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Loud, Punchy, Commercial Masters — What All Goes Into Them?

While starting up, mastering can be quite a confusing topic. Want to know what? Even with a couple years of experience, mastering is still confusing.

Now, let us get this out of the way. Mixing, and Mastering, are two different skills. They both need each other, but they are 100% separate.

What’s the difference? You’ll see in the video, or keep reading for more info!

What is Mixing? — What am I Trying to Achieve?

When beginning to learn mixing, I didn’t know what goal I wanted to reach, what tools to use, or even what certain plugins did.

Thankfully, this didn’t stop me. It kept pushing me to want to learn more about the tools and what they did.

Learn Your Tools, Especially Compresion and EQ,

Learning how to use your plugins for example, compression and EQ are very important in the process of mixing. They allow you to either make a sound stand out or fit in to the beat.

Mixing is definitely a process that takes time to learn, and you will only get better with practice! And I’m warning you now, save your original file/song first, before you attempt mixing. I totally wrecked a few beats here and there in the beginning ;). As you go on, you’ll learn, many times, less is more in the mixing and mastering stage (especially mastering).

And definitely get a good grasp on mixing before you start attempting mastering otherwise it’s just too much coming at you at once.

Mixing — How Do I Get Started?

How I start off mixing is, I make the beat, not worrying about mixing, then after the beat is done, I assign them all a mixer channel so I can now adjust volumes. During the mixing stage is where I usually create all my bring-ins for the chorus, verses, bridge etc. In other words, I arrange at the same time as mix.

Steps to Mixing,

Here’s some quick steps on how to achieve a faster mix:

  • Assign each sound to an individual mixer track
  • Group instruments / sounds into sub busses
  • Adjust your volumes first — Is anything not standing out, or, can you improve a certain area of the song?
  • When using plugins such as compression and EQ, ALWAYS compare before and after with an even volume. (Otherwise, the louder sounds better!).
  • When you feel the mix is done, hit stop, hit play, and walk away and listen. In other words, start the song from the beginning, and listen all the way through. (Does it sound complete?)

Headroom — What is it in Mixing and Mastering?

As you can see in the video that I already have mixer’s sliders down low so I do not have to bring every slider down each time I want to mix. I have this set up every time I open FL Studio which smoothens the process of mixing/beatmaking. Want to learn how? Create a Template!

The reason I like my sliders down low is because with them high, the beat is so loud. Then when you assign each sound to it’s own mixer track, it’s so loud, and now you have to drag down the volumes to mix properly.

So, with them low, I can just bring a fader up louder instead of dragging every slider down. This saves TONS of time, plus the beat will be below the -6dB like I was talking about in the video! (Headroom for mastering).

Mixing and Mastering: What’s the Difference?

Mixing, as described above, makes everything sound clear, balanced, and sit in it’s own spot. You do this by adjusted the individual mixers tracks volume, panning sounds to the left or right speaker, or applying EQ/compression and other effects like delay, reverb, chorus, distortion etc.

What does Mastering Do?

Mastering just amplifies what you already have. Mastering makes your track crisper, sharper, louder, and adds the final touches on your song/beat with techniques such as mid/side EQ, parallel compression, an amazing listening environment with expensive acoustic treatment, and invaluable ears of experience.

What’s this Headroom you Speak of?

Many master engineers will ask for -3dB of headroom. I personally shoot for -6dB cause just like I said in the video, if it goes a little bit over -6dB at loud spots, your not stressin’ as if it were at -3dB now you got to adjust the whole song! But talk to your mastering engineer before you mix your song for -3dB and he asks for -6dB!

To answer the question, headroom is the amount of space from the highest peak to clipping on the meter. In the digital world, above 0dB is clipping. You want to be 6dB UNDER 0, which makes it -6dB. Yes, while mixing, you will notice the track is quite quiet, just turn up your speakers ;).

This allows for a nice clear mix, without distortion, or cramming/slamming up your track to the limiter with no room for the track to breathe!

Mastering, it’s Time to Get’r Done!

So now once you have your song mixed, it sounds great, and is under -3dB, you now want to amplify your mix to compete with other commercial releases! You do this in a process called mastering. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all that goes into mastering, but, it’s a big part of it!

