The most annoying and noob mistake that you can do as a mix engineer is to eat up all the headroom. Beginner Music Producers and Audio Engineers often ask how much dB headroom should one leave for mastering? Or how loud should be your mix before mastering?
In this article, I am going to answer how loud the mixes should be before they are mastered.
How Loud Should Be An Audio Mix Before Mastering
Audio mixes should be peaking below or around -6dBFS loudness. LUFS measure should be anywhere between -23dB LUFS to -18dB LUFS. These loudness limits ensure that when your mix is getting mastered, the mastering engineer will have enough headroom(around 6dB) to work with. The 6dB headroom ensure that the tracks do not clip, distort or lose information during the mastering stage.
That being said, even before you start levelling, make sure you are clear of the goals for the mix. Different genres have different industry standards when it comes to volume levels. Some genres demand a more dynamic mix(Jazz) while others demand a more heavily compressed mix(Pop).
You must have some reference tracks shortlisted that are relatable to your project genre and use them to understand mastered song levels. Anything, i.e. 3dB to 6dB below your reference goal, is a good place to be when you are done mixing.
Why Leave Headroom?
A lot of people question why 6dB of headroom while mixing should be left and why -18dB LUFS to -23dB LUFS RMS range?
The straightforward answer to this question is that these numbers are just a safety measure during mixing stages and not a fixed number. There is no exact science behind these numbers. You can play around with the loudness limits and alter them as per your needs.
But If you take into consideration the final master release loudness levels of most streaming platforms, -14dB LUFS as per ITU1770 standards broadcast standards. The range of -18dB LUFS to -23dB LUFS for mixing stages ensure that during the mastering stages the loudness levels are not breached. This also provides enough headroom for mastering engineers to add processing and work with.
So this is a range that works for most mixes if this range does not suit your mix needs. Feel free to alter them as per your needs. Make sure you are working as per with your industry and broadcast standards and as per your mastering engineer needs. Every engineer prefers something different. So do check out with your master engineer for what loudness limits he/she prefers at the mastering stage.
How To Measure LUFS Loudness?
To measure LUFS loudness during your mixing stages, use any loudness meter plugin on your master bus. Loudness Meter plugin provides precision loudness measurement, metering, correction and adjustment tools for broadcast, movie trailers, games, packaged media and more. WLM Plus Loudness Meter by Waves is my go-to loudness meter. It is easy to use and fully compliant with all current ITU, EBU and ATSC specifications.
If you wish to learn how to set volume levels step-by-step while mixing, check out this article here.