The 5 Steps to Finishing a Track Right

Sometimes silence is golden. But only sometimes.

Before you send your mix out for audio mastering, there are 5 steps you have to take to get the best results.

I used to get really annoyed when my masters would come back and a little mistake I had made was now loud and clear.

At first I blamed everyone else. But I slowly realized that it was all MY fault. I was making mixing mistakes that needed fixing.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Follow these 5 steps and finish your tracks the right way.

1. HOUSECLEANING

When you create a track you’re also creating the room that it’s in. Don’t be lazy and not clean it up before you have company over. Clean up your mix:

  1. Check your edit points – Go back into the mix to all the places where you made edits in the mixing phase. Listen close to the edit points. Make sure your fades are seamless and there’s no abrupt cut off or drop out. Just like a haircut, the smooth fade is the better fade.
  2. Solo your tracks – Listen to each track on it’s own. Make sure they’re faded in and out properly. These are the little things that you can’t fix after you export. So be safe and check before it’s too late.
  3. Take out the garbage – Take out the pops, the clicks, the blips, and the swishes that may have snuck into your mix. This is your last chance to remove all the little sound artifacts. Check each track in solo mode. Be thorough. Mastering can amplify and magnify these unwanted noises. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. LEAVE HEADROOM

Headroom is something you should be considering throughout the mixing phase. But It’s a good idea to check it again while you’re finalizing a project.

This is the most important key to getting the most out of your mastering tool.

You need to leave a certain amount of space—typically about 6dBFs between ‘0’ and the loudest part of your track.

Hot Tip: don’t put a limiter on your master bus. Mastering will take care of that. Same with dithering.

3. THE TOP…

The first thing you should hear at the start of your track is silence. Confused? Let me explain.

Mastering needs room to work. So leave one bar of courtesy space at the start of your track.

This will also give you the option to alter your intro or fade-in down to road if you decide that your original wasn’t working.

 

4. AND THE TAIL

The last thing you should hear at the end of your track is also silence. So leave a bar of silence at the end of your track as well.

Even after the fade out you should be leaving a space of silence. This will ensure that all your reverbs and delays have room to fade out completely.

Delays and reverbs will continue long after the sound that they’re applied to. So be aware of how they tail off. Nothing is worse than having a delay cut off at the very end of your track.

Hot Tip: use headphones to be absolutely sure when your reverb and delay tails end.

Learn more about how to use reverb and delay in our how to mix music guide.

A little bit of silence is also great for giving the listener a moment to reflect on how much they enjoyed listening to your track. :)

5. JUST LISTEN

Put on headphones and listen to your ENTIRE song all the way through. Better yet, do it twice. This is your final chance to be absolutely sure everything is in order.

The first time around listen for all the technicalities I mentioned above—artifacts, fades, edit points, reverb and delay tails.

Hot Tip: remember that Reverb and delay tails don’t ‘snap-to-grid’ in your DAW

This ensures that all your housecleaning is done.

Then listen again. But listen objectively. Stop being a mixer and just be a music enjoyer. Does your track do everything you want it to? Is it sounding perfect in all the right places?

It is? Perfect. Now you can finally be done the right way.

READY TO MASTER

Your track is now perfectly polished and primed for mastering. Without all the mistakes I used to make.

Feel free to go ahead and master away.

Because friends don’t let friends release un-mastered music.