Learn how to prepare your tracks for the best possible LANDR master.
Making music is easy. Sound engineering, on the other hand, can be a very technical and time consuming process that not all artists excel at it.
The purpose of this post is to help you prepare your tracks for the best possible LANDR master. Read on, take notes then get back to making music.
THE THING ABOUT DYNAMICS AND MASTERING
Mixes that are dynamic and have a lot of transient activity sound better, punchier, groovier, less fatiguing, more interesting, and exciting to the ear.
Leaving room for dynamics in your mixes is easy — the key is understanding transients and headroom.
WHAT ARE TRANSIENTS?
Transients are the attack portion of a sound. It’s what gives a snare its crack, or a kick its slap or thump. They are the lifeblood of punch and groove, and are necessary if you want your music to really hit people in the chest instead of flopping over them like a wet cardboard box.
And here’s the same hit, this time slammed with compression.
WHAT IS HEADROOM AND HOW CAN IT HELP A MASTER?
Headroom in a mix can be summed up simply as the physical space left for the mastering process.
Here’s a track with very little headroom left. In a nutshell this means that there is little to no room left for the mastering process.
And here’s the same track mixed with lots of headroom. Notice how much space there is to work.
HOW CAN I MAKE ENOUGH HEADROOM FOR A LANDR MASTER?
The trick here is to record and mix at sensible levels. Best practice is to have your peak levels hit around -6dB on your track or master faders. Any higher and you risk clipping, which can sound pretty terrible in digital.
Notice how the level on the master fader is peaking around -6dB
The DON’T CLIP RULE
The most common problem is mixing too hot and then putting a limiter on the master bus to keep things from clipping. While a limiter might keep the overload lights from turning on, it’s still harming your dynamics by reducing all your nice transient peaks into the dynamic equivalent of Death Valley.
One problem we see a lot with LANDR masters are mixes crushed with a limiter and the master fader pulled down to achieve the suggested 6dB of headroom. This is cheating and you will get caught.
I say this because a master fader lowers the gain after it hits the limiter, not before. The damage is already done at this point.
What’s the solution?
Don’t worry about making things loud at the mix stage by adding all kinds of compression and limiting. Just concentrate on making your mixes sound the best you can and leave the “loudnessing” to the mastering stage.
You wouldn’t cook a pizza and then cook it again. So it also doesn’t make sense to master your track and then send it off to be mastered.
WHAT ARE THE BEST FILE FORMATS TO SUBMIT TO LANDR?
Always send the best possible version to be mastered. Export your track as either WAV or AIFF in the same sample rate and bit depth as your session.
If you need mp3’s or any other lossy file format for distribution, wait until you have your final mastered track and generate them from that. Don’t send an mp3 (or m4a or ogg or wma) to be mastered.
16 bits can get a bit noisy when you start adding up a lot of tracks. Always use 24 bits. There’s no real reason not to. It’s exceedingly good for any application.
Leave dithering for the mastering stage.
SAMPLE RATES AND MASTERING
Sample rate is a bit less clear. There’s lots of arguments about what’s good, bad, and ok with no clear winners. Lots of great sounding records have been recorded at 44.1kHz. Using higher sample rates are fine, but make sure your computer can handle the additional strain.
If you know what your final output needs to be, make sure to work at the appropriate sample rate and avoid unnecessary conversion step at the end. For instance CD=44.1kHz, Video=48kHz, Spotify/Soundcloud= Sample rate doesn’t matter.
I hope these are helpful and best of luck with your masters.