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mastering headroom

How much headroom before mastering should you leave in your mix?  Here's the correct amount of headroom you should leave, using detailed graphic examples.

 

Note - It doesn't matter what DAW software you use FL Studio, Pro Tools, Logic, Reason, Cubase, Sonar or Ableton, the headroom examples and instructions apply to all of them.

There are two factors to consider when exporting your final mix for mastering:

A. Peak level - The absolute highest level the output signal reaches.

B. Dynamic range - The range between the highest level and the lowest level of the output signal.

 

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PEAK LEVEL

The loudest part of your song (peak level) should be around -3db to -5db (below 0 level).  This is considered +3db to +5db of headroom.  This is the ideal amount of headroom for mastering that you want to leave.

 

How To Create Headroom Before Mastering In Your Mixes

In your mix, never let your levels go over 0db on the stereo out (main out) meter, OR on ANY of your individual instrument or vocal tracks. 

Note - For the record, at times you can peak at 0 level or slightly over if its quick hits like a drum, hi-hat, etc. and they don't distort.  But again, there's no reason to go over-level. 

Remember, loudness maximization is done in mastering NOT mixing.  DO NOT keep raising the fader on the stereo out (main out) way over zero level, totally distorting the song, to match the volume level of your favorite song.  Yes, you matched the volume level, but now you have a scratchy distorted mess!  

If your mixes are going to be mastered by someone else, the mastering engineer prefers a lower level, more dull sounding mix that he or she can bring up to where it should be.  NOT an over-level scratchy distorted super bright mix.  NO ONE can do anything with this!  It's a trainwreck!  If you listen to the before samples on my website, you can hear what a song is supposed to sound like BEFORE mastering.  What a raw mix is supposed to sound like.  Did you notice they're not real loud, or distorted, or super bright or bassy?  This allows me to bring them up to where they should be in the after samples.      

Sometimes I receive songs that correctly have +3db of headroom, but the vocals or certain instruments are still distorted.  This is because the "individual tracks" were mixed over-level.  Nothing should ever go over 0db on any channel of your entire mix!!

 

I get so many over-level submissions, I've decided to show graphics of how your .wav or.aiff files should look.  These are your ideal mastering levels in dbs.
 

 

audio .wav example 1

This .wav file peaks at -6db. This .wav has too much headroom before mastering.
But, I can still work with this by just gaining it +3-4dbs.

 

audio .wav example 2

 This .wav file peaks at -3db. This is the ideal amount of headroom before mastering.
 

 

audio .wav example 3

This .wav file peaks at 0db but is fine because there are no distorted flat
spots in the wave. The high hats are hitting at 0db and everything else
drops down, leaving good dynamic range. I can work with this.

 

audio .wav example 4

This .wav is +3db over level. All the flat spots you see are distortion. You can't
just jack up your levels past 0 and distort everything to make your song louder.
Loudness is increased in mastering.  Do not submit a file that looks like this.
 

 

audio .wav example 5

Once a week, we get at least one file that looks like this! Let's call this the
"trainwreck file." +6db over-level and totally distorted from beginning to end.

I can't do anything with this. No one can!!

 

audio .wav example 6

This is an interesting file. We get this quite often too. It's the "train-wreck file"
we mentioned above, gained down -9db. It's completely distorted, but its -3db under 0 level.

A file where the mixer channels are over 0 level, but the main stereo out
is -6db would look exactly the same.

I can't use this either. Once your song is distorted and over level, you
can't just gain it down. All you're doing is making a distorted file quieter.

You have to be under 0 level on the stereo out, and on all the mixer board
channels when exporting the original .wav file.

Unfortunately, many times the recording studio gives you the "train-wreck" file
and you're stuck with it.  Gaining it down yourself does nothing.


And Of Course If You Want Your Songs To Sound AMAZING!
Check out my low Online Mastering Prices.  Incredible results at an affordable price!
 

