You’re here because the recording of your song is almost at the finish line and you’re getting ready to send of the files to the mix engineer.
You’ve got a session packed full of your best, great sounding takes but you’re unsure how to prepare them so that the engineer can do his best work.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to preparing your tracks for mixing.
Define your vision.
You’ve been poetically musing over your song with pristine visions of grandeur and extravagance.
Write it down!
This is all juicy information for the engineer and will provide nuance to the filter from which he hears and understands the song.
You’ve likely been working on a rough mix of your own with which you’re in a burning love/hate relationship.
You’ll want to include this rough mix along with your files and clearly describe what you like and dislike about it.
You want your song to sound a little bit like “Song X” and “Song Y” from your favourite artists and may have been, to a degree, using them as a northern star to guide your production process.
Include these in songs in your folder so that the engineer can examine their mix and work yours in a similar direction.
What do you like about the way these songs sound? The bottom end? The way the vocals sit in the mix? Be descriptive about what moves you about their overall sound.
Keep in mind that if your song doesn’t contain much similar sonic information as your reference tracks, a mix cannot sufficiently create these sounds or frequencies as they simply do not exist in your production.
After you’ve exported a rough mix:
Carefully Select the Tracks You Want to be Mixed
Delete tracks you wont be using.
Scrupulously sift through all the tracks and make sure that everything that’s there is there for a reason. If you have muted tracks, the engineer doesn’t need to waste time trying to find something to do with it to later discover it wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place.
Consolidate grouped tracks into a single mono or stereo file.
You may be layering guitars or background vocals for a larger-than-life effect. If you have six background vocals performing a single take, consider exporting those as a single mono file. If you have these panned to give space, commit to the panning and export them together as a single stereo file.
If you have panned stacked tracks but are uncomfortable with how your panning choices will turn out in the mix, then send them as individual labelled files. ie: BG vox 1, BG vox 2, etc.
Clean Up Your Tracks
Add fades and cross fades to breaks in audio regions.
If there is dead space between transients where there is room noise or breathing, cut them out. Be careful not to remove tails of any performance like ends of words or the ringing out of the drums.
Check for pops, glitches, noise and other issues with the audio. If there are issues you can’t settle, be sure to describe it in a note for the engineer and see if they have a solution.
Set a volume of all tracks with sufficient headroom.
You’ve likely been listening with all of your levels absolutely cranked to get the most juice out of your playback. In order to process your tracks, an engineer will need headroom to perform necessary tasks.
No tracks can be clipping (in the red). Shoot for an average of -16-18db and a maximum of -5db to -8db.
If you haven’t already turned your MIDI tracks into audio tracks to reduce CPU usage, be sure to bounce them in place as audio, or export them as audio. This will require that you commit to the sounds you’ve created.
Pitch and Time Correction
These are very time consuming tasks.
Not all mix engineers include this in their pricing so if you’re looking to have your vocals tuned or your drums edited, this may come at an extra charge and the price can depend on the scale of work to be done.
Decide On Processing. Turn most off.
Nearly all processing plugins should be turned off. Especially on the lead vocals and drums.
If there are certain delays, reverbs, modulation effects, etc. that you have been using and are absolutely in love with, feel free to leave them on the track.
It’s of no use having an engineer try to reproduce something you’re already in love with. If, however, you like what your idea is pointing toward but is not quite hitting the mark, mention this in the notes.
If for instance, you are sure of the type of reverb you’d like on a given instrument (spring, hall, plate, etc) but are not happy with the parameters you’ve set, be sure to mention the type of reverb you’d like.
Remove all EQs and compressors from your channel strips and mix bus. Your tracks should sound pretty dry at this point and that’s okay.
Label Your Tracks Clearly and Logically
This is pretty self-explanatory. Here’s an image of a good looking session folder:
Leave no guesswork for the engineer as to which files is what. That’s like categorizing a collection of images only labeled “picture.jpg.”
Export files to a Named Folder
Name the folder after the title of the song and the artist.
If you are unsure how to export files from your DAW, do a simple YouTube search as there are tons of step-by-step tutorials with detailed instructions on exporting from every DAW imaginable.
Export all tracks as .WAV files.
Mix engineers typically work with both AIFF and WAV files, though the format of choice is almost always WAV.
Be sure to export all tracks with the same starting and ending point. This way the tracks all line up when imported.
Once all is exported into the folder, do a double check to make sure everything is there and that the naming is clear.
Include Info for Mix Engineer
Along with all of your notes, your document should inform the engineer of the sample rate, bit depth, and tempo of your project.
This should be found under your session preferences but if you’re still confused how to find this, do a YouTube search on how to find it in your DAW.
Discuss Deliverables With Engineer. Manage your expectations.
Your engineer will offer a set amount of free revisions.
This is effective for both parties as it allows you the client to reflect on your vision and direct the engineer in any way he may have steered off path.
It protects the engineer from overly neurotic and unreasonably perfectionist artists who could revise their work to no end.
At some point, you just gotta pull the trigger.
Apart from the Master Mix to send to mastering, you may also need:
A clean version of the track which cuts out curse words as to be fit-for-radio.
A TV Track which includes all but the lead vocals.
An instrumental version.
A lead vocal acapella version.
Instrument stems for remixes. This will be individual files of solo’d drums, vocals, guitars, synths, etc. so that the remixer can take the elements they like and process them as they wish.
If you’ve got any questions, comments or feel something crucial was not covered above, feel free to reach out or leave a comment below.
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