We appreciate that mixing is a personal thing and everyone has their own style. We don’t want you to feel too restricted when you mix, so there’s only a couple of things we recommend to get the best possible results from the mastering engine.
They have to do with dynamics and peak headroom.
When it comes to dynamics, there’s a couple things to keep in mind when preparing your mix for LANDR.
A dynamic track has a range of material that is relatively quiet to loud. You can also think about dynamics on a more micro scale--as the difference in level or intensity between the sounds in your track.
Mastering involves compression techniques that use this space in order to add intensity, presence and glue your mix together - if the dynamic range is already gone - there’s not much LANDR can do on that front.
The main culprit behind mixes with low dynamic range is heavy compression or limiting. We get it, using compression and limiting at the master or stereo output of your mix adds loudness and intensity, and you want your mix to be BIG! - but if you’re planning on using LANDR for that final touch - LANDR will take care of this for you. If you like mixing loud, no worries - just turn your monitors up!
LANDR uses those dynamics you leave, so we recommend not adding any dynamic plugins that are typically used during the mastering process (i.e. limiters and compressors) to your master channel for the sake of loudness. You can definitely have plugins on your master bus, just not ones that are there strictly to push your mix to the limit!
Compressors are often a vital tool used to control dynamics - which we totally encourage. Controlling your dynamics using compression can contribute to a better master. But it often sounds better to add small amounts of compression at different stages in the mixing process than adding more at the end. So adding some compression on individual tracks and busses is fine, as long as it isn’t working too hard and squishing your track!
We’ll never tell you that there’s only one way to mix - this just isn’t true. So if you prefer mixing hot - go for it! But we encourage you to experiment with your mix and see the different results you can get with LANDR. This is the best way to figure out how you like to master.
The next thing to consider is Peak Headroom. Peak Headroom is crucial for mastering because again, LANDR uses the space you leave to apply all of its mastering adjustments. LANDR is restricted in what it can do for your mix if it has no room to play with.
The final mix should have a fair amount of headroom (the room between your highest peak levels and 0dBFS, which is the maximum level digital audio can have). Aiming for around 6dB of headroom is nice and safe, which means your master output (all of your tracks' combined signal) should peak around -6 dBFS. -6 dB is generous - we recommend this to be safe. It's ok if some peaks hit higher than -6 dB, just make sure you maintain a few dB of headroom. Remember that we’re talking about your loudest sounds here, not your average level.
Don’t get too caught up in the numbers - the biggest concern is peaks above 0 dBFS. 0 dBFS is the digital limit before distortion occurs. That’s why your meter goes red! So avoiding this is your main goal.
NOTE! It's always best to achieve peak headroom by mixing rather than taking a shortcut and reaching for your master fader (leave it at 0), or using a limiter. Sometimes this is ok but because we can't see everyone's mixing session and what kind of gain staging they have going on, we recommend this to be safe.
The best thing you can do is keep these things in mind when you start mixing so you’re not scrambling at the end!
Check out more details in these blog posts we've published:
Once you’ve exported your audio from your DAW, always make sure to check the that the file plays back correctly and is the correct duration before uploading to LANDR.
- Avoid using compressors or limiters on your master output just for the sake of loudness (LANDR will take care of that for you).
- Make sure none of your mix channels are clipping above 0 dBFS (including your master!)
- Aim for a dynamic mix with some peak headroom
- If you’ve eaten up most of your dynamic range using compression and/or limiting, creating headroom by lowering your master fader, normalizing down or lowering your limiter ceiling won’t help - true peak headroom is only valuable if your track still has some dynamics left
Plug-ins (do I need em’ or not?)
PLUG-INS! Use any tools you feel are necessary to get your mix sounding it’s best. You make the rules here - BUT REMEMBER - let LANDR take care of the overall loudness. Don’t worry about that when you’re mixing. Choose HIGH intensity to boost your mix up to the level of a commercial master.
PRO NOTE: Plugins that model analog gear (nonlinear) : Take a look at all your plugins. How many are modelled after old analog gear like compressors, EQs, console channels, etc.? If the modelling was done properly, most of these processors will behave like the analog gear they mean to imitate. So the harder you push them the more they'll start to saturate, distort and introduce ‘unit noise’. This isn't always a bad thing and can be used for creative purposes, but in general if you're pushing all your plugins with high levels it will make your mix begin to sound brittle, harsh, and 2-dimensional. So if you feel that your LANDR masters aren’t coming out like you hoped for - check out your plugin chain and make sure you’re not going in and out of them too hot unintentionally!
Do I add compression, limiting? Dithering?
Music-makers and engineers alike use plugins in creative ways, everyone’s got their little tricks and we love that.
Like we mentioned, Compressors are often a vital tool used to control dynamics and we encourage you to use them as needed. Just remember that LANDR can do more for your mix if you’re gentler and more calculated with your compression techniques. Compression can eat up your dynamic range and the heavier you apply it (especially when used on your entire mix) - the less you’re giving LANDR to work with.
Limiters are also useful for more than just brickwalling and boosting. Use these wherever you like, but we don’t recommend slapping one on to your master channel and pushing it for the sake of overall loudness - LANDR’s an expert at this and will take care of it for you.
Dithering is pretty technical stuff, but you don’t have to worry about it too much - just worry about doing it the least amount of times possible. If you absolutely have to lower the bit-depth in a session while working on a project, you should apply dither. However, it’s best practice to only dither once and is traditionally the the last step before duplication or net distribution. This means that if you are preparing your tracks for LANDR, or a mastering engineer, you should try to avoid reducing bit-depth. LANDR will dither and reduce bit-depth for you. Most digital audio workstations will have the option to turn dither off when exporting.