Help before I send files to be mastered

I have recorded my entire 14 song rock album in audacity. I create a backbeat in Fruity loops, render to an mp3, and then record vocals, guitar, etc. live over that (in multiple tracks) while I am in audacity. It works well.

I would like to send my songs to be mastered. The mastering peoples recommend that all of my tracks be at around -3db. Here is what I do not understand and what you guys might be able to help me with:

The waveforms on each of my tracks vary in size. Some are huge (fat), some are not, because of differing recording levels, volume of my guitar at the time, different gains on different mics, different volumes of samples, etc.

To mix, I simply turned some of the tracks up in volume (some are at +3 db) and some of them down (as low as -12 db), so that they all play nice together.

If I am going to send this to be mastered, and to follow through with their requirements, can I adjust each individual track’s volume down so that they still match? For example, if one track’s volume was originally at +3 I would change it to -3 (six steps down) and if one was at -3db I would change to -9db (also six steps down)?

Or is it the size of the waveforms themselves that will be the problem (because this will not change just by adjustsing volume sliders for each track)?

Or should I deamplify each track the same amount until the waveforms look nice?

Please help, I have looked around the internet for months now and I need help to meet a deadline. And I don’t want to master on audacity.

Bonus question: When I send my song to the mastering people, I just send a .wav right? Not individual tracks-within-the song?

I am clueless, obviously. Please help.

Here is an example of a premastered rough demo track (if I can post it here):

That’s very nice. Good, wide-band production with crisp highs and thumping lows. Good balanced mix. The vocal gets lost and buried, that’s intentional, right? A singer should not be mixing his/her own work. The object is not to hide behind the guitars.

What do you call Mastering? Prepping for burning to a Music CD? Then a stereo mix-down is just fine.

If they are going to change the balance of the instruments, they will need each instrument and voice on its own track. Call them.

If they’re just prepping for burn, I would send them stereo mix-downs of each song. And that can be harder than you think.

Forget the waveforms. They’re a guide, not a religion. I would probably pick the one with the highest peaks at -4, -3 or -2. and mix everybody else to that – and mix for pleasant sound. Nothing like someone creating a surgically perfect mix where you have to keep leaning forward in the car to adjust the volume. If the highest peak on the highest song is -3, then that’s maximum and tune everybody else for good volume overall.

I suspect the reason they picked -3 for peaks is creating an MP3 from a song can cause the levels to go up. You could create perfection at -3 and have the MP3 export come out to -1.5 peaks – from the exact same song. If you hit zero hard enough it will give you permanent distortion.

Mix down and export a nice WAV and then pull it back into a fresh Audacity and make sure you have no peak overloads. View > Show Clipping in Audacity 1.3.13.

There is no service to automatically set the volumes in the final mix. You have to inspect each one.

Did you do the production at the Audacity default of 32-bit floating?


IMO the attack of the envelope is way too steep* in places.
This can be caused by the use of “hard” dynamic range compression.

The steep attacks can be reduced manually using audacity’s envelope tool

(but better not created in the first place: have a look at the “attack”/“hardness” (and threshold) settings on your compressor effect)

[* As you have described yourself as a novice I am assuming these technical errors are not deliberate avant-garde artistic effects]

[* As you have described yourself as a novice I am assuming these technical errors are not deliberate avant-garde artistic effects]

That’s always the embarrassing point. “It sounds pretty cool. Did you mean it to come out like that?” This also dips into the One Hit Wonder thing. People start to pay attention when you can do it more than once.

So what are your “Mastering” people doing exactly?


If I had to guess, I’d say that the Mastering people are doing some amount of EQ and Compression, and album-spanning normalization. Like any processing, it can be over-done or under-done, but for many self-produced albums, it’s good to get another set of ears taking care of that last level of processing.

(heh, the Wikipedia page includes Audacity in the list of “Audio mastering tools (software)”)

Thank you , but what I was after was more the 10,000 foot (3300M) view. They are accepting your stereo work and preparing it so it hangs together in a pleasant and desirable manner as a sequence of songs on a music CD.

If I had to guess…

I think I’d be finding out for sure myself. “Can you step me through a typical process?”

So I’d be surprised if they want the individual instrument tracks since that’s generally an artistic decision, but I would be able to provide that if they ask for it. I’m sticking with what I wrote earlier. You should make it so the stereo tracks are close as they progress with nothing going much over +3. And yes, that might mean making some of the powerful, denser ones slightly lower so they mix well with the light, airy expressive ones.

That’s you and a good pair of speakers in a quiet room.

Let us know how it comes out.


In this day and age why try to distribute your music on CD ?

[ Isn’t that a form of vanity publishing, (a loss-making venture) }.

Stick your music on the internet for download, you’ll reach a larger market and the overheads negligible compared with the cost of having 100’s of CDs made.

[ It will still need to be mastered / tidied-up / polished though ].

negligible compared with the cost of having 100’s of CDs made.

…and cover art, etc. etc. All gone.

All you have to worry about then is the web site design, host and compression. One of the problems of on-line distribution is quality. Music CDs are uncompressed and essentially a perfect copy of the performance as you designed it. I know of no internet downloads that work like that. They all compress the work more or less gracefully. If you compress it – putting the process under your control – you run into the problem that the host may compress it, too, and double compression can create significant musical damage. At least CD production takes a lot of these problems out of the path.

Nowhere is it written you can’t do both.

Then there’s the dollars problem. You need to host with someone that has point of sale and transaction infrastructure in place. Do you accept PayPal®?


FLAC does quite well - fortunately, there are a few download sites which offer it!

Having recently self-produced an album - feel free to call it “vanity press,” but it all works according to plan, it will definitely make a profit. As producer, I dealt with all the decisions and trade-offs that you mentioned, and more.

  • Mastering? I decided to trust my ears and my engineering skills.
  • CD or Download? I went with both, and sales have been about equally split.
  • “Cover art, etc” - Even a download-only album needs artwork, at least on all of the sites I’m using, so there was no skipping that step… and I’m quite happy with the overall CD package I’ve made.
  • Finding places to sell is a challenge, whether it’s CD or Download - I’ve signed on with various services, all of whom take a cut (of course), but I also sell directly, because I already had a website, and I do take PayPal!

Another trade-off resulted from the nature of my album - most of the tracks flow from one to another, with a little or a lot of cross-fading. That works well on a CD, especially when you can do Gapless Recording, but those tracks don’t stand alone very well - just as you hear the next track start to sound, click this track is over and your DJ (whether person or machine) has moved on to something else! So, I made two albums, so to speak - one with overlapping tracks for the CD, and one with non-overlapping tracks for downloads.

Meanwhile, back to Mastering - I think the Wikipedia page describes it pretty well:
Mastering: Process

Remember, this thread started with detectivesoap sending a bunch of tracks to be mastered - in many cases, it’s the person doing the mastering who puts the tracks into order, with or without some silence between them. Granted, that’s often the first of many steps, but it is Mastering.