On Mix Compression and Limiters:

#1 Mix a mix. (do not master a mix)

Tracking, Mixing and Mastering are three distinct steps in music production. You want to mix the best sounding tracks that you can, without trying to match the levels or the professional fullness of a quality mastering job. Mixing should focus on musicality, balances and eq relationships, everything EXCEPT the overall volume. There should be distinct high, mid and low frequency material to suit the style ... dynamics to make the music move ... left, center, right, front, middle and rear placements, etc. Make it sound great, yet with no concern for the volume. When comparing your mix to mastered CDs, ignore the overall level as mastered CDs will generally be much louder. And please, no limiting or normalization on the 2 buss.

#2 Compression (good for tone not for level)

Compression on the 2 mix for color and glue can be great, yet dont do it for level. The color and sound quality of mixing into a compressor is unique, yet it can't be undone. Compression makes distortion, and these artifacts will be amplified in mastering as compression or limiting may all be applied. Music can only take so much distortion before it sounds small so be wise in your compromises. A really loud master is often the result of a dynamic mix with great balance. If you want volume, mix for great balance. For home studios, please remember that even with a 2 mix compressor you like the sound of, artifacts you can't hear in any one set of monitors can be more invasive than you might guess. If you're in doubt at all, please provide both a compressed and an uncompressed version for my reference at mastering. If I end up choosing the uncompressed version I can hear what you wanted from your compression and make that happen better in the master.

#3 Peak levels for digital mixes (need not exceed -3 or -2dbfs)

Peak levels as low as -10 up to -3dbfs are great. Peaks touching 0dbfs are fine, yet an unnecessary risk. If you are reconverting with a 'Soft Limit' Apogee A/D, a HEDD, or any limiter plug-ins, please turn them off and simply lower the level 2 to 3db overall. There is no quality loss with a lower level in a 24 bit world.

Mastering is ... Maximizing Results

Great mastering takes a record over the top.

Properly mastered records sound consistently strong on $50 to $50,000 systems, in the car and on the laptop.
An essential stage in the recording process, the cash value of quality mastering is a relative bargain compared to
the myriad expenses involved with writing, performing and recording that go into every record.

Mixing is one stage, mastering is another ... if you resist the temptation to slam everything at mixing and let mastering do what it's capable of, you have a fighting chance of getting the levels you want, while sounding better on radio and listeners will enjoy the musicality for years to come.

More than Volume.

Loud records are here to stay and if you want level I'm happy to go there. Yet remember that the 'Volume Wars' that have evolved to impress A+R, combined with the home recording boom and powerful new technology, have created a tendency to over-compress at mixing ... so think it through. Small sounding records with too much distortion hinder music's chance of being considered timeless in years to come. Music with dynamics in the mix, even after loud mastering, is subjectively more enjoyable and punchy. 1995 pop-music levels were hot, 2007 pop-music levels can be square wave clipping and the harsh haze of digital limiters.

So what to do? Decide up front if you're making a timeless record or trying to be the loudest thing on the A+R reps desk for fear of being ignored. If you want a timeless record it can still be very loud, but it doesn't have to suck. Mixing it for volume makes sucking more likely.