Tools Needed in Mastering

You will use tools like an EQ (Research Linear Phase EQ), compressor, maybe a multiband compressor, clipper, and then you bring out the limiter.

What about my mastering chain? I’ve heard by having a great chain, you can have a great master!

Mixer Slot Set Up (Editied)

Surprisingly, yes, this chain can bring real professional results. It all comes down to taste, and experience.

By chain, what people mean is, “In what order, do you place your effects on your final master channel?”. Do you place an EQ, compressor, EQ, Clipper, Limiter? Or, what about a gain boost, Multiband Compressor, EQ, Limiter?

It can be as simple as 2 plugins, 3 plugins, 8 plugins. It depends on the beat, your experience in the industry knowing how the tools work, and if they will benefit the song, or again, many times less can be more!

Limiter — Always Last!

The limiter is always last of your plugins, and you always want the meter last to get accurate readings of what’s going on in your song/beat.

What’s a meter? Get my favorite meter free by IK Multimedia here!

Mastering takes a lot of trial and error. It requires mastering the track, listening to it in different speaker systems, and after a couple of years of experience, you start to realize what works, and what doesn’t. You will gain an ear of too much compression, and what it’s actually doing!

Mixing, and mastering BOTH take a very long time to grasp, learn, and understand the little tricks to keep your mixes strong, loud, and powerful.

Mixing and Mastering — Final Thoughts,

Remember, save the beat as a new file when attempting to mix it. Something such as Beat Name (Mixed). You can also do the same for mastering, but I’ll break that down in a moment.

This way you will stay super organized, and always have the original file!

But, I’m Getting my Tracks Mastered by a Mastering Engineer — What Are My Steps?

If you follow these steps, you will be good to go:

  1. Mix your track to taste (Most mastering engineers will say EXPORT with no plugins on your mastering channel. You can mix with them on, but turn them off when export. If you want to give them an idea of what sound you were going for, send them two versions of the beat. One with the plugins on, one with the plugins off, which they will master).
  2. Export it as a 24-Bit .WAV — DO NOT DITHER, this is the last step in the process you do at mastering.
  3. That’s it!

Watch the video, and if you have have more questions, ask in the comments below!

Visit GratuiTous on his Personal Website.
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30 Responses on “How To Mix And Master Your Beat”

  1. jeffrey nunez says:

    when you say that a song is mixed under 6db, do you mean that there has been no compression or limiter added?
    so clearly speaking…a final mix has no effects on it!

    1. GratuiTous says:

      No, it simply means the loudest peak is under -6dB.

      You can add compression on if you’d like, but the reason why mastering engineers ask clients to not have any effects on the master channel is because they many times do not have a trained ear. Meaning, they may add too much compression, which is hard to undo, or too much of a certain effect.

      And the -6dB is just so the mastering engineer can have the highest fidelity of your track, so they have control over the final decisions.

  2. Azumah Amos says:

    I want to know the plugin for mixing and mastering

    1. GratuiTous says:

      There’s all-in-one mastering tools like iZotope Ozone, or you can mix/master with individual plugins, like shown in the video!

  3. Nick G says:

    Hi you kind answered this above but I’m still a little lost. I eventually want to start selling beats on my website but am confused on the mixing and mastering part. So the beat the artist would actually receive is just mixed (peaking around roughly -3db to -6db correct?) and then they would record vocals then get it mastered on their own by an engineer. You are just showing us the mastering so we can make our beat sound good and loud when they preview the beat in say Soundclick or Soundcloud right?

    Thanks,

    Nick

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey Nick, great question!

      This depends on you as a producer regarding what you give the artist on their purchase. (You also have to factor in price-point and time.)

      If an artist purchases a lease from you for like $25, I’d say just send the mastered non-voice-tagged beat. They can place their vocals over top, and even use techniques such as sidechain compression to help their vocal stand out a bit better.

      Remember, a lease is really inexpensive, and this artist probably isn’t super serious if they’re purchasing leases. Sending the mastered version I’d say is in the equal level of effort on both parties.

      Now, you can always offer like a “premium lease”, which many producers do, and offer that as a mixed file, or include the stems for further control.

