Please read this information before you upload your files to be mastered. Remember, we are on the same team and we have the same goal: to make your tracks sound as good as can be. Having said that, following these guidelines will ensure that you get the best results possible.
Quick pre-upload checklist:
- Do not pre-master your tracks
- Leave adequate headroom; Mixdown your tracks at -4db
- Test your mixdowns before submitting
- Upload tracks at 24bit/44.1kHz (or higher)
- Submit only completed projects, one project at a time as a zip file
An old adage with mastering is that it can make a great track amazing and a good track great but you can’t make a bad track good. In other words, what comes out can only be as good as what goes in. Thus, try to start with the best mixdown possible. Mixing is an art form that takes years of practice but as a general rule, everything in the track should be balanced – nothing should overtly stand out and you should be able to pick out all the individual elements as you listen. If your artist submits a track with something that sounds obviously distorted, have him or her do the mix over. Sometimes it takes many, many attempts to get the mix right. Contrary to popular belief, major problems with a track cannot be magically corrected with mastering. Still, the mixdown can never be perfect so just try to get it as good as can be before submitting.
In order to achieve the best possible results for your tracks, please adhere to the following guidelines:
- Do no pre-master your tracks. Let us repeat: Do not pre-master your tracks. Pre-Mastering actually makes it much, much harder for us to do our job. Mix your tracks down and leave them AS-IS. Do not run them through any plugins or outboard gear such as: compressors, finalizers, limiters, maximizers, effects, normalizers, etc. Tracks that have been processed in this way will be rejected. If you need pre-masters for personal use, make sure that you label them accordingly.
- Leave adequate headroom. Your final mix should be recorded with at least 3db of headroom. In other words, the peaks in your track should only go up to -4db (-6db to -4db is ideal). Do not mix your tracks all the way up to “0”! With no headroom you are SEVERELY limiting what we can do at the mastering stage while killing all the dynamics in your music. What’s more, it is imperative that you allow headroom so that your tracks “breathe” – the levels on your track should have movement, not crunched up to the max. Tracks recorded with some breathing room are actually perceived LOUDER than tracks that are maxed out. The headroom gives us space to make any necessary adjustments relative to the rest of your track. We know you want your tracks loud, but let us handle this the right way.
- Use compression sparingly. There is no hard and fast rule for using compression in your tracks but overall it is best to not use it unless absolutely necessary. Many of the results people are trying to achieve with compression can be facilitated with adjusting the level, eq and pan of the individual track. Try working with those elements first. As a general rule, you should never add compression to the master fader of any track. Doing this can cause unwanted “pumping” of the audio as well as unnatural peaks and valleys during breakdowns and these cannot be corrected with mastering. If you are unsure, do a couple mixdowns for each track: one with compression and one without. Be sure to notate this in the file name for each mix so you can compare the different versions. Note that mastering may amplify the effects of compression in your mixdown. That said, if you like the way it sounds in your mix, by all means use it.
- Add space to the beginning and end of your tracks. It is not uncommon for tracks to get cut off at the beginning or to chop off the last bit of a fadeout. Adding 2-3 seconds at the beginning and end of your tracks can eliminate these problems. This extra space can always be removed at the mastering stage.
- Test your mixdowns. This may seem obvious but many mix errors can be caught ahead of time by checking your tracks on as many different sound systems as possible before sending them off to be mastered. Play your mix (with all eq’s flat) in your car, on a boombox, on your iPod and in the club. Your track should sound good on all these different sound systems. If something sounds out of balance, keep making minor adjustments to your mix and test again until you get it right. Along with this is knowing your studio monitors well and knowing what to expect out of your studio setup. If you hear something that is not quite right, don’t assume it can be fixed at the mastering stage. Remember that any adjustments done at mastering affect the track as a whole. We can’t simply “take down the vocal” without affecting all the other elements in your track that overlap with those frequencies. Furthermore, even minor adjustments can have major effects on the harmonics and the overall energy and feel of your track. It is much easier for you to adjust your mix with all of the track elements separated then to have to correct problems later.
- Submit tracks at the highest bit depth and sample rate. We prefer tracks recorded at 24bit/44.1k but we can accept tracks all the way up to 24bit/96k. 24bit/88.2k is ok too. Even though the final destination of your tracks may be a 320kbps MP3, starting with the best audio resolution ensures the highest quality all the way through the mastering process. Use 24bit for recording whenever possible. If you have older tracks recorded at 16bit/44.1k, don’t upsample them to 24bit – leave them as-is. There is no benefit to upsampling audio and in fact, this can add dithering and audio artifacts that degrade your tracks. We accept WAV and AIFF files. DO NOT submit mp3 files, AAC files, OGG files or any other compressed audio files – even ones that are “lossless”. These will be rejected. For an in depth discussion on bit depth and sample rates, go here: http://www.tweakheadz.com/16_vs_24_bit_audio.htm
- Let us know what you want. Be specific. Describe what kind of overall sound you are going for. Unless you tell us what needs adjusting/correcting in your mix, we have no idea. Fill out the submission form completely with any instructions for each track. Don’t worry about using correct audiophile language – plain english is fine. For example: “Bring out the hi-hats” or “Add warmth to the bass.” If there is a specific part of your track that needs special attention, be sure to let us know that too.
- Label each track in a clear and concise way without spaces or special characters. Hyphens, dashes and underscores are allowed. eg: Artist_Track_Remix_Label. [For example: Flubbertron_TheMagicTrack_DJSmasherRemix__BubbleRecords.wav]
- Submit only completed projects. Missing that last remix? Please wait until you get it to submit your project.
- Include a text file (txt, rtf, doc) with any instructions in your zip file or use the instruction box on the Project Upload form.
- Place all files together in a .zip archive (up to 4GB) and label the zip with: LabelName_CatalogNumber_Artist_Title
- Upload one project at a time please – do not combine multiple releases into one zip. This helps us keep things organized both for us and for you.