English · Tips

How To Check Mixes Before Sending Them To a Mastering Engineer

Article by David Jones / Mix Asylum

Today’s topic doesn’t so much relate to production techniques, but is about the final stage in the production chain, Mastering. It is perhaps something that people take for granted (“if I’ve got a good enough mix, the mastering engineer can fix it”) but it is in fact a much more delicate and important part of the production process than you might realise.

I’d like to share with you today what a mix should be sounding like sonically before you send it to the mastering engineer, and showing you if done right, how mastering can truly take your mixes to the next level. Let’s get to it, shall we?

The pre-master

The pre-master is your final stereo mix before any mastering takes place, but let’s think about some of the things your mix should have before you send it to someone:

  • Does my mix have a good stereo balance? – Are the overall levels ok, or are things ‘jumping’ from loud to quiet? Does your mix sound like it has ‘space’ and sounds clear, or is everything squashed and fighting for that vital stereo image?
  • Sonically, have I got the ‘sounds’ I want in my mix? – There is no ‘magic button’ for the mastering engineer to suddenly get your main guitar channel sounding like Angus Young for example. If your tone isn’t sounding as you want it, fix it in the mix. There is absolutely nothing the mastering engineer can do to sonically alter instrument/vocal sounds.
  • Is my master channel level set right before bouncing off? – It might sound simple enough, but you would not believe the amount of mixes I have been sent through where the mix has been bounced off to such a high volume level, that there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix the track. Remember, mastering will make the output of the track louder, so if there is no headroom in the track before an engineer adds any effects, imagine how loud the track would be if someone attempted to add mastering to it….I shudder to think of the loudness to be honest. Always make sure your master channel is low enough so that the engineer has the headroom they need (somewhere around the -20dB mark would be best).

What is Mastering? 

Now that we’ve looked at some of the requirements for a ‘good’ mix to send for mastering, let us now explore what exactly a mastering does to your song. A useful definition of the process comes below, courtesy of Tape Op Magazine:

“At its basic core, mastering is the process of making a cohesive, playable audio collection out of a group of recordings that may be less than consistent. After mastering you should be able to play the record without getting out of your chair to adjust the bass, treble, balance and volume controls as each song comes up. It should also be free of extraneous sounds – clicks and pops – that interfere with the experience of hearing the music. Beyond this mandate, there is an art to the process and every mastering engineer (ME) will do things a bit differently. But in order for these “masters” to arrive at the point where they can exercise their art, the bottom-line “cringe factors” of less-than-perfect recordings must be dealt with”.

[Acosta, A., Carroll, J., Stamey, C. (2008)]

Please take note of the passages in bold text. Although the first line may refer more specifically to albums, it reinforces my point earlier that your song should not have wild volume changes throughout it, as this constant changing of levels could make a listener ‘switch off’, which is something no one wants. Always keep this in mind when using automation processes.

Unwanted noise is also an issue to take note of. If your singer coughed half way through the guitar solo, make sure you remove this from your mix, as mastering will always highlight mistakes. It might give more of a ‘live’ vibe, but someone enjoying the music might be put off!!! In all seriousness though, take care of unwanted noise; it makes the mastering engineer’s job so much easier.

What does the mastering engineer do?

Obviously this all depends on the song in question, some songs may need more processing, others less. As a general rule though, the mastering engineer is likely to use/do the following on a track:

  • EQ
  • Compression
  • Delay/Reverb (to add character to the mix)
  • Appropriate fade in/out for song

This list could go on forever really; it does all depend on the source material that the engineer has to work with.

The basic role of the mastering engineer is to get the overall volume of the mix to a professional and acceptable standard, while making sure it has body and depth across the entire stereo spectrum, while making sure the levels do not exceed maximum limits. To say this role is a ‘juggling act’ is perhaps an understatement!!

What should my waveform look like before I get it mastered? 

I hope so far this blog has given you some insight into just how much source material plays a crucial role into what the mastering engineer has to consider when mastering a song.

Let’s say that your mix ticks all of the boxes which we’ve discussed so far and you’re saying “David, I’ve got a great sounding mix, I think my levels are to a reasonable level, but how do I make sure?”

Well, this is where overall waveform levels are exceptionally important. I’d like to share with you now a few screenshots from some recent mixes I was sent to master, and what they sounded like.

This first song is called “Ghost Train” by Bruce Niemchick. Here is the original unmastered song which Bruce sent to me:




“Sands of Paradise” by HURSH



“Tornado on The Way” by Rick Ivanoff



Please notice that the waveforms are to a very low level (you can tell this by the space between the lengths of the audio file region). Waveform’s like this are exactly what a mastering engineer needs in order to work their magic well, they have optimum headroom for effects and give the feeling of space and clarity which is just waiting to be exploited by the mastering engineer.

