Here’s an excerpt from The Audio Mastering Handbook, 2nd Edition, that can help save a lot of grief with respect to the mastering process.
Whether you master your final mixes yourself or take them to a mastering engineer, things will go a lot faster if you prepare for mastering ahead of time.
Nothing is so exasperating to all involved as not knowing which mix is the correct one, or forgetting the file name.
Here are some tips to get you “mastering ready”:
1. Make Sure You Bring The Highest Resolution Mixes You Can. Lossy formats like MP3, Windows Media or Real Audio, and even audio CDs, won’t cut it and will give you an inferior product in the end. Bring the highest resolution mixes you can and make the other formats after mastering.
2. Don’t Over-EQ When Mixing. Better to be a bit dull and let your mastering engineer brighten things up. In general, mastering engineers can do a better job for you if your mix is on the dull side rather than too bright or too big.
3. Don’t Overcompress When Mixing. You might as well not even master if you’ve squashed it too much already. Hypercompression deprives the mastering engineer of one of his major abilities to help your project. Squash it for your friends. Squash it for your clients. But leave some dynamics for your mastering engineer. In general, it’s best to compress and control levels on an individual track basis and not on the stereo bus.
4. Getting Levels To Match Is Not Important. Just make your mixes sound great, matching levels between songs is one of the reasons you master your mixes.
5. Getting Hot Levels Is Not Important. You still have plenty of headroom even if you print your mix with peaks reaching –10d B or so. Leave it to the mastering engineer to get the hot levels. It’s another reason why you go there.
6. Watch Your Fades. If you trim the heads and tails of your track too tightly, you might discover that you’ve trimmed a reverb trail or essential attack or breath. Leave a little room and let the mastering engineer perfect it.