I’ve been mastering records for 40 years and have worked
on everything from Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones to Bon Iver and the
Alabama Shakes. Trends and recording formats may come and go, but one
thing remains the same: Your music will sound better if you keep the
following five things in mind before sending it out for mastering.
1. Love Your Mixes
Work as hard as you can to get your mixes to sound exactly
how you want. Don’t assume your mastering engineer can read your mind
and make things happen in your mixes that you couldn’t get around to
doing yourself. He or she will attempt to give you back a product that
more vividly mirrors what you’ve already created, so create something
you’re proud of.
2. Think Like You’re Ordering Chinese Food
You don’t leave it to the waiter to decide how spicy you
like your food, so why would you assume that your mastering engineer
knows how loud you want it? Tell your engineer what you’re looking for
in terms of overall levels, and when possible, refer to recordings that
provide a similar sonic imprint.
3. Supply All The Files
Loop your mastering engineer into your process by
providing him or her with all of the mixes you’ve been listening to.
This includes any “pumped-up” listening copies that have become the
standard of late, but also the raw mixes without level maximizing if
4. Go to the Session
Even if you just sit and watch, attending the mastering
session allows your mastering engineer to become part of your team. The
most casual conversation can help reveal your musical tastes and also
give direction as to how to best treat your mixes. Also, seeing how your
engineer approaches your work can help improve your own mixing skills
next time around.
5. You’re Finished When You’re Satisfied
Some people hire a mastering engineer to put his or her
sonic mark on their music. Others make numerous revisions until they
hear what they’re looking for. When creating art, there’s no one
“correct” way to achieve results. Sometimes the road is more difficult
than other times, but there’s beauty in the process and great
satisfaction in getting to the finish line. So never be afraid to push
until the very end.
Mastering engineer Greg Calbi has worked on over 7,500 albums by artists like John Lennon, John Mayer, Paul Simon, and others. Find-out more at sterling-sound.com.