Now, here are the same waveforms again after they have been mastered (along with the new mastered audio):

“Ghost Train” by Bruce Niemchick



“Sands of Paradise” by HURSH




“Tornado on The Way” by Rick Ivanoff



Please do take a look and listen to the un-mastered and mastered versions of these tracks. I hope they have conveyed that with some care and consideration how a good mix can turn into a fantastic master ready for distribution.

*All mastered and un-mastered tracks have been collated at the end of this blog so you can easily go between the two comparisons.

The Final Word

I hope this blog has gone some way to enlighten you to some of the techniques that can lead to an excellent sounding mastered song. Please try and remember that headroom is an incredibly important part of your mix, and try to ask yourself “has my mix got enough headroom for the mastering engineer?” before sending it to a paying engineer. Ask a friend/neighbour/housemate etc just to take a listen to your mix before you decide to send it, fresh ears always make a world of difference!!!

If you want to discuss anything about this blog, please feel free to get in touch with me via email at:

techniques-mixasylum@hotmail.co.uk or send a message through my facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/mixasylum

Any feedback is appreciated, good or bad, or even if you’ve got personal tips on how you prepare your mix before mastering, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks, see you next time!

David Jones

Blog References 

Acosta, A., Carroll, J., Stamey, C. (2008) Interviews > Mastering Focus. [Internet]. Available from:        http://tapeop.com/interviews/68/mastering-focus/                     [Accessed: 11th December 2013]

Audio Examples

Here are today’s audio examples collated into one section so it is easier to compare the differences between the mixes. Thank you to the artistes for allowing me to showcase their material.

“Ghost Train” song by Bruce Niemchick https://www.facebook.com/bruceniemchick

Original Unmastered version:


Mastered version by Mix Asylum:


“Sands of Paradise” song by HURSH


Original Unmastered version:


Mastered version by Mix Asylum:


“Tornado on The Way” song by Rick Ivanoff


Original Unmastered version:


Mastered version by Mix Asylum:


English · Tips

Can You Hear Your Brand?

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 17.06.08

Article by Lars Deutsch

Audio Branding

Audio branding, also known as sound branding or sonic branding, is the use of sound to reinforce brand identity. Sound branding is increasingly becoming a vehicle for conveying a memorable message to consumers by taking advantage of the powerful memory sense of sound. The audio logo is one of the tools of audio branding. An audio logo is a short, distinctive melody or other sequence of sound, usually positioned at the beginning or end of a commercial. It can be understood as the acoustic equivalent of a visual logo. Often a combination of both types of logo is used to enforce the recognition of a brand. To understand why audio branding is so effective, the following is a little background about…

Your Incredible Ears

“Sound is a nutrient for the nervous system. Love your ears… they are much more important than you ever realized.” – Prof. Dr. Alfred Tomatis
Humans are hard-wired audio-visualists. We live by our visual sense so much these days that we both underestimate and undervalue our most potent and primal sense: the sense of sound. Hearing develops in a human fetus at just 12 weeks’ gestation. Long before we physically have ears, we hear our mother’s heartbeat through every cell. Hearing is the first sense we develop, and it is the last sense to dim when we die. We have no “deaf spot” because hearing is and always has been our primary warning sense, and because it is vital to our spatial awareness. We have no “ear lids” because even while we are dreaming our sense of hearing is
constantly scanning and analyzing the sounds around us. We discern a great deal about any space in just a second or two from its acoustics. Even with our eyes closed we can perceive walls and other solid objects from the tiniest sonic reflections. Hearing and space are intimately and permanently connected in a potent perceptive process.
Additionally, our auditory range is ten times greater than our visual range in terms of relative frequency. In terms of intensity, our aural range is 10,000 times greater than our visual range. Our ears process information in a special way – there is a reason why our ears are so powerful and we have no “ear lids”. Our ears control our eyes and serve to warn us of potential danger even if we are asleep. Ears are always “on” and gather far too much data for us to consciously comprehend. Most of that unfiltered data takes a “short cut” to reach the more primal parts of our brain and our emotional core. Content received through the eyes can be broken down and comprehended much more easily. And content received through the ears can “touch” you much more easily in its raw, unfiltered state.