      But in all honesty, unless an artist is purchasing the exclusive rights of the beat (you still own it, you just guarantee you won’t sell the beat anymore.), I’d just send the mastered non-voice-tagged track.

      On the exclusive, go all out, organizing files, providing stems, and the mixed version for further processing.


      Keep in mind what I’m saying here is from experience. You want to learn to set yourself up for the less work possible, while reaping the most results; also providing the best service too.

      For only $25 a lease, just be cautious how much effort you’re putting in, you know?

      But with that said, the better you treat your clients, the better chance of having a return customer. (It is the return customers that can be your best value in revenue, but as well as collaboration in marketing/promotion.)

      So to answer the question, the proper way to do it would be to send the mixed beat so that the artist has full control and flexibility. Then they can master the track with their vocals to get the best results.

      Just remember, time is money. You want to give the best service possible for the sake of branding and your producer name, but there is a line for how much effort you’re putting in vs. what you’re getting.

      Feel free to ask further to get a better answer!

      1. Nick G says:

        Thanks for getting back to me appreciate it. I always just assumed you wouldn’t want to send them an already mastered track because then there would be no room for vocals but yea good point about 25$ leases.

        1. GratuiTous says:

          If you want to send the mixed version, you can do that! (Just giving my input from experience.)

          You’ll find what works for you, Nick!

          Feel free to comment any time ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Turap says:

    Hi Riley these are really helpful for us so thank you so much.My question is about maschine.Do you think it is enough for making a beat,arrangement,mixing and mastering all?I mean it has all i need so do i need a DAW like FL,Live or Cubase?

    1. GratuiTous says:

      I’ve only actually used Maschine for a couple of hours, so I can’t give a true answer. But from what I’ve seen online from reading Native-Instrument’s website, Maschine is capable of it all! (Making the beat, arrangement, mixing/mastering etc.)

      A lot of this music industry is just hype – making you feel “pro tools” is your only solution kind of thing.

      I think Maschine is more than capable of what you’re going after, it’s just learning how to use the program, and dial in the right settings for your track ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Golie says:

    Ok I’m kind of confused,

    If I’m only posting my beats online and I want to mix and master them myself, I should mix the beat to -6db (using leveling, panning, etc) and when I get to my master track I should bring the loudness back up to 0 correct?

    But let’s say I make the beat just as I described above but someone buys the beat exclusively and they have their own mastering engineer, I should send the beat to them at -6b with all effects off? What about the leveling, panning, etc….wouldn’t they want that off as well so they could mix the beat to the artist’s vocals? I heard some engineers say that you should turn off all effects and volume/panning, basically leaving the beat untouched. Couldn’t they adjust the levels themselves to fit the vocals?

    Guess I’m confused on why send the beat at -6db when you could send it untouched and let them adjust all the volumes, panning, etc. Is it just a case by case preference per mastering engineer?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey, if you ever have any other questions, you can ask on Beatstruggles forums!

      Mixing/Mastering Question:
      The mixing numbers I’ve given in the tutorial are numbers which common mastering engineers recommend from their customers. (You can view mastering engineer’s websites to see what they ask for before sending your music to them.)

      I think they have come to a conclusion that -6dB is a good point to ask because a lot of people are very unskilled in audio production/mixing. This way if the mastering engineer asks for -6dB, it gives them an audio file which has not been limited with the peaks chopped off, allowing the mastering engineer to decide how much to gracefully clip these peaks for loudness.

      Selling Beats Question:
      You have to think about yourself as a producer here. The effects you’ve added into the track are you’re own touch and creativity right? That’s what makes you unique as a producer, but also, that’s what made the beat sound the way it sounded. If you start to remove these effects, the beat may not sound the same!

      What I’d suggest is to disable your effects on your master channel, as the master channel is generally the place where we enhance the loudness of the song, and make minor tweaks which improve the track.

      The master channel is a very powerful place where too much of something can wreck your whole song; such as too much compression or EQ!

      Final Question (why send the beat -6dB…):
      It is a bit of a case by case preference.. but you still have to think about yourself as the producer. The effects you’ve added into the track are what make that track original, and make yourself unique as a producer.

