Projects and files come to me in all sorts of states, so I thought I’d outline a really good system for preparing your songs to be mixed which makes it quick and easy for me to get on with the mixing, instead of spending hours deciphering what’s going on! This is going to be relatively long, and if you’re trying to follow it through and don’t get something, just ask before you send the files over. This is also the perfect scenario, so if you can’t do anything for some reason, that’s fine – we can work it out (it’ll just take longer).
1. Individual track labeling
Always label tracks with a meaningful name, otherwise it’ll take ages to go through all the files working out what’s in each of them. Keep it simple – use the instrument name e.g. “AcousticGuitar”. Also, number your tracks (start with “01”, not “1”), and use the same track number/name for the same instrument between different songs. This makes it easier to stay consistent throughout an album/ep. So, your track name (and file name) would be, for example, “12-AcousticGuitar”.
If you used multiple microphones on an instrument, keep the same number and name on the separate tracks, and add information to the end. For example, “12-AcousticGuitar-Soundhole” and “12-AcousticGuitar-Neck” or “14-ElectricGuitar-AmpCloseMic” and “14-ElectricGuitar-Room”. This also holds for when you record an electric instrument and use a plugin to get the sound you want. Always include the DI recording as well as the effected sound, e.g. “27-SoloGuitar-DI” and “27-SoloGuitar-WavesGTR”.
If you follow this simple format, it makes life so much easier when it comes to mixing.
2. Edits and Consolidation/Exports
There’s nothing worse than having to sift through 50 tracks to find all the pops and clicks that come from bad edits. Before you consolidate your audio files, make sure the starts and ends of every audio part in your DAW has a fade-in/out and that any edits are crossfaded. They don’t need to be long fades (even 5ms is fine) – just enough to avoid cut-off waveforms which will produce a click in the audio. Leave plenty of space in the audio before and after any sounds so you’re not cutting off actual content.
Consolidation is the process of creating a single consistent WAV file containing all your edits for each track, and having every one of your song’s audio files starting at the same point in time. The idea is, if you just pull in all of the WAVs for a song and line them up to start at the same time, then you will hear the song as recorded. Most DAWs have a way of doing this as a batch process, so it shouldn’t be too hard once you’ve got everything recorded and edited. For example, ProTools and Reaper have a consolidate function, Logic and Cubase can do batch exports of individual tracks, etc..
From there, you can export all your individual tracks to WAV files. *Important note* please, please, no effects/EQ/compression/anything on your exported tracks. Just the raw recording. If the recording was done in mono (most will be) then make sure you export mono files. Software synths will more often be stereo, so export as a stereo file, but make sure it’s panned centre and doesn’t have effects on. If you do have an effect that you particularly want to keep (such as a hardware reverb, for example) then record it as a separate audio file (the fully wet mix) to the dry instrument(s).
3. Folder structure
If you’re sending multiple songs, use a separate folder per song. The folder should contain all the individual WAV files, your song notes, and any associated files (reference them in your notes).
The notes file should be a simple text file and contain the song name, a track list and any other information or requests that could be useful (like the BPM, or other songs with the sound you’re going for). You can download an example/template file here to give you an idea of what to include (right-click and “Save as..” if your browser just displays this file).
ZIP each folder separately before uploading (not one big ZIP file with all the songs in!).
There – that should get you a nicely structured set of files that any mix engineer will thank you for! The less time spent working out what everything is, the more time there is for making your mix sound great…