Is it okay to record vocals over a mastered beat? When should mastering occurring during the song-making process? It’s easy for a beginner to get sidetracked when it comes to music mastering. After all, most of us are D.I.Y. musicians…not mixing engineers.
In this quick guide, I want to clarify when to master songs while you’re working with a beat. This is meant for independent producers and singer-songwriters who make music at home.
Should You Master a Beat Before Vocals?
In short, no. Do not master a beat if you or someone else is about to add vocals to it. It will cause a slew of problems once vocals are recorded. I’ll explain why that is in a moment. But, if you have a beat that is destined for vocals to be added, then the only time you’ll want to master is if you need to give someone a preview of the track.
For Beat Makers
If you are a beat maker planning to sell the beat, then master a copy of the full beat for promotional and preview purposes. The mastered copy is what you would post on social media, or as the preview track on your beat store page.
But the copy you actually sell should be un-mastered. Yes, you should absolutely level and mix the instruments, but don’t apply mastering. Why not? Check the section on “Why Should I Not Master” for specifics.
For Vocalists or Songwriters
Maybe you created your own backing beat, or someone made a beat for you to sing/rap over. In that case, ensure you are working with a non-mastered version. The track (or its individual stems) should be leveled and mixed already, but you do not want any master-level compression or effects.
Why Should I Not Master a Beat Before Vocals?
There are two primary reasons why you should not master a beat until the vocals have been added:
- Lack of headroom
- Lack of cohesion
Let’s break down both of those concerns.
1. A Lack of Headroom
Headroom is the amount of space between your song’s loudest levels and 0 dbs. It’s basically a safety zone of loudness for your track. If the track goes over 0 dbs, it will start clipping. Clipping will cause a nasty-sounding distortion on your song…which in most genres of music is considered bad.
You always want some headroom in your mix to prevent distortion in the final track.
But a pre-mastered beat will already be at the maximum level of volume. If you attempt to add vocals on top and master the beat again, you will lose all that headroom and exceed the maximum value.
In short, trying to master vocals onto a mastered beat will cause clipping distortion.
2. A Lack of Cohesion
You want the vocals to sound natural in the mix, like they are meant to be there.
If the rest of the track already has mastering applied, then adding vocals on top will likely cause them to sound disconnected from the rest of the song.
The mastered beat may have specific effects applied to color the overall sound of the track, like a glue compressor or an analog warmth emulator. If the vocals don’t have that same processed coloring, they may not blend with the rest of the track.
It will end up sounding like someone sung over the beat like it was karaoke.
And remember how the headroom of a mastered track is louder? That means, if you try to mix your vocals on top of a beat with maximum loudness already, then the background instrumentation may start distorted before the vocals can get mastered loud enough to match it.
So, don’t master a track until the vocals and all the instruments have been recorded. Mastering should not occur until the mix is finished (mixing and mastering are two different steps to music production).
If you are buying a pre-made beat, check with the producer to see if it’s been mastered already. If it is a mastered track, ask the producer for an un-mastered copy. If he knows what he’s doing, then providing you with a non-mastered copy should be no issue.
If you are making the beat yourself, hold off on master bus processing until all your vocals and instruments have been recorded, edited, leveled, and mixed.
Mastering should be the last step before the track is exported and published.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you found this article helpful. If so, then here are few more guides and articles that you may find useful: