

Organising your mix may seem anal, but ensuring you can navigate around your project or someone else's is essential to a smooth and productive workflow. Spend some time naming, colouring and deleting any muted or unused channels/audio/midi.

Once ready, listen to the track from start to finish (if its your own, chances are you’ve already done this 1000 times so you can potentially skip this part) and assess the mood, emotion and what elements are driving and leading the track. This can be genre dependent of course; hip hop will be kick and snare where as EDM will be synths and vocals, I’m not setting any boundaries here just making loose observations which are variable from track to track.

Bring all the levels down so that you’re not too hot on the Stereo Out Master buss. This will ensure that there isn’t any clipping.

I tend to load up a reference track into the project which will only be used to balance volumes. Due to the fact that the reference track is bound to be mastered it would be quite harsh on oneself to try and match the mix. Flick back and forth and try and see if you can get them at similar volume levels. Don’t stress too much about EQ just yet. If you’re not familiar with mixing or the listening environment, this is a great way to tune your ears.

You can put the reference track to bed now and take a break! I recommend breaks every 15-20 minutes to ensure that you don't give yourself ear fatigue. Work at a medium volume and only crank when necessary. Slowly work your way through the track applying simple EQ, a little compression and effects such as reverb.

When you’re ready to master, don’t. Leave the mix for a day, come back to it on a fresh set of ears, make your final adjustments and then master. I think you’ll find the results you’re looking for will come much easier.

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