Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to send your mix to a professional mixing service. Some preparation work is needed to make sure your mix is turned around as quickly as possible and that it meets, or hopefully, exceeds your expectations.
Here are 7 steps that will make sure both you and your mix engineer will be able to enjoy an easy and stress-free mixing project.
Step 1: Communicate your expectations and desires
Have a detailed conversation with your engineer about what you want, along with what is, and isn’t included in their mixing service.
Either over email, the phone or Skype, get clear on what is expected of you in terms of providing files, information and payment. Also, ask what final deliverables are included as standard and if there are extra costs for additional mixes.
If you have any priorities such as turn around time, processing or effects then communicate that.
Will you need a DDP image if you are having an EP or album mixed and want to sell physical CD’s? Is this included in the fee or is it an extra cost?
Ask for a summary from your mix engineer of all the things you’ve discussed so you can refer back to it if there are any issues that crop up further down the line.
Common deliverables include:
- Main mix or pre-master
- Instrumental or TV track
- Vocal up (a mix with the vocals louder by .7dB to 1dB)
- Acapella (lead vocals only)
- Stems (stereo mixes of the individual instrument groups)
Let your engineer know what you want at the start of the project so the session can be built to make that happen. Asking for this at the end of the mixing process can be time-consuming to produce and will likely result in additional charges.
Step 2: Ask if your engineer has any requirements before you send the files
Hopefully, your engineer has a document that details her or his specific requirements for preparing your tracks.
It could be detailed in their email or attached as a text document. I send a PDF that also answers some common questions.
The sort of things you’ll get asked for by the mix engineer are:
- name the tracks logically, so the engineer can understand quickly what they are
- keep the names short
- prepend track names with the track numbers e.g. 01 Kick, 02 Snare, 03 Hi-Hats etc.
- turn off all plugins except the ones that make up the sound you have crafted and want to keep
- set all the faders to unity gain or zero
- remove all automation
- make sure all edits have fades to prevent clicks and pops
- consolidate or bounce all tracks from the same start point
- group the interments into folders e.g. Drums, Guitars, Vocals
- Zip or compress the audio files into one folder
Naming your tracks correctly
As mentioned in the list, keeping the names short and logical is the most important thing but adding a track number can help when your engineer is importing your tracks as they will show up in a logical order providing your session was arranged logically of course!
Numbers ensure that all the drums will show up next to each other as will the bass, guitars and vocals, assuming that’s how you have them grouped in your recording session.
I ask that track names are prepended with the first letter of the instrument group so, D for drums, G for guitars and V for vocals, because Pro Tools imports in alphabetical order.
One thing that is really helpful is when you’re getting more than one song mixed that your track naming stays consistent through each session. Engineers like to create templates from the first song mixed to use on subsequent mixes to save time by not having to build the session from scratch. Keeping the names consistent helps in that task and shorter project times means less cost for you.
Step 3: Complete all editing, tuning and arrangement ideas
Editing and tuning are not part of the mixing process. Some engineers will do it for an extra fee or listed as part of the package but don’t assume it’s a normal part of a mixers service.
You’ll just end up getting back your mix that sounds great but the vocals are still out of tune!
Do all your vocal comps and provide only the comped track to use in the mix. Don’t send all of them then ask your mix engineer to choose. No.
Much like tuning, this is your or your producer’s decision to make, not the mix engineers. Bear in mind that any printed reverb or delays that use the untuned vocal will also be out of tune, so these need to be reprinted after the tuning is complete.
So, get all of the editing and tuning done, delete any audio files or tracks you’re not using, print any special effects that you want to keep in the mix.
Step 4: Create continuous WAV files and export them
All DAW’s have their own way of exporting files so that they all start from the same spot and are one continuous audio file.
There are videos on YouTube that explain how to achieve this for every DAW on the market and I have a YouTube playlist HERE that has a few videos for the most commonly used DAWs.
The important thing here is that all the files start from the same spot so that they line up and will all be in sync with each other when imported into my mix session.
You might want to bounce a group of tracks down into two, particularly if track count is contributing to the price of the mixing session.
Do you really need 14 rhythm guitar tracks when you can sum them down to 4? Be brave and commit!
Double check you are sending ALL the mix files. On occasion, I’ll get mix feedback where a particular element is missing from a mix, only to find I haven’t been sent the track! Other times, I’ll listen to the rough mix and can’t find the part I’m hearing. So, just check you’re sending everything that needs to be in the mix.
Lastly, place all the files inside one folder named with the artist name, song title and BPM. Zip or compress it and send it to the link provided by the engineer or a file service that they have specified such as WeTransfer or Dropbox.
Zipping the files helps protect them from corruption, so it’s best practice to do this every time you send any audio files over the internet.
Step 5: Provide a rough mix
This really helps your mix engineer understand the relative track levels and panning you have in mind.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t sweat it.
Alternatively, write a list of instruments in ascending order of importance and volume for example:
- Lead vocals
- Electric guitars
- Synth pad
- Acoustic guitar
- Backing vocals
Step 6: Provide a reference track
Whilst the rough mix provides level and placement information, a commercial reference track gives the mix engineer guidance on the sonic profile you’re hoping for in the overall mix.
Do you want your mix to sound bright and open or rich and full? A reference helps the mixer hear what you want in the finished mix.
Do you want a particular snare sound? Send a reference.
Do you like a particular vocal effect you heard recently and would like something similar in the breakdown section? Send a reference.
Sending a reference can be far more informative than trying to describe in words what it is you’re after from a special effect. It also saves time.
Step 7: Provide session information
- sample rate
- bit depth
- song title
What I often get are elongated track names that incorporate the mic model used on what guitar cab and the name and shoe size of the band member playing it.
Simple track names are preferred, e.g. Gtr 1, Gtr 2, Gtr Solo but by all means provide a list of microphones, cabs, guitar model and where they were used and why I will find that useful to know, i.e. what were you trying to achieve, sound wise.
Provide a list of the band members and what they play, it’s just nice to know!
Explain where the drum overhead and mics were placed or, better still, send a photo.
Provide any info regarding any unusual techniques that the tracking engineer may have used and the reason behind it.
It’s pretty straightforward to prepare your track for professional mixing. There aren’t a lot of steps involved but if any are missed then it can cause an issue and wasted time.
Always ask what the mix engineer needs from you and how they’d like it sending and get clear on the payment terms and agreed deadline.
Understand what deliverables you need for your purposes and let your mix engineer know at the very start so they can prepare properly.
That’s about it! So, go ahead and make some more awesome music!
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