      Again, I’d avoid having plugins on the master when sending it their way, but panning and other effects on your regular channel inserts (where you have your individual instruments, kick drums etc.), leave those effects on; that’s your taste!

      Also – depending on your agreement – some artists would like the stems of the track (individual .WAV files) because this gives them ultimate flexibility to mix the beat the way they want.

      Hope that guides you somewhat.. !!

      Riley !

      1. Golie says:

        Thanks Riley! Very Helpful information and website you have here.

        1. GratuiTous says:

          Thanks! – Any other questions are always welcomed. It allows me to write/answer your questions ๐Ÿ™‚ (If I know the answer!)

  6. tramay says:

    Hey Riley, im having some problems with my kicks, if i throw EQ, i cut the highs and mids, then kick jus becomes dull and low. Even if my mids hits -25db and below. I get confused foreal.

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey, what are you trying to achieve?

      Cutting -25dB is quite a lot, and probably unnecessary!

      Surprisingly enough, I actually boost my high-end most times with kicks. Most kicks have a clicky sound near the high-end which helps it to stand out in your mix!

      Fill me in on some more info

  7. Paul says:

    OM! how did I not notice… I’ve been using a template with multi-compressor on master channel for all my projects without even realizing it… I’ll have to go in and set back to default for all.. That really Helped Riley appreciate it muchos man! Sometimes you just need a fresh mind (outside the box) to help out…. Bless you brother!

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey no problem Paul – At least it’s just a little thing, and super easy fix ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I think you’ll really like this tutorial about creating your own FL Studio Template; super easy, and saves tons of time.

      Let me know what you think, if you have time!

  8. Paul says:

    Hey Riley,
    do you know why the first few seconds of my beats sound louder then the rest of the mix? I cant figure out if I am mixing wrong or rendering at wrong settings? just cant figure it out.. Help!

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey Paul,

      Not sure unless I was able to see the project.

      Two possibilities come to mind though:

      1. Did you use any volume automation? Maybe it’s turning it down at that area of the song?

      2. Is a limiter or compressor on your Master channel? – Try removing it, or lowering the volume before it?

      Let me know some more info, we’ll get to the bottom of it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Justin says:

    Honestly, thank you! You answered all 3 of my questions in one swoop. Great article and thank you for the advice

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Nice! – That’s the kind of news I like to hear!

      What were the 3 questions, Justin ?!

      1. justin says:

        My questions were about where my mix should sit before mastering, and what dither and headroom are and why they are important. Thanks again.

        1. GratuiTous says:

          You are welcome Justin – I appreciate your follow-up comment with your questions!

  10. Nanji Ray says:

    hey riley, i am a young cameroonian who just got into the art of beat making and i really want to know what can help me make a good beat by not using live instruments.
    HOW CAN I EVEN MAKE A GOOD BEAT?

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey Nanji – You will find this video and write-up very helpful!:
      /how-to-get-started-making-beats/

  11. AJ says:

    Is it necessary to master a beat ? Can’t you do that at the final stage- like doing it all at same time after you recorded the song but with your beat mixed as a two tracked wav file.

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Mastering isn’t necessary, but it takes a good mix, to an amazing piece of music.

      Mastering is the final stage. So what you do is this:

      1. Record all your instruments and make your beat.
      2. Mix and arrange your track to how you like
      3. Master the song to make it competitive in loudness, and obtain a nice balance throughout the song!

      Make sense? – Let me know I can provide some tutorials!

  12. fabby says:

    Nice tut.But I have a question, when i pan my sounds at the end of the day, if I use only one speaker to listen to it, i will not get all the instruments clear, why is it so. Because when I listen to other tracks on that same speaker(like say Adele), it sounds great on that speaker, withoout any sound having problems. thanks

    1. GratuiTous says:

      Hey Fabby,

      I don’t know your answer lol — My guess would be panning makes the sound feel a bit quieter as it’s only coming out out 1 speaker, so maybe boost it up a bit to compensate.

      Also, frequency masking can really destroy a track. Things may sound brighter without other instruments, but when you add other instruments in, all of a sudden it becomes dull! Maybe try EQing out some high-end on the instruments that don’t need it!

      That’s all I can think of! — Hope that helps!

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