Now that you’ve laid down and recorded the tracks for your next demo or album, you’re ready to mix and master it to match your creative aspirations. And remember: just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you need to skimp on the quality.
Here’s how lean, enterprising musicians with an entrepreneurial spark can mix and master their tracks without compromising artistic vision.
1. Record solid tracks.
While an audio pro will certainly work their magic to deliver polished songs, take your time to provide the best tracks possible. After all, your vocal and instrumental tracks serve as the foundation. When recording on a budget, get inventive. Make the most of existing audio gear and digital tools to improve your music. If you’re going full-out DIY with your recordings, optimize the acoustics in your makeshift home recording studio. Find out ways to kill sound reflections and deliberate over the ideal placement of your computer, speakers, and equipment in your space.
Before handing over your files, focus on quality and smooth out any kinks. Typically, the normal format for files at this stage in the process is 48k sample rate, 24-bit, explains Paul Pavao, chief engineer of The Mix Room. Make sure everything is labeled clearly (i.e., “rhythm guitar,” “kick drum” etc.). “Try to get a good rough mix of how you are hearing it, and include that when you send the song, so that the engineer has a good idea of what you are hearing,” says Pavao.
2. Grasp tech terms.
If you’ve tried your hand at mixing and mastering your own tracks, you’ll most likely have a basic understanding of the process and common terms tossed about. But if you’re a newbie and getting your tracks mixed and mastered for the first time, you should read up on the lingo, or watch YouTube tutorials so you and the audio pro can speak the same language. For example, what does it mean to normalize, EQ, or pan the tracks? And how do compression, reverb, and delay enhance the music?
Know the difference between mixing, which is blending the tracks together, and mastering, which is getting the songs to a polished, cohesive form. It’ll help you be on the same page with your engineer, and will avoid miscommunication and potential snags in the process.
3. Zero in on what you want.
Even the most amazing sound geniuses can’t read minds. Before reaching out to audio professionals on Fiverr, think about mixes you love and create an “inspo playlist” of mixes you aspire to create. What makes these mixes so killer? And what elements do you want to achieve when producing your own work? The more specific you can get, the better. Are you going for a “dark, somber” sound, or more along the lines of “sharp and bright?” It’s a good idea to have links of these tracks on hand to pass along to potential collaborators. If you have a few albums under your belt, think about what you liked the most about the songs, and what you would have done differently. And what are you going for this time around? The more reference material you can give to the audio engineer, the better your odds of landing the desired result.
4. Hunt for collaborators.
You don’t have to pay a premium or get the same crew who worked on Beyoncé’s Lemonade or Drake’s Views to get the results you want. And while you can hire separate audio pros to handle the mixing and mastering, you’ll find that a lot of audio engineers are masters at both. First, figure out how much of a budget you have to work with. Next, hunt for professionals who work in your genre, and request sample mixes. It’s also important to decide whether you want someone to strictly mix and master your tracks, or if you also want someone to play the role of producer, so you can scout accordingly.
5. Lay out expectations beforehand.
When shopping around for a pro to collaborate with, discuss different packages, the rates for each, and what to expect in the process. Do the tracks need to be formatted as WAV or MP3 files? And what’s the average turnaround? If the info isn’t readily available on their page, inquire whether revisions are included in the rate. And for future reference, see what other audio production services they provide. By being clear on what you want, prepping beforehand, and knowing where to look, you’ll find ace collaborators to mix and master your tracks to ultimate perfection and bring your music to life.
What’s your top tip on mixing and mastering tracks on a budget? Tell us in the comments!