How To Pre-Master Your Tracks With Confidence

At some point in many budding producers' careers, they'll want to get one of their tracks or remixes mastered. Whether that's because it's just been signed, or for their own enjoyment, they'll then need to come up with what is commonly known as a 'pre-master'. This is an outwardly simple task, but it can fill people with apprehension, or simply confusion - what is a pre-master anyway? Read on, as we take a deeper look into this delicate issue...

Ultimately, a pre-master is just the two-track stereo file you send off to be mastered. That's all. There are a few technical requirements though. For a start, you should be sending them a good WAV or AIF file, preferably 24-bit. The audio should also not be clipping, nor come anywhere near it! If needs be, turn the master channel down to give the mastering engineer some headroom – levels peaking between -6 and -3dB should be fine.

Where To Start



Those are the basic requisites, although there are a few other essentials too. For a start, you should employ no limiting on the master bus – and ideally no compression either. A mastering engineer will likely have a rack of compressors worth more than your house and has probably been doing it since before you were born, so the best option is to leave compression off the master out. If it needs it, the engineer will be able to handle it. If you've been mixing into a compressor since you started writing the track, on the other hand, leave it there – it's clearly an inherent part of the sound.

In fact, the less processing you use on the master buss, the better. A good rule of thumb is – does this plugin or effect make things sound better, or just louder? If it's the former, consider keeping it – but if you're just squeezing a couple of extra dB out of your mix, bin it. Let the engineer deal with volume issues. 'Finaliser' or 'Maximiser' type plugins should be dropped too - these complicated beasts just make an engineer's job harder.

Simplify The Master Buss



Even then, though, if you're using a plugin on the master buss because you feel it needs it, take a look into whether you can put this on individual channels instead. A top-end EQ boost on the stereo output will add treble to everything – kicks, bass, hats. It's a blunt instrument, and you'll often find that you can fix the mixdown properly if you go back and address individual channels. It takes longer, but it's worth it!

All that said, there are producers who leave plugins on their stereo output – the D'n'B producer Taxman was tweeting about sending limited pre-masters just last week. But raging jump-up tunes are, these days, sonically terrible, and it's a sound that's going rapidly out of fashion, even within D'n'B. Besides, any mastering engineer worth his salt will be perfectly well able to squash the life out of a mix anyway – Beau Thomas at Masterpiece, for instance, is well known for his ability to cut extremely loud on request.

Go Mono





If you're lucky enough to be thinking about a vinyl release, remember that vinyl can't handle stereo at low frequencies – usually below about 300Hz. So your kick and sub-bass should be mono for a start, but stereo information can come from unexpected sources too. If you have a deep synth line or even a big fat piano, it may well have low-frequency stereo information. A mastering engineer will be able to mono your mix at the bottom end but again, processing the whole track is a blunt solution to a delicate problem and it's usually best if you can do it on the individual part. Try splitting the offending sound into bands, filtering the low end off to process it in mono, and keep the top in glorious stereo.

Should you do Anything Special to Produce a Pre-Master?



Ultimately, you should just be trying to get an un-limited mixdown that sounds like a master – ideally, the mastering engineer should hear it and decide there's nothing that needs to be done, other than a spot of compression or limiting. To this end, you should reference your track against mastered tunes in your collection, and make sure that everything is balanced. If you really want the sound of a limiter smashing the master output, then simply pass on an instruction to the mastering engineer (via your label if necessary) asking for it – they'll be happy to oblige, and will have enough quality kit that it will sound pretty solid too.

Finally



So, overall, it's just sending a simple audio file to an engineer. But there are a lot of pitfalls to beware of – so before hitting that send button, make sure that your master is clean, balanced, unsullied by extra processing on the master buss, and sounds as close to a finished and mastered track as you can make. Leave the rest to the professionals, and the end result should be a great sounding track!



Related Articles

  • 5 Ways to Get Creative With Organic Foley

    5 Ways to Get Creative With Organic Foley

    It’s all too easy, when producing these days, to get stuck inside the box and, whilst you may have a dope tune on your hands, it can be missing, well, something... Foley There’s a natural move

    Read More 2
  • UK Grime Production Tips

    UK Grime Production Tips

    UK Grime has gone from being a small, DIY spin-off of Garage through a stratospheric rise to become THE sound of the last decade in Britain and beyond! The Birth of a Genre & nbsp; Its earliest conc

    Read More 2
  • Lo-Fi Hip Hop Production Tips

    Lo-Fi Hip Hop Production Tips

    Lo-Fi Hip Hop continues to go from strength to strength, especially with the emergence of YouTube channels such as Chilled Cow, ChillHop, The JazzHop Café amongst others. The question is, from a pr

    Read More 2
  • The Best Music Production Apps for iOS

    The Best Music Production Apps for iOS

    Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and getting away from your desktop can give you a boost of inspiration and unleash your creativity. Mobile music production has come a long way in a very sh

    Read More 2
  • How To Make Better Music When Your Studio Is Your Bedroom

    How To Make Better Music When Your Studio Is Your Bedroom

    Unfortunately for music producers, few of us have the luxury of having round the clock access to a first-class recording studio. Everyone has to start somewhere though and for most budding producer

    Read More 2
  • How To Create Unique Mixes Using Hip Hop Samples

    How To Create Unique Mixes Using Hip Hop Samples

    Few types of music allow you to experiment creatively with the freedom to cherry pick from just about any other genre quite like hip hop does. Since its emergence in the late 70s and early 80s, hip ho

    Read More 2
  • How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

    How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

    To mix like a pro, you need to understand that the goal of mixing is to create the best soundscape from all of your inputs, tracks and samples to give each element room to complement each other, stand

    Read More 2
  • How To Thicken Up Your Sound

    How To Thicken Up Your Sound

    A lot of people struggle to make the sounds in their tracks rich and weighty. This can lead to mixes sounding somewhat thin and lacking the polish of a professional release. Ideally, your featured sou

    Read More 2
  • Stereo Widening – What, Why, How?

    Stereo Widening – What, Why, How?

    The concept of Stereo Widening isn't – at first – too hard to grasp. Making things sound wider, right? But the devil is in the detail and while it might sound appealing to have a huge wide soundsc

    Read More 2
  • Multisampling: A Beginners Guide to Get Started

    Multisampling: A Beginners Guide to Get Started

    This week, we're looking at the technique of multi-sampling. And we don't mean using two different acapellas in the same track. No, multisampling is a much more useful technique, and one that can

    Read More 2