Tips to get your tracks ready for mastering with Wayne Sunderland – Suture Mastering

Many producers and sound engineers are not fully aware of all the stages and processes of mastering. Therefore, it is difficult to know exactly how best to prepare your music for this final stage.
For this reason, we decided to hit up mastering guru and friend of AAI Wayne Sunderland of Suture mastering for some tips on track preparation. Wayne has previously mastered music for Universal Music, Atlantic, EMI, Dirtybird Records, KLP, UV Boi and Adelaide’s ‘Motez’ to name a few.

What is mastering?

Mastering is the final stage of any musical production. It adds a polish to tracks before reproduction and distribution. The process involves the sonic manipulation of the two track pre-master files, (or sometimes stems). The files go through various stages of critical listening and are then balanced out, refined and sweetened until the tune is ready for release.
Don’t think of it just as making your tracks louder, it’s also an opportunity for a fresh set of ears and monitors to listen and then recommend or implement positive changes if necessary.
Superb equipment and a set of well trained ears means that your music will get the attention to detail it deserves.

Mix at different volumes

When you have reached the stage of balancing your mix, try listening to it at different volumes. This will give you a much better gauge on where things are sitting.
Try listening at a really low volume (I’m talking really, really low. To the point where most of the song drops away and only the main sounds are standing out). Now what can you hear? What’s really sticking out, and what would you prefer to be sticking out?

Listen in mono

Widening plug-ins have become very popular these days (and in some cases are very much overused!)
If you have a mono switch on your mixer or interface, use it! If not, bring up a plug-in that will give you a mono option on your master buss. Hit it and see if the mix still works or falls apart.
Monitoring in mono is another good way of checking the balance of the mix. It makes it considerably easier to gain an understanding of the front to back relationship of the instruments.
Even though everyone listens in stereo these days, the most solid mixes that come through our studio are the ones that are mono compatible.

Turn off plugins on the master buss

When you have reached the stage of balancing your mix, try listening to it at different volumes. This will give you a much better gauge on where things are sitting.
Try listening at a really low volume (I’m talking really, really low. To the point where most of the song drops away and only the main sounds are standing out). Now what can you hear? What’s really sticking out, and what would you prefer to be sticking out?

Try to render at 24 or 32bit floating point

The sample rate and bit depth is usually chosen when you begin your project. As a general rule, the higher the sample rate and bit depth you choose, the better.
Don’t be afraid of working in higher resolutions. Most mastering engineers will be able to work anywhere up to 192Khz 32Bit which ultimately results in less upward conversion.
Also, make sure any dithering options are turned off when you are ready to render. (I think Ableton Live has dithering checked by default at the rendering stage?) Dithering adds low level noise to the recording to fill in the missing blanks after conversion from 24 or 32 bit down to 16 bit. It is also the last process in the mastering chain. Not something you want done twice!

Listen to your newly rendered song

Once you have rendered your song/s, take the time to listen all the way through again.
Is there a rogue synth that wasn’t supposed to trigger, some automation you thought was turned off, or a bass line side-chaining incorrectly? There are many things that can easily sneak into your mix-down and give you a less than perfect result. Your mastering engineer isn’t always going to pick up on these things (they could be a creative choice?). Therefore, it pays to make sure there’s nothing in the mix that shouldn’t be.

Stem Mastering

If you are not completely confident in your mix balancing skills, consider looking into stem mastering.
This is a more involved mastering process starting with you mixing down certain elements of the song into ‘stems’. The number of stems available to you depends upon the mastering engineer, however 8 or less seems to be around the norm.
Most people who request stem mastering have an electronic or dance music focus and normally split the parts like so:
Kick by itself, rhythm parts, bass, vocals, synths, effects.
The mastering engineer will then essentially do a mini mixdown of your song. Some may even have an analog summing mixer to add more space and dimension to the mix.
Once the engineer has mixed the song down to a stereo file, it is then mastered as normal.
Stem mastering is essentially a ‘mini mixdown’ of your song. The mastering engineer will balance the levels, and attempt to add more punch, space and dimension to the mix. It’s then mixed down to a stereo file and mastered as per normal.

So when you feel you have reached that final stage and considered everything in this article, feel free to hit up Wayne at Suture Mastering. He has worked on countless projects that have been through our studio and the results always speak for themselves. We can’t recommend Suture enough!

“Suture Mastering are THE BOMB!! hands down the best mastering I’ve ever tried” – Motez

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