DYNAMIC RANGE 

As a song plays, the output meter constantly goes up and down. Dynamic range is the area between the peak level (when the meter is up) and the low level (when the meter is down). Roughly, 3db to 5db of movement between the high and low meter level is average, but this does depend on the genre of music. 

With a heavily compressed/limited or over-level mix, the meter will not go up and down more than 1db, if any.  Not good. 

The reason I need dynamic range and headroom in mixes is because compressed/limited or over-level mixes already have music content removed from them, which greatly limits what I can do in mastering.

 

"Leaving no dynamic range is comparable to a woman who goes to a hair stylist with only 3 inches of hair. The stylist would be “very” limited with what she could do!  10 inches and the sky's the limit!"

If you've made it this far, you now know how much headroom you should have in your mixes.  Now you need to know how to properly MASTER your own music.

Hello, my name is John Rogers owner of JR mastering and author of the current #1 Best Selling Audio Mastering Book on Amazon.com which is now available in a video course!  Since 1999, I've mastered over 40,000 songs for over 7,500 clients.  I've mastered music for grammy award winners, several songs I mastered charted #1 and top 10 in Europe, and my masters have been played by DJs in many major cities all over the world. 

best online mastering course

Why am I telling you this?  Because I know audio mastering, and I would like to teach you everything I've learned since 1999, in only 4 hours!  It's not a $20,000 two year class, or a $3,500 6 month course (a total waste of money), I will teach you everything you need to know in audio mastering in only 4 hours!  This course and the PDFs took me over 1.5 years to create.  This is some serious stuff!

  As an added BONUS - I will master one of your songs and provide free access to a video of the mastering session.  Continue reading for more info....

video tutorials
Note - You can watch the videos on your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, whatever your device is you can watch the videos. Also, video courses are genre/style specific.  Course times vary depending on your genre/style of music, but you will get over 3 hours of video in all courses.

1. Audio Master Laws, Tips, and Advice (46:36)
Several videos that fill in the missing pieces that are not in other parts of the course.  Tips, advice and absolute LAWS that you cannot break.  Break a few of these laws, and I will guarantee your CD project will be a disaster.  45 minutes of strong advice.

2. The 4 Bands In Audio Mastering (9:32)
In audio mastering, we work in Bands.  Here's a quick overview.

3. Analyzing A .Wav File Before Mastering (11:58)
This is the first step in audio mastering (after importing the song).

4. How To Correctly Set Your Song Volumes (8:10)
How do I get all my songs the same volume?  How loud is my song supposed to be?  Is my song too loud?  All these questions are answered in this quick 8 min video.

5. Compression Made Easy (19:49)
I've listen to over 1,000 clients attempts at mastering, and masters from other studios (some charging $100 a song).  75% of what I heard, they have NO CLUE how to compress a song.  Usually, they don't apply any compression at all (they just make the song louder and call that mastering) and the song breaks up miserably when played back loud.  Or the extreme, they compress it to death and it has no dynamic range and it's distorted.

In this video I explain what compression is, your goals, how to use compressors, everything you need to know about compression in audio mastering is in this 20 min video!

6. Understanding Equalization And Spectral Enhancement (27:05)
Which processors are used for EQ?  Most people don't know a compressor is one of them.  When do you use them, what are your goals, what's the difference between EQ and spectral enhancement?  Almost a half hour of priceless information you want find anywhere else.

7. "Your Genre Of Music" Step by Step Mastering Sessions (3-4 songs) (between 1:00-1:30)
In this video I master 3-4 songs in a live mastering session.  You'll see I always use the same simple steps with every song, to bring it up to commercial radio standards.  I also include bonus tips and advice while going through my step progression.  This video brings everything together, when you can actually see me doing what I've talked about earlier, and what you've read in the PDFs or in my book.


