How to prepare and export your track or song for the mastering process
Luckily, for a standard stereo master this is quite straight forward, so the guide here isn’t too complicated. That being said there are a large volume of new or amateur producers ask for or need help with how to export their premasters. As such, there are a few things that you do need to keep in mind, and we’ll explain what they are below.
✔ Maybe an obvious one, but check that your track is in stereo.
✔ Bounce your master track at 24bit. Ideally you should stick to your project sample rate, but 44.1k should be the minimum.
✔ Nothing should be on the master channel! No FX, no plugins, no nothing.
✔ The master channel should be peaking at no higher than -6db
✔ Please make sure your levels are adjusted correctly! Nothing should be clipping here and as above -6db headroom us required for El Stray to work effectively on the master. Your track will be gain staged and levels brought up loud during the process.
✔ Check that the bounce sounds OK – you’ll be surprised how often we complete a master for a client and he/she has forgotten to unmute one instrument or drum track. Please do double check everything.
✔ Name your file correctly. We would recommend the following – nice to have although not entirely essential [Artist Name – Track Name – Date – Version]
✔ Best case scenario – include a “demo mix” so I understand the levels and things you’re after to get it right first time around.
✔ Best case scenario – include a reference track that is similar to yours that you love the sound of mix-wise as a guide. The last two points are absolutely not essential but can sometimes help get things aligned with your requirements in one go.
How to prepare and export your song for a full mixdown
Exporting your tracks for a full mix and master is slightly more complicated, and DAW dependent, especially if you have numerous bus tracks!
To keep things streamlined, you should certainly adhere to the general rules of a typical stereo mastering bounce, but also consider these key things.
✔ Tracks should be bounced individually for full mixdowns. They can be grouped for stem mastering.
✔ When grouping tracks be sensible with how you judge your groupings. Don’t include numerous clashing basslines together, and vocals should certainly not be grouped with anything else.
✔ Tracks should be bounced at the same sample rate as the original mix session. Typically never an issue but something to watch out for.
✔ Nothing should be on the master channel.
✔ All automation should be left on respective tracks. This is very subjective so recreating this exactly how you need it would be near impossible without excessive back and forth. Keep it in, please!
✔ Double check that all bus processing has correctly translated to respective tracks. This can sometimes be removed if tracks are not exported in the correct way. Depending on your DAW, it is possible that you may need to solo tracks and bounce individually with buses to ensure that the DAW does not exclude bus fx. Do be careful with this though as the bus fx will then become additive and not summed together. You may want to Google this for your specific DAW!
✔ All tracks need to be numbered and titled correctly. This saves a huge amount of time when mixing a large volume of stems.
✔ All stems should be checked against the full list of tracks exported to ensure nothing is missing. You’ll be surprised how often a mix is delivered and the client realises something was missing from their original list!
Full mixdown only caveats:
Often I request no reverb or reverb sent to a separate bus channel so that I can add this myself more effectively, but it does depend on the track and whether you’re satisfied with the sound or not. Incorrectly applied reverb or badly EQ’d reverb can cause a lot of muddiness and remove punch from a mix.
✔ No Mixing! Nothing should be applied to the channels except track fx, so no mixing (ie stereo spreaders in particular, heavy compression etc should not be applied unless it adds to the arrangement, but your usual echos, delays and automation etc that actually add to the arrangement are fine). In short – if it doesn’t add to the vibe or arrangement of the track, remove it.
A couple of common premaster exporting mistakes, and what NOT to do:
❌ Don’t send over a DAW file, like an Ableton Live project or a Logic folder / package. It’s very likely your mastering engineer won’t have the same plugins or even the same DAW as you. Sometimes it’s necessary for mastering engineers to use a special DAW that is designed specifically for the finalisation process in order to have greater control over fades, album continuity, and more in-depth exporting features.
❌ Try not to make changes after the fact and ask for alternate arrangement tracks to be swapped or added in. Always ensure what you’re sending over is the final version of your song to avoid needless back and forth.
Hope this helps and that the process is clear. Give us a shout if you’re unsure and I can try to help guide you in the right direction