Once you’ve had your track mastered and completed, it can be annoying when you notice a mistake that could have been easily avoided. Making sure your track is completely cleaned up before mastering can seem like a dull, time-consuming job but it is essential!
Follow these 4 steps and finish your tracks in the right way.
1. Cleaning Up
Always clean up your mix:
- Check your edit points – Go back to all the places where you made edits in the mix and listen closely to those points. Are your fades seamless? Make sure there’s no sudden cut off or drop out. A smooth fade is a better fade.
- Solo your tracks – Listen to each track on it’s own. Are they fading in and out properly? These are little things you can’t fix after you export. Be safe and check before it’s too late.
- Banish the sound artefacts – Get rid of the pops, clicks, blips, and other noises that may have snuck into your mix. This is your last chance to bin all the little sound artefacts. Check each track in solo mode and be thorough. Mastering can amplify and magnify these unwanted noises, so even if it seems like a tiny thing that doesn’t matter, this could sound even more prominent later on. Get rid now!
2. Leave Some Headroom
Headroom is something you should consider throughout the mixing phase and it’s a good idea to check it again when finalising a project. This is the most important key to getting the most out of your mastering.
You need to leave a certain amount of space – typically about 6dBFs – between ‘0’ and the loudest part of your track. But, don’t put a limiter on your master bus – mastering will take care of that.
3. Silence Is Golden
The first thing you should hear at the start of your track is silence. Sounds odd, but it is necessary…
Mastering needs room to work. Leaving one bar of silence at the start of your track will give mastering room to do its magic. It also gives you the option to alter your intro or fade-in if you decide that your original wasn’t working.
The last thing you should hear at the end of your track is also silence.
Even after the fade out you should leave a space of silence. This ensures that all your reverbs and delays have room to fade out completely. Delays and reverbs will continue long after the sound that they’re applied to – be aware of how they tail off. Having a delay cut off at the very end of your track is never a good way to finish! It’s easier to use headphones to be absolutely sure when your reverb and delay tails end.
4. Just Listen
Use headphones to listen to your entire song. This is your last chance to be absolutely sure everything is in order. Listen for all the technicalities mentioned above—artefacts, fades, edit points, reverb and delay tails. Remember that reverb and delay tails don’t ‘snap-to-grid’ in most DAWs.
This ensures all your mix cleaning is done. Then listen objectively – stop being a mixer and be a music fan. Does your track do everything you want it to? Is it sounding how you want it to sound in all the right places?
If you’re happy with the results at this stage then you have finished your track properly.