The concept of premastering your music is a method that can save you a gobs of money when compared to having it all done at the replication house later on. It also does usually yield a better quality when doing it at a dedicated mastering house who does just that solely. Then it is always easy to find a good replication facility afterwards whom you can send your already premastered CD and they just have to do the replication without modifying the sound anymore.

Most mastering facilities have to charge an hourly rate for the time it takes to do compression, stereo-image-adjustments, equalize, or whatever else necessary to prepare the music for CD and Vinyl production and hence replication. In getting your recording as close as you possibly can to the sound you want in the end as you can before entering the premastering, you can also reduce those charges. However, nowadays there are mastering studios that offer their work completely online (so called “online mastering”, or “iMastering”/”eMastering”), worldwide, at a flat fee. Transfer of your music is done online as WAV or AIFF files, they master (premaster) them and send a finished physical CD (or CD Image for Nero / Toast) back to you which you then take to the replication facility.

Important points to ponder when doing the mixing are making sure the instruments are mixed properly and the need for each is appropriate. By need it is mostly the reference to the use of re-verb, equalizing and effects similar that allow the instrument or voice sound like it is immersed into the mix, or the absence of them that makes the instrument or voice sound like it is right in your immediate area.

Using a mix with the guitar processed with re-verb and chorus, and having the lead vocals dry, for example, could sound unrealistic due to the fact that the guitar will appear to sound like it is further from you than the vocalist, which will appear to be screaming in your face. But if that is the effect or sound you want to portray, go ahead. But, as a general rule of thumb it can be annoying, and may result in ear and listener burn-out, which obviously you do not want!

If you happen to be faced with a scenario where your available tracks necessitated you to make the rhythm section mono, make sure that you apply the re-verb to them in stereo. This method will enable you to create an illusion of a stereo-image though the drums are in mono, and add to the sound quality.

You also need to use good speakers that are equidistant from your listening area so you get a realistic stereo image, and, if you can, listen to your mix through several different speakers. In the event you have a boom-box available to test the mix through that, or possibly a car stereo, or even on one your friend’s high end stereo systems. This will allow you an opportunity to get the highest level of “compatibility”, reveal most of the flaws the mix might have and assure the mix is as good as it can get before supplying it for premastering.

In so far as tricks go for using effects on the mix, it is completely a matter of your personal preference. If you like the overall sound that is the goal. So, long as it sounds good on as many systems as possible, it is good. Though try to avoid compressors and limiters on the masterbus when supplying your mix for premastering (though it is OK if you have them running when doing the mix, just take them off when doing the bounce for the mastering house). In general, too much processing starts to sound weak, and using too much re-verb is a common error as well. Try to keep things clean and make sure the sources (e.g. the equipment and room you use to record the guitar/vocals, etc.) sound as good as possible already so that they require just very few processing during the mixing. This is the real “trick” to get a great mix and afterwards a great master and CD after you have sent it to the mastering house and replication facility.

About the Author:
Lorenz Vauck is an Audio Mastering Engineer, Musician, and Internet Entrepreneur from Dresden, Saxony, Germany. He is the Managing Director and Chief Engineer of XARC Mastering, one of the world’s first on-line process audio mastering companies established in 2003.