Note - This section is basically a tip for those of you working with clients or if you plan on submitting your mixes to a mastering engineer.
DEFINATELY 100% NO!!
I've actually seen a few sound engineers online say the opposite. They say to make your mix sound as close as possible to a finished master. "All you want the mastering engineer to do is make the song louder." These comments are based on common sense and theory, NOT on real world experience working with thousands of clients (like I have)!
Note - If the only thing your songs really needed was for the mastering engineer to make them louder, why not just make them louder yourself and save the money? Duh! No, pay someone $500 to do it in 15 minutes. I want that job!
Here's why you don't tell clients to partially master their own songs:
1. Because you're paying an experienced mastering engineer to properly do the entire job. Here's a non-music example. Before you get your car detailed, do you clean it spotless inside and out, but leave only the windshield dirty? So that's all the car detailer has to do is wash your windshield and he's done? NO! That doesn't even make any sense.
You're paying for a car detail and you want every process that comes with it. That's their specialty and you want their expertise in every area, not just the windshield washing process. The same goes for audio mastering.
2. Mixing is not mastering. For a song to sound like a commercially mastered song on the radio you MUST use effects on the stereo/main out bus. When you do use effects on the stereo/main out bus you are mastering not mixing. And you're not supposed to partially master your songs if they're going to a mastering engineer. Read #1 again.
3. And the #1 reason is THEY CAN'T DO IT! They don't have the knowledge, skills, replicating abilities, etc. That's why they're looking for a mastering engineer to begin with!
I explain to my clients to submit a mix that's clean, but slightly dull with lower overall volume levels, so that I can bring everything up to where it needs to be. Nothing on the stereo/main out bus.
In the past, before I was giving this info, do you know what my clients sent me? I would say half the submissions were partial masters where the clients were trying to make them sound radio ready. The problem was they were TERRIBLE! Way over-level, distorted, super bright and/or super bass, way too much compression, etc. Many times they had everything wrong!
In a perfect world, yeah send me a song that's already mastered and I don't have to do anything to it. But I know from years of experience working with actual people that this is a very unrealistic request. Most can't do it, that's why they're looking for a mastering engineer to begin with!
I've also heard the comment that mastering is taking all the songs on a CD and making them all sound similar. Really? That's all mastering is? So, I'm supposed to take the best mix on the CD and make all the other songs sound just like it? That doesn't even make any sense! What if the best mix on the CD sucks?
What if someone gives me only one song (which happens daily)? It can't be mastered because there isn't an entire CD?
I make every song on the CD sound as close as possible to a commercial industry standard song. Each song is mastered to sound the very best it can, regardless of past or future songs on the CD. Also, every song is mixed differently and requires different actions to achieve this. After I do this, all the songs on the CD are comparable in every sonic area.
Audio mastering is taking a mix and bringing it up to commercial industry standards.