In the thousands of masters we’ve printed here at Studio 11 in Chicago, the first thing that I can assure you of is that there is no silver bullet in as far as RMS level is concerned when it comes to mastering. I am assuming that you, the reader are in search of mastering -6db RMS as your primary topic. That being the average level of a equalized, compressed, and limited master recording. It may be however, that you are inquiring as to the PEAK volume of your mix print prior to mastering. If this is the case, you’re spot on in that thinking. You should leave about 6 db of headroom on your mix print to allow the mastering engineer some “room” to work with. So in effect, print your mix to a peak level of -6db. If you are searching for the meaning of -6db RMS, read on…
In mastering there are three fundamental processes. These processes can be augmented by other processes, as well as ordered differently but they are essentially equalization, compression, and limiting. In the quest for a record that sounds great, has dynamics, and is loud, all sorts of combinations of these mastering tools might be used. In the end we end up with a mastered product that has a peak level near the digital ceiling and an RMS level that is often between -10db and -6db depending on the music. RMS level stands for root mean square and in a nutshell, it is a method of calculating the average level of the program material.
Personally, I have found most records to sit comfortably mastered at the -8db RMS level. If all processes are well executed, this provides a wonderful balance between loudness and dynamics. The significance of the -6db RMS level is that it is in my opinion as loud as one can smash a recording without it going to complete crap. Using clever mastering techniques this level can still be made to sound dynamic. Most modern urban styles of which we specialize in mastering at Studio 11 are pressing in the -6db RMS range as dance music and hip hop especially demand this sort of loudness. The instruments used such as electronic drums and keyboards are not very dynamic to begin with and do not suffer the lack of fidelity that live instruments do when pressed this hard. So there you have it – the only time I recommend -6db RMS as a mastering level is for urban electronic music styles. Frankly it is too much for more organic musical textures.
Please feel free to contact me, Alex Gross via the Studio here for free consultation and rates regarding your mastering project. Studio 11 is the highest quality and most affordable solution for online mastering.