For example: Visually, you can understand and appreciate a good presentation even if it utilizes colors that do not “match”. However, you may never completely understand or appreciate a good presentation in a space with terrible sound. The way your brain processes sound leads to…

Your Incredible Memory for Sound

Alzheimer’s patients can recall and sing songs long after they’ve stopped recognizing names and faces. There is growing evidence that listening to music can help stimulate seemingly lost memories and even help restore some cognitive function. There’s no single center for music in the mind. The brain appears to be wired throughout for the music since it engages a wide variety of functions including listening, language and movement. You cannot “delete” music unless the brain is completely gone. Listening to a song is like giving a small internal performance of that song and the brain is involved on many levels. This is why important information, such as the alphabet, is often taught to children by using songs. With this knowledge in mind, let’s move on to the…

Benefits of Audio Branding

Good sound is good business. Various companies have shown that at least one clear path to people’s hearts, minds and wallets is through their ears. Sound adds dimension; music adds emotion; melody creates memories. Practically speaking, silence is not an option. Either you create the context in which you communicate or the consumer will. Since each brand has an identity and each brand has something to say, it is vital that you use all the tools available to you to convey your message. Ignoring sound for the brand, film, animation, logo or on-line presence is equivalent to unplugging the cord connecting your story to your customers. Effective branding tells a story with sounds that reflect a product’s function. It also reflects the brand’s attitude. For example, an effective brand communication could be engineering the tone of a hairdryer so that the operating sound is pleasant. As part of your overall brand toolkit, sound can help shape a potential client’s perception of your brand. It can also potentially help you connect with the client on a deeper, more subconscious level. Sound is very effective on a subliminal level.

Companies that have not made a significant investment in audio branding are ignoring a tremendous marketing opportunity. Companies that establish their brands as media-rich experiences have a distinct advantage over their competitors. Not only does sound enhance brand, it adds a more compelling level of sensory
experience that keeps viewers “stuck” on a web site, or leads them to choose a particular product – such as a hairdryer with a pleasing sound. Audio branding can add meaning and emotionalize communication, which influences consumer judgment.

Retail environments, public places and physical spaces are increasingly more important in the relationship between consumers and brands. The higher-value opportunity for audio branding is not only in providing bleeps, blips and soundtracks for these experiences, but in the broader consultative role of experienced designer, director, producer, and curator for brand-based, audio-intensive experiences. It’s particularly important for international brands to use audio identifiers to overcome language barriers and create familiarity. Music is a very powerful tool for bringing people together and overcoming these barriers.

Who Needs Branding?

Branding is helpful for businesses and organizations that intend to actively interact with customers and have more than one place of contact. For example: A family owned Italian restaurant does not need audio branding. However, a chain of Italian restaurants will benefit from unified call-hold audio and an audio logo or sonic branding on the website. Another option is to brand with a unique selection of preexisting material, as opposed to original material. This is akin to creating a mixed–tape for the consumer experience. Such a model has been successfully used at Starbucks for example. From a sound consulting perspective, it is possible to fine-tune the sound experience at each individual restaurant, so that each feels like an oasis where the customer can enjoy a pleasant dining experience. More about audio consulting later…

Where Can I Brand? What Can I Brand?

In your shop, on your call-hold music, on-line, on TV, at trade shows, etc…

What can I brand?
ATMs, new media and devices with built-in audio delivery such as laptops, PDAs, phones, podcasts, audio books, etc… Additionally, sound can improve the user experience by making tasks easier and more enjoyable. Sound branding can be combined with other marketing tactics to convey organizational or
product identity, enhance the consumer experience of a product or service, or extend an organization’s relationship with its audience. The branded sound becomes the narrative underpinning the brand story. This includes the acoustic sound of your environment, even if there isn’t any music playing at all. The acoustic sound of a space is an important section of branding, which mainly works with shaping existing environments.
This is…

Sound Consulting

As many sounds lead to stress, sound consulting for most businesses is about lowering or controlling sound. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a study report in June 2004 showing that improving building design and reducing noise in hospitals can help boost healing. The study also showed that loud paging systems and beeping medical devices interfere with workers’ satisfaction levels, reduce productivity and increase accidents. Almost any business can benefit from sound absorbers. What follows are three examples of how you can improve or even brand your business by having a carefully designed sound.

1. You own a stylish, upscale jazz club. Your customers come for a drink and to socialize. They enjoy the live jazz, but they are not a concert audience. From invisible sound absorbers, equalizer and compression settings for the band, to a volume related seating chart and knowing which customers have a higher tolerance to volumes, we can provide the information and tools to create a pleasant soundscape that embeds but does not interfere.

