Being an audio engineer for a long ass time I’ve developed a few neat tricks to improve productivity. One of them is being able to tell if a song will be good for mastering just by looking at its wav form. It’s a pretty simple trick that I do everyday but I like to feel like I’m Neo looking at the Matrix doing it (yes I’m a nerd). And to help you get your mixes right I am going to tell you exactly how you can look at your own songs and tell if mastering will help your song sound better.
Here we have a wav form.
It’s regular old wav form. And for those keep tracking at home, yes it’s an EDM song. Just by looking at this can you tell if this is suitable for mastering?
If you said, “yes”. You’re right (And no you don’t win a prize). If you said, “no” don’t feel ashamed (okay feel a little ashamed).
The reason why this is suitable for mastering is because mastering is all about making a song sound louder without any distortion (keep in mind this isn’t just what mastering is, there’s much more to it). One of our goals with mastering is to make the song as loud as possible without it distorting, meaning we want it to be as transparent as possible. As you can probably guess this is a bit of a balancing act as if a song is too loud it will distort and wont sound good and if it is too quiet it wont sound good either. So a mastering engineer’s job is to make a song sound loud enough that it still sounds good and that it doesn’t distort. Got it? Good.
Now take a look at this wav form.
Ugly. When I see this sent to me apart of my soul cracks and falls off. I know I’m going to have to send the artist a nicely worded email basically saying “Your song is too loud bro, can you please turn it down so I can properly master it”. The reason why this wav is difficult to master is because it is already loud. Any mastering would distort it, if it isn’t already distorting.
So how do you fix it? Easy just lower the tracks in your mixer until your wav file loses weight. How much really depends on your song, but in a previous post I did, Easiest Way to Set Mixing Levels for Mastering I recommend lowering the fader by -6db to start. Of course, you can lower it by much more of your song is still too loud say, -10db or even -20db. The main purpose here is to give your mastering engineer enough headroom to work with.