A mastering engineer needs room to work. Don’t try to master your mix before you send it. The levels you give your mastering engineer to work with will have a direct impact on the final results. Ideally your mix-down, in the premastering stage, should not exceed -4dB. A good range would be between -6dB to -3dB in the loud parts. A large part of the mastering process involves proccesses that add volume to the file. From compressors to enhancers, the file will need room to work with. Try to send a mix that is already at 0dB and you will be defeating half the improvement the mastering engineer can make. One goal of mastering your CD is to make all the tracks blend together for apparent loudness. If a mix is already too loud, all the engineer can do is reduce the volume or compress it even more with a reduction on the output. This will result in a CD that lacks the punch and overall sonics of a proper finished product. You don’t have to lose the sonic strength of your music to do this. Often it is as simple as turning down the main output level of your DAW software before rendering. If it is necessary to pull down the volume of each track; do it. It can’t be over-emphasized that this is the most common mistake of the home recordist when preparing a collection of songs for mastering. Let the mastering engineer do the levels, and make sure to give the headroom required to do a proper job.

Make sure your mix has the full sonic range of the recording. You can’t expect the mastering engineer to create frequencies that weren’t there to begin with. While they very likely have the tools to widen the frequency range of the sound, it is a lot better to give them the full range to begin with. This is very easy to check in most recording software. The tool is often called an analyzer, and should be consulted before sending your music off to be mastered. If your software analyzer seems too complex, or you don’t really know what you are looking for, you can use the Windows MediaPlayer to get a pretty good idea of what is in your mix.
You should see the display bars going up and down as your song plays. The bars to the left display the volumes of the lower frequencies, and the bars to the right display the volumes of the upper frequencies, with the bars in between covering the middle frequencies spread evenly in between. If the bars to the left are always higher than the bars in the middle; your mix is bass heavy. If the bars to the right are peaking; your mix has a lot of high-end. To see what a good mix should look like, put in a favorite CD (one you like the sound of) and watch the bars display. You’ll probably notice that all the frequency bars display, and for a lot of popular music they will appear very strong (going up high) and pretty even across the spectrum. At this point you want to remember that this music has already been mastered, so the levels in your mix should be lower, as discussed above. However, if your mix shows a frequency display that is missing in the low or high end you will want to question why. Likewise, if your mix if excessive in one extreme or the other, you will want to make the corrections before sending it off to be mastered. It is a lot easier at this stage of the game to make these corrections as opposed to expecting the mastering engineer to do it after the tracks are all mixed together. A good mastering engineer can make a world of difference in the sonics of your recording, but it is wise to give them the best product you can to work with. Make sure every instrument can be heard, and make use of the full sonic spectrum available.

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