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electronic MUSICIAN



Mar 2

Written by: masterblogger
3/2/2011 6:20 AM  RssIcon

RookieErrorsA 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?
Shaun McArthur
London, Ontario, Canada
via email

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

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