You Can Quickly Become An Audio Mastering Expert
I've worked with sooooo many clients and studios.  I've heard their mastering attempts.  I've read 1,000 blog posts and watched 100 hours of free youtube video made by guys with "very little" commercial mastering experience or they're a kid living in their mom's basement (usually both). 

That all being said, if you read my PDFs (why not buy the full book too) and watch all of my videos, I can just about guarantee you will be better than 75% of the audio mastering engineers online!  This includes some from major recording studios.  I know this because I've heard their masters and 75% are clueless in several major areas, and you will know more than them.

Now, I can't exactly "guarantee" results.  That's like someone selling exercise videos and guaranteeing you will lose weight.  Yes, if you do the program, guaranteed you will.  But if you never turn the video on, the weight loss program won't work for you.  Same thing here.


MASTERING ISN'T A TEST!
Too many people think, oh well I got some advice from this kid, and three other guys, now I'm going to master the CD that took me A YEAR to write and record.  Really?  Here's why this doesn't work.

I'll be generous.  20% of the information from engineers who have never done anything (other than work on their own stuff) is absolutely WRONG.  Sometimes even the opposite.  They make up these odd ball theories based on nothing.  I've even had a few hip hop engineers make mastering decisions based on what their grandma told them about their songs.  I'm not joking here, they told me their grandma said the bass was too low, so they cranked it above distortion.

Well, so what if you get a few processes wrong?  You'll get 80% of your CD mastering right.  That's a grade B, right?  WRONG!  It's an "F."

If you get your loudness wrong, you get an "F."  If you get your compression wrong, you get an "F."  Maybe you don't know how to increase clarity, set your bass levels, get all your songs the same level, all "F."

You could get ONE critical area wrong, and be 90% right with the rest, and your CD will be a JOKE when played against commercial songs, at the club, even your family and friends will laugh at you after leave. Ha!

Let me give you information that is 100% correct!  Based on the over 40,000 songs I've mastered that have actually been played on the radio, and in clubs around the world.

Get an "A+" on all of your projects!  Why not?  Isn't you music career worth this small investment?

 

90 pages pdfsYou get 90 pages of PDFs from my current #1 Best Selling Audio Mastering Book on Amazon.com.  From setting up your listening environment, my graph of solutions to common problems, how to master different genres, to how to correctly set your song volumes, this course is packed with valuable information.  You can spend 100 hours on youtube looking for free videos and half the information in my course, you'll never find it anywhere!  And, even better, you won't get any "wrong" information from my course either, that will ruin your project.  

Note - This option available with the FULL course only.

I want you to succeed with your audio mastering, your music career or your sound engineering business! 

What better way than for you to be able to watch a video of me mastering one of your songs?  You'll also get the mastered song as a reference track for the rest of your project.  Lastly, if there are any major errors in your mix, I will tell you how to fix them.  So, we can get a great mastering result.  This is a $250 value by itself alone!

Note - How it works is after ordering the course, you can email me a song (any genre/style regardless of the course you purchased) and within 7 business days I will email you a link with access to watch your song's mastering session.  If there are any errors in your mix for you to correct, you will be notified prior to your video session being created.
 

So, how much is my course?  

$2,500

$1,000

$500

SAVE AN ADDITIONAL 15% THIS WEEK ONLY!
COUPON CODE - 15apr (enter discount code middle right of first page, above total)

How about only $49* for the 3.5 hour course (no video of your song).
Or $151* (comes with the live video session of your song being mastered).
*Prices after using the 15% off coupon

Note - You can watch the videos on any device smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, whatever.

IMPORTANT -  Also, you will be directed to Yondo website to create an account and make payment.  You will be sent a verification email or you can just go to https://jrmastering.yondo.com/login to log in and start watching the videos and download the PDFs.  The entire process is very simple and the video interface is AMAZING!  Very easy to use, fast, and well organized.

If Your Genre/Style Of Music Isn't Available, It Will Be Soon
HARD ROCK -
Will be available April 25th - Email me if you would like to be notified

 

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