How Do I Make A Good Pre-Master?

: Don’t record too loud. There is a popular myth that says you are only getting the most from your digital recorder if “all the lights are on” – ie. the signal is clipping or peaking at 0 dB. Please allow at least 3 or 4 dBs headroom when recording – any higher and you risk digital distortion, which can cause major problems at mastering.

Some systems use less than perfect metering, so we recommend you avoid allowing your recording to peak at zero, just in case there are over-levels which the meters aren’t showing.

Engineers & producers – even if your customers are demanding a really “hot” reference copy, please make a clean copy for us to master from and then lift the level for the listening reference copies.

2: Please supply your pre-master files in their original (native) sample/bit rate and file format without using any dither processing. We can accept all audio files formats up to 192 kHz 32 bit. If your pre-masters have been created in split-stereo file format, we prefer to master from these rather than you converting to interleaved files.

3: Avoid unnecessary processing. Every time a change is made to an audio file it can incur a small number of digital errors, and these may affect the sound, especially if multiple changes are made.

So for example if you adjust the volume and then change your mind, don’t process it again to reverse the change – go back to the original. Think carefully about whether you need to make a change at all – it’s even a good idea to avoid digital copying except where absolutely necessary.

4: Avoid analogue copying. If your sources are digital, and you make flat copies digitally, you can maintain their quality. But every time you make an analogue copy, a small amount of quality will be lost. Also watch out for computer soundcards. Even those with digital inputs may apply sample-rate conversion to your music (for example the Soundblaster Live series) which has the potential to degrade the sound, especially if it’s done several times.

5: Be organised, but don’t worry about the order. We can put your tracks in the right order at the session, but it’s a good idea to make clear notes for our engineers especially when sending multiple versions of tracks etc. This will save time in the session.

6: Avoid “over-cooking”. Decent audio equipment is much more easily available than it was, and there is a temptation to try out all the options. In particular, there are many tools offering “mastering” functions, like compression and normalising. We recommend you leave this until the mastering session.

It is possible to achieve excellent results with these tools, but it is also very easy to ruin a good mix if not used with great care and experience. By all means send us an example to listen to, but wherever possible we prefer to work from “clean” sources.

7: Always keep a backup copy of your pre-masters, and bring it to the session if you’re attending. When digital sources fail, they often can’t be repaired, so always keep a second (digital, flat) copy of everything, just in case.

8: Leave “topping and tailing” to the mastering session. We will be loading your tracks to a digital editor, so we can perfect any fades and/or crossfades for you then. Sometimes mastering can bring up subtle details of the mix which weren’t audible before, and it’s a shame to have them chopped off too abrubtly. You can always experiment beforehand and bring in a copy for us to refer to.

9: Always listen to your pre-master files before sending. Just because a computer says a file has been created correctly, doesn’t guarantee it will sound perfect. Many sources arrive with us for mastering full of clicks and dropouts which our clients didn’t know were there. It’s always worth taking the time to listen carefully to your pre-master all the way through prior to sending for mastering.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a shout 🙂

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