The Dreaded Mix Sign-Off: handing over to mastering

Toulson, R. 2017. The Dreaded Mix Sign-Off: handing over to mastering. in: Hepworth-Sawyer, R. and Hodgson, J. (ed.) Perspectives on Music Production: Mixing Music London Routledge. pp. 257-269

Chapter titleThe Dreaded Mix Sign-Off: handing over to mastering
AuthorsToulson, R.
EditorsHepworth-Sawyer, R. and Hodgson, J.
Abstract

The final stage of mixing, and indeed the final responsibility of the mix engineer, is usually the handover to mastering, which brings a number of creative and technical considerations. In the traditional approach to music production, mastering is conducted by a specialist audio engineer once the final mixes have been consolidated to a stereo format. In the early days, mixes would be recorded to a physical two-track analog tape that would then be shipped to the mastering engineer. Nowadays it is more common for the stereo mixes to be sent as lossless audio files through an Internet file transfer. The final signing-off of the mix is an intrepid point in the process, requiring the artist, music producer and mix engineer to agree that they have completed the mixes, which can reveal any uncertainties or insecurities that they may bear in relation to the project. The mix sign-off and handover to mastering is therefore seen as a critical and crucial point in the music production process.
Approaches to, and technologies for, mixing and mastering have evolved, as have all aspects of music production. New methods and approaches bring opportunities to simplify and reduce the cost of production, although with the potential for practitioners to inadvertently cut corners and underperform in both creative and technical contexts. Modern processing tools enable mix engineers to also master their own music, and there are a number of arguments for and against the use of mastering techniques at the mixing stage. For example, it can be argued that mix engineers need to take a greater responsibility towards technical attributes such as dynamics and noise cancellation. Whereas, in contrast, the use of mix-bus limiting when generating draft listening copies can confuse and falsify the sign-off process. Furthermore, it may be seen that mastering engineers prefer or are requested to work from mix stems (i.e., a number of consolidated audio tracks that collectively make up the mix), but does that mean they are effectively mixing as well as mastering the songs?
This chapter discusses the critical point of completing the mix and moving towards mastering, that is, it considers the crucial process of ‘signing off’ a mix and reaching agreement between stakeholders that a song is ready for mastering. The discussion draws on the experience and expertise of a number of award-winning mix and mastering engineers through direct discussion and interview, particularly with respect to methods and contemporary practices that are common at the mix-completion stage. The mix and mastering engineers contributing to this chapter are George Massenburg, Mandy Parnell, Ronald Prent, Darcy Proper and Michael Romanowski, whose professional insights give a first-hand reflection on best practice for finalizing the mix and handing over to mastering.

KeywordsMixing Music Mastering Audio
Book titlePerspectives on Music Production: Mixing Music
Page range257-269
Year2017
PublisherRoutledge
File20161904_05_TOULSON.pdf
Publication dates
Published15 Dec 2016
Place of publicationLondon
ISBN9781138218734
Web address (URL)https://www.routledge.com/Mixing-Music/Hepworth-Sawyer-Hodgson/p/book/9781138218734

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