When I receive files from producers or mix engineers, I need to really think about what their expectations are. A lot of the time, I ask them to give me reference material. I want to manage our expectations on how loud it’s going to be, for example, because some people want things dynamic and some people want things super crushed and loud.
So the main thing for me is finding out which way they want to go. And by asking them for a few reference tracks, I can get a picture in my head before I start mastering. After listening to their track and reference material, what I do is give them feedback, especially if there’s a massive void between what they’ve got and what they’re trying to achieve.
If they’re an artist and made the track in their bedroom and didn’t use great equipment, but then they want to sound like Chris Brown – who’s done it in a great studio with beat makers and a whole team of people – that is not going to happen.
You aren’t going to get the level to the same. The actual fundamentals of the sound are not as good a lot of times. I can EQ and get you kind of there, but you’re never going to get there. Because what you’re trying to do is kind of shoehorn a cheap version of this sound that’s taken a long time to craft.
I’m not saying you can’t all the time; if the mix is good enough, sure. But you’ve got to manage that expectation and see what they’re trying to achieve, and then feedback.
If you haven’t had that conversation, then when you send the track back, and it’s different to Chris Brown, they’re going to be upset. They’re not going to think that you’re a great master engineer, because they believe mastering saves the world. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people think about mastering. But really, you only get a great-sounding track if you have constant feedback and have every stage right. The mix engineer should be in continuous communication with the recording engineer, and the same goes for the mastering engineer.
That’s what I try and do. That’s what works for me.