2. You run a large office with cubicles.
Did you know that loud, harsh noises, such as some ring tones, do the same to your concentration as a flashlight in the face? Your employees will be less effective and more exhausted if there is constant stress in their aural world. With custom designed ring tones, better placement of phones and other noise sources, sound absorbers and a “noise etiquette” policy, your employees will relax and be more productive.

3. Your meeting room.
The sound of the room where you meet with clients should be as crisp and clear as your presentations. You need a room that gently resonates with the speakers’ voices, but does not cloud what is said by reverberation.

How do I start?

A sound consulting analysis of your business environment generally leads to quick improvement of the sound of your business space through relatively inexpensive fixes. The core of audio branding is usually an audio logo. This is often combined with a soundscape – a landscape of sound. This material can and should be the core of all audio communication of the company. This is the new voice of your company. Branding that relies purely on sound design, as opposed to melody, is very limited. A short musical motif can be transformed into any genre of music and stay fresh over many years. If this motif is embedded in sound design you have the best of both worlds.

Examples of Effective Use of Sound

The sounds used inside the Bentley Continental GT reflect research about who drives a Bentley and how Bentley sees itself as a brand. Bentley is retaining the heritage of its brand through sound.

Zippo is a product that brands itself and comes closest to really owning a particular sound. The sound of a Zippo flipping open is an international, immediately identifiable sound. Whether intentional or purely by chance, the mechanism makes an unmistakable sound. French vs. German wine: In 1998, Adrian North, David Hargreaves and Jennifer McKendrick ran a test in a British wine shop to determine the role of background music in purchase decisions. For a number of days they played French and German music in the shop, alternating between the two. It was found that on French-music days, the French wine outsold the German wine by a ratio of four to one. On German-music days, German wine outsold the French by a ratio of three to one. The same team also discovered that customers are likely to tolerate longer wait times (both on the phone and in the real world), if and when the hold/background music is enjoyable and fits consumer expectations.

The military uses the voices of family members instead of alarm sounds in equipment, because we have become so accustomed to tuning out the sounds that are annoying or intrusive, yet will immediately tune into the voices of those we love. Sleeping in the car – audio branding in its most basic and effective form: The first sensory experience in life is of the sound and vibration of our mother’s heartbeat and blood circulation. This symphony of sound patterns is deeply embedded in the subconscious for the rest of our lives. Any noise that mimics to the white noise of our mother’s bloodstream helps us to relax, such as the sound of the ocean or a driving car. Babies can even fall asleep next to the roaring white noise of a hair dryer for exactly this reason.

Value and Pricing

Brand-based audio assets are financial assets that grow in value – particularly when deployed as part of a full sonic identity system. Audio assets build recognition, awareness and preference of and for a brand, all of which translates into revenue. The Intel or T – Mobile audio logos, for example, are priceless in their effect and will
continue to grow in value with familiarity. A good example of the value of good sound on a much smaller scale is your on-hold sound. It costs a lot of money to get people interested enough in your company to make that call. Your business relies on that customer’s impression of you and if his first contact is via your on-hold sound, that sound is vital. In this case, signal is more important than noise. Silence on-hold says nothing. Even worse, it can say that you don’t care. Revenue is lost whenever a customer hangs up – having the right music can ensure that your customer remains on-hold so that you can serve him. Retail stores incorporate music with a similar goal at their stores. Studies show that you can increase the length of a customer’s stay at a retail store by 28% by playing music that is less familiar to that particular store’s clientele, as opposed to music the customers may know. Brand is everything in business. It should be protected and maintained with every investment decision to ensure it is sought after and valued for years to come. Brands that utilize music and sound consistently in their marketing today will be the next generation of iconic brands and enjoy increased loyalty and brand awareness. If a visual logo is the face of a brand, an audio logo is its voice.

About Lars Deutsch

Lars is experienced in writing and producing music and sound that works. Before Lars worked exclusively under his own name, he wrote and produced music for branding and jingle houses. You can find a short video of his current branding work at his website: www.larsdeutsch.net. Apart from his prolific film work, he is also the producer of the audio level of Business Nap – a project that features psychoacoustic effects and music that harmonies the heart rate, breathing rhythm and brain frequencies of the listener. The eleven published modules deal with relaxation and recharging during the lunch break for the second half of the office day, fear of flying, jet lag and procrastination. Lars is an experienced classical composer with performances of his work at the prestigious Salzburg Festival. He has an MA in classical composition, and extensive experience as a lecturer. He has studied psychology and psychoacoustics and reads voraciously about perception and communication through music and sound. Lars is currently a producer at Built To Last Music: www.builttolastmusic.com. His branding production crew includes marketing and visual branding experts, sound designers, sound engineers and other consultants.