Mastering is the final stage in the creative process, but we can only work with the material you send us. There are a number of things you can do to help that will not only make our job easier, but will improve the end result. As with everything on the internet, you will find plenty of people offering contradictory advice, but in our experience, the following will yield positive results!
Before You Submit
This is your final chance to check over your track for those small details that you've been ignoring up to now. Clicks, pops, sibilance, rumble - all these things will be magnified in the mastering process, so it's best to get these fixed now! A decent spectrum analyser (I highly recommend Nugen Visualizer) can be helpful for identifying elements that have wayward low frequency content. De-essing ssssibilant vocals is important - are the S's and T's in your vocal over-powering the hi-hats? If so, your vocal needs de-essing. Crossfading contiguous segments or clips is a simple way to avoid clicks and pops. It's all straightforward stuff, but these are less-than-glamorous tasks that often get forgotten in the whirlwind of creativity. It's worth taking a minute to stop and take stock of all the elements in your track before you commit it to mastering.
A key part of the mastering process is getting your material up to a sensible range. Please don't limit your track before you send it to us! Be very careful about writing and/or mixing with limiting or multi-band compression on your master bus. It's a bit like painting with a blindfold on and can mask all sorts of inconsistencies in your track. When you come to bounce your unlimited pre-master, you may find that your levels are suddenly all over the place. If this kind of master bus processing is integral to your sound, think about processing group busses instead. This will still leave some dynamics in your track, and will allow you to render out an unlimited mix without inconsistencies. Ideally though, you should aim to only limit or compress when it is necessary or appropriate, and even then, with care.
“The weight of your words is more important than the volume of your voice!" — Manprit Kaur
Please leave at least 4dBfs of clear headroom in your pre-master to avoid inter-sample peak distortion. It is always preferable to turn down channels rather than simply turning down the master fader in this situation. When it comes to loudness (and the associated war), at SM we always aim to find that elusive balance between loudness and quality. If you have a particular reference of loudness in mind, please let us know. It is also important to remember that loud records are often the result of highly skilful writing, arranging, mixing and (finally) mastering. The process of mastering alone is not sufficient to make a poor quality mixdown sound huge.
Album sequencing We can help with transferring your project to a DDP image, together with ISRC information (if available), CD text, as well as album and song information. We can also set the spacing between songs, and make any volume adjustments for consistency across the whole project. Please get in touch to discuss if this is something you will need on your project.
STEM MIXING Any side-chaining between tracks should still be present, and any effects or other processing should be rendered to the stem. If there are specific features of the mix that you would like enhancing, or width/depth/separation issues you would like addressed, please include those notes in the project form. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about preparing your stems.
FILE TRANSFERS After placing your order, we will be in touch and provide you with a secure connection for you to transfer your files. Files should be 24 or 32bit WAV or AIFF format, and stereo interleaved. Please make sure that each track is clearly titled, including version descriptions if appropriate.
Please ZIP your folder, rather than sending individual files, and include a text or word file with a tracklist and fade times (if appropriate).
Once we have received your order and your files, we will listen through to all the tracks. If necessary, we will get in touch to discuss any adjustments that may be best dealt with at the mix stage. after your session a single revisit to the master is included in the price for both mastering and stem mixing. If, after mastering, you submit a new pre-master to achieve the desired result, then this will be chargeable at the original rate. If you need to replace individual stems, we will charge $5 per stem to swap them out.
We will do everything we can to produce a coherent, consistent set of quality masters for you, but please remember that we can only work with what you send us. The more coherent and consistent your pre-masters, the better your masters will sound. If you need any advice or suggestions at any stage of the process, don't hesitate to get in touch and we will do all we can to help. If, when you receive your masters back, you require revisions, just let us know and we can talk about what can be done.