You’ve recorded your music at home and you’ve decided to hire a pro to mix your record. (Great! We want to work with you!) How do you prep your songs’ tracks so that they’re ready for a professional mixing studio? We’re going to walk you through a few easy steps to ensure that your work is organized, clutter-free, and easy to understand by your mixing engineer. You’re going to have a much smoother experience during mixing if we can clearly and quickly see how your music is laid out in your files and we can focus our conversation on your creative goals rather than unraveling technical details.
There are several steps to follow to properly format and organize your tracks. These are industry standards that any engineer will understand and that will save you time, money and confusion.
- Send ONLY the tracks that you want included in the song’s mix. Choose your best take and include it. If there is a performance that you are unhappy with, correct this before mixing. Don’t rely on “fixing it in the mix” – no amount of production can fix that. There is no magic mixing trick that can correct a sub-par performance. If you are unsure of which take to choose or whether a part needs re-tracking, we can help you decide.
- Label your tracks. Choose relevant names for your tracks so that someone who has never seen your session can quickly understand what they’re seeing. This means your tracks should not be exported as “Audio1, Audio2, Audio3, etc.” The drums should read something like: “Kick In, Kick Out, Snare Bottom, Snare Top, Tom, Floor Tom, Over Heads L&R, Room, Room Hall, etc.” Guitars should look like this: “Guitar 1 Ribbon, Guitar 1 57, Guitar 2 Ribbon, Guitar 2 57”. Vocals should be: “Vocal Verse, Vocal Chorus 1, Vocal Chorus 2, Vocal Harm”. You can also abbreviate when necessary: Guitar=Gtr, Snare=SN, Ribbon=Rib, Vocals=Vox, Harmony=Harm, Tambourine=Tambo.
- Quality assurance. Check the quality of each of your tracks before passing them on. Solo each track and listen for pops, clicks, mouth noises, and unwanted breaths. Edit them out, use a different take, comp it, or simply re-record it if there is no other solution. As a rule, make sure your takes are consolidated, crossfaded and clean.
- Turn off all effects and plugins. Turn off all compression, EQ, limiting, reverb, delay, and so on. We work best when we can build on clean, dry tracks. If you have specific creative ideas you want to communicate for mixing, print a separate bounce of it (and label it!) to show us. We can always re-create an effect, but we can’t undo it and that can lead to problematic mixes.
- Print your MIDI. Include your MIDI file as a reference, but be sure to print all MIDI and virtual instruments as audio files. Oftentimes, MIDI is used a placeholder before mixing so let us know if you’re happy with the sound of your instrumentation or if you want us to check for a better sounding instrument from our extensive sample library.
- Pitch and time correction. These specialties are not always included in every mixers’ services. You are best to do it yourself than assume it’s included. Consider the time it takes to pitch correct vocals and time align drums. If this is something you’d rather have the mixing engineer take on, be sure to relay this information (including key signatures and tempos) from the get go as this may affect the price.
- Consolidate and export. The final technical step is to consolidate and prepare your tracks for export. You must export consolidated, continuous audio WAVs all starting at zero (00:00:00) or Bar 1 Beat 1 with normalization turned off. If you’re not sure how to do this, let us know and we’ll walk you through it. There are also video tutorials on exporting for online mixing from the major DAWs: ProTools / Logic / Studio One / FL Studio / Reason / Ableton Live / GarageBand / Reaper / Cubase – We can accept Logic Pro X, Logic Pro 9, and GarageBand session files instead of printing tracks, after we have chatted about the project.
- Provide references. We can help you chase the sound that plays in your head if you explain it. The easiest way to do this is to provide listening references. Maybe you want your drums to sound as large as the The Flaming Lips’ drums. Or you’d like your vocals to be super dry á la 1975. Or you want your upright bass to sound like the New York City subway. While it’s not possible to make your band sound just like The Flaming Lips unless you are The Flaming Lips, it is possible to get the sound. Include a list of sounds or records or even single songs you like and explain how you think they could translate to your record.
- Communicate. Keep in mind that mixing engineers are not mind readers. If you have a vision or a direction in mind for your record, tell us! We’d always rather hear your thoughts and avoid confusion later.
Following these steps to prepare your files for professional mixing will save you time and money and help ensure that the final product is the record you envisioned.