This article was written on December 1, 2012 and is the copy written intellectual property of the trustees of TheMasteringStudio.com.

Leaving Room for the Mastering Engineer

When mixing a project that is going to be mastered, we at TheMasteringStudio.com are currently recommending that you aim for about -4dBFS on the meters of your two mix. 

The reason for this is twofold. First of all, not all peak meters actually show all of the overs. One must have specific oversampling meters to show every last digital clip. Audio programs such as Pro Tools and Logic do not use oversampling meters simply because of the resources it would take for your processor. When you pretend that -4 dB is the top of your meters it is a safety mechanism to ensure that even though the meters might not be showing every last over, you’re still not going into distortion.

Something that is sometimes misunderstood is that people think they can pull down the master fader to make the meters not hit zero. The problem with that is that individual channels may still be distorting the mix buss. We recommend that you mix with the master fader all the way up to the top of its travel. If the 2 mix meters are going into the red then you must pull down all of the individual faders to get the meters to show the proper levels of about -4dBFS.

Of course some of the modern digital recording programs actually don’t label the meters. So when we say aim for -4, there’s no way to actually know by looking at the meters what that means.

You could do further analysis with a comprehensive metering plug-in or package. Or in a pinch you could just make sure that you aim for a spot on the meters that is a little bit below the top of the scale.

When we get masters that hit zero often, the first thing we have to do is lower the gain of the entire track by 3 to 6 decibels.

When we do this, it means that you have already robbed yourself of 3 to 6 decibels of dynamic range. This is just a rule of what we like to call the conservation of dynamic range in audio.

If you have crafted a mix with your master fader at unity gain and deliver us a mix that is about three or 4 dB from the top of the scale, then we can perform our subsequent processing without having to reduce the dynamic range for the purpose of subsequent mastering processes. Of course, the mastering process itself usually intentionally reduces the dynamic range.  But there is no need to reduce dynamic range unintentionally.

As we have mentioned many times before: in mastering and in audio in general, we try to gain advantages wherever we can. This is why we recommend that you mix so that your master fader meters read about -4dBFS. That way we don’t have to perform a reduction of the dynamic range at that step.

The discussion above illustrates what is meant by “leaving some room” for the mastering engineer.

This article was written on December 1, 2012 and is the copy written intellectual property of the trustees of TheMasteringStudio.com.