“How loud should my mix be when submitting to mastering? -6?”

Back to work after a holiday…20 songs in the queue and more coming! To be honest, I was already spending the weekend mixing and mastering some hip hop from Washington, DC.

To kick off the year, I wanted to drop a piece of some good basic info on “How loud should my mix be peaking before submitting it to mastering?” as that gets asked a lot, and there’s a lot of misinformation around.

As long as it’s not hitting zero, all good.
ANY headroom is OK as long as there’s some/any.
That -6 headroom is a myth (but not a bad one).

All mastering engineers set the level suitable to their chain anyways.
In my chain, the very first plugin sets the level to -18 (based on the highest peak), so it’ll be suitable for even the most sensitive analog emulations, which are true to the analog gear even on their input stage, where digital zero is +18 in analog. That’s hot.
(I recommend Hornet VUmeter for easy leveling down.)

If your mix is going over zero, you’re clipping away stuff nobody can put back there, and a mastering engineer will do the final limiting as he usually has a better sense/tools for it, and it’ll happen after the balancing of the sound.

If you want to play rrrrreally safe and you’re still unsure of any headroom stuff, just make the file 32-bit floating point, and there’s no way you can smash it, as it’ll be a file whose level can be taken down, no matter how loud you push it and save it. Think of some really massive headroom for it.
You can try that in your audio editor…save a file in 32-bit FP, close and open it again just to be sure, crank up the gain a loooot, save, close, open again, and bring the level down as much. Boom. Still clear.

Anyways…let’s get busy with 2017!

Yours, an engineer (who’s getting back to work tomorrow with 20 songs waiting on the desk and the floodgates are opening).