3/2/2011 6:20 AM
A waveform that looks like this indicates a “slammed” mix, which doesn’t give a mastering engineer much room to maneuver. It’s also already faded out, which might create a problem when assembling an album.
In the November 2010 “Ask EQ”
column, you mentioned that there
are some “rookie errors” in a
recording that mastering can’t fix.
Could you elaborate?
London, Ontario, Canada
Sure thing, Shaun. Here are the biggest ones. For more,
see next month’s in-depth mastering feature, with advice
from top pros in the field. Stay tuned! —The Editors
Mixing so “hot” that clipping occurs. It’s difficult at
best to undo the results of clipped waveforms. It’s not
good enough to make sure that a red clip indicator
doesn’t light, because it usually doesn’t take inter-sample
distortion into account. Which brings us to . . .
Not leaving some headroom in the mix. Give the
mastering engineer room to breathe—treat –6dB as 0.
This should also ensure that clipping doesn’t occur.
Strapping processors across the stereo bus and
mixing with those processors in place. Processors
such as maximizers, exciters, EQs, etc. may make your
mix sound better—but so will a mastering engineer, who
will likely have better tools to accomplish these functions,
as well as the ears and experience to use them
optimally. Go ahead and leave those processors on and
run a mix for reference, then bypass all stereo bus
processors and make a mix (with headroom!) for the
mastering engineer. Send the reference along with the
real file, and include a note that says, “Please make it
sound like the reference, but better.”
Not soloing and listening to each track, from
beginning to end, prior to mixing. Many times, a
mastering engineer will pick up on clicks, pops, distortion,
etc. that were overlooked during the mixing
process. Listening to each track individually before
mixing can spotlight those errors before they get
“baked” into the mix.
Mixing in a room with bad acoustics. This guarantees
that your mix won’t be accurate. For example, if you
don’t have some kind of bass treatment, then there will
usually be nulls at bass frequencies, causing you to mix
the bass louder than it should be. Mastering can compensate
for this to some extent, but not always. (See
our back page for tips on optimizing your room.)
Forgetting that mastering is not mixing. Mastering
affects all sounds at once. If the vocal is weak in the mix
and mastering uses EQ to help bring it out, those changes
will affect all other instruments in the same frequency
range. Get the mix right before it goes off for mastering!
Ask EQ a technical audio-related question, and EQ will
answer it. Send it to EQeditor@musicplayer.com.