How to prepare your tracks for mixing

Hey people,

Long time, no read.

Here's a list of things to bear in mind and do when preparing your songs for mixing.

There's also a detailed checklist on its way; go to the free stuff link and subscribe to get it for free when it's ready for public eyes.

1. Decide on the arrangement and final comps

One of the downsides of having uncapped amounts of storage is that people tend to keep parts of the arrangement that don't fit the song anymore. They do this in the hopes of maybe being able to put them back in at a later point, maybe ""really low in the mix"".

Many people tend to not commit to which takes will make up the final vocal. They'll keep all 16 guitar solos, without deciding which is THE one...or without frankensteining one out of the 16 takes.

Comping the final takes is part of the production process and should not be left until the mixing stage. That is, of course, unless you pay the mixer to help with making these decisions.

2. Edit timing and pitch

Make sure you tighten both the timing and the pitch of your recorded tracks. Not every mixer includes these services in their rates. You're safer doing it yourself than expecting it to be included in the fee. Tune and edit the timing of your tracks so that they SOUND right, even if they're not perfectly aligned to the grid. Make sure that the downbeats, accents, stabs and fills all sound cohesive together.

A piece of advice regarding pitch correction: if this isn't your strong suit, you're better off paying the mixing engineer extra so he/she does it; doing a bad job at this will hurt your song quite badly.

3. Clean up your tracks

Delete count-ins, headphone bleed and any other unwanted noises between performance parts. Sometimes you want to leave a singer's breath or a drummer's noises; in this case, you have to let your mixer know about it.

In the case of cymbal bleed in the tom tracks: if you mute the tom tracks in between the drum hits when you're listening to your rough mix, and the sound of the drumkit suffers, then leave all the bleed in there. If the drums sound better in context of the rest of your arrangement, then remove the bleed.

Whenever you make an edit, make sure you fade-in and -out (or crossfade) at the edit point. This prevents clicks, pops and other artifacts from showing up and messing with your song.

4. Consolidate the tracks

Make a copy of your project NOW. Call it something in the vein of "before consolidation". After cleaning up the audio and making the fades, consolidate your tracks (some DAWs call this differently). Then you can delete all the unused regions/clips from your session so it's tidier. Make sure all the items/regions/clips on each track all start at the same point in the session. This ensures the tracks will sync up properly when the mixer imports them into his/her DAW.

5. Name your tracks the right way

Give each track a functional name such as bd in (bass drum in), kick out (self explanatory), el gtr (electric guitar), sn top (snare drum top), main vox (main vocal) and so on DURING the tracking phase. Name your tracks as such before recording so that each take has the name of the track. Make sure the files are named appropriately so that the mixer knows which track is which without having to spend hours (which will end up costing you more) doing detective work. Inside jokes are funny for you and your band, but not for the mixer, since he wasn't there with you guys. Be nice to the mixer and you'll save money as well.

6. Don't peak too high

Have your tracks peak at -10db when recording; this leaves enough headroom for the occasional spike. If you're peaking at -2db, you're treading dangerous waters. Stay safe.

7. Export mono as mono, stereo as stereo

Make sure all mono tracks are sent as mono files. Most tracks in your production will be mono (guitar DIs, individual drum tracks, vocal tracks, bass, etc) The only things that are usually stereo files are drum overheads\room mics, certain effects and synth tracks, and anything that was recorded with two mics.

8. Bounce with creative FX

If you've got a great delay on your guitar track, amazing distortion on your snare aux track, export versions of it both with and without the delay. The mixer will use the wet (effected) file, unless there's something wrong with it.

9. Sample rate and bit rate

Make sure you send all files in the same sample rate in which they were recorded (usually 44.1kHz or 48kHz). Higher sample rates are okay. Send at the highest bitrate your DAW allows you to, but at a minimum of 24bit.

10. File management

Make a main folder labelled like this: Song Title 120BPM Cmaj Then you create a folder for each instrument group: drums, percussion, bass, guitars (electric and acoustic in separate folders), synths, piano, vocals (lead and background in separate folder if necessary) and so on. Within the instrument folders, create a folder for DRY and WET files. The "dry" folder is for uneffected files whilst the "wet" one is for the files you exported with creative effects on.

Most mixers groups similar instruments together and use templates to speed up the preparation process. Separating the tracks in their appropriate folders makes things much easier for your engineer.

11. Send your rough mix

Send in your rough mix so the engineer can hear your emotional response to the song, where you envision it going and details such as panning, what elements you feel are the most important in your production and so on.

12. Send references

Send the mixer an email with your general vision for each song on your album, as well as some reference tracks.

Send all the reference tracks and all your hopes&dreams for all songs in ONE email

"We were going for a vocal sound similar to this track.” “We like the depth of this mix.” General information.

I repeat: Write it down in one email. Don’t send 15 emails with different notes for each song. If you do, you’ll be wasting precious mixing time.

13. Have reasonable expectations

Make sure you know what mixing is supposed to accomplish. Don't get married to your rough mix, closing up on suggestions.

Bear in mind that the principle of ""garbage in, garbage out"" applies. Don't expect a major artist sound if the songs and production and quality of the recordings are not at that level.

14. Last step

Create a new session and import all the tracks to check if they're in sync, if all the parts of the arrangement are present and to make sure you are satisfied with the prep work you've done.

Congratulations on being a professional.

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