Preparing your tracks for mixing

January 24, 2015 by

Mixing Engineer SSL
I am often asked about how to prepare and send tracks for mixing by another engineer. Some mixers prefer to receive your direct sessions and others only want your audio files or stems in a certain file type. Regardless, you are still going to need to do a few things before formatting that will save you money and time as most of these processes will not be something your mixer considers part of mixing. And, hey, these tips aren't meant for those working with another mixer but are great M.O. for everyone.

1. Send only the tracks you want to be mixed. Besides the many benefits of digital recording, one of the downsides is that we don't make decisions because we have seemingly uncapped amounts of storage. We keep multiple vocal takes or guitar solos, however, sorting through your takes is not considered part of the mixing process. Comping a final take is part of the production process and should not be left for the mixer to do, unless you are also hiring him to help produce.
Another practice is keeping ideas or parts that we ultimately don't think fit in the song. I'm guilty of this but these should not be sent to your mixer either.

2. Clean up your tracks. This means remove noises between parts like a vocalist moving/burping/drinking between lines. Sometimes you want to leave a vocalist's breathe for emotion, communicate that to the mixer. Other noises include improper edits that cause clicking, popping or other artifacts. Crossfading at edit points fixes most of this, but, a good measure of this is to hear if you can identify your edits with the track solo'd and your eyes closed. All these little things that may not be heard before mixing will most likely show up in the master after loads of compression has been added.

3. Pitch and time correction. This should maybe be number 1. Unless you are hiring your mixer to tune and fix the timing of your tracks, you should be doing this during production. I suggest that you time correct your tracks before each new element is recorded and that you have tuned your lead vocal, if needed, before recording your background vocals. These serve as a foundation and if they are off un-naturally, it is likely everything after that may be performed a little off too. If you don't know how, there are many people who specialize in these functions including myself.

4. Turn off your processing. This is really only if you are sending your song to another mixer. If you've been working/listening to your song with some of your mixing in place, turn it off before bouncing any tracks for mixing. Any EQ, compression or effects that are not part of the sound of that track can inhibit the success of your mixer. There are many exceptions like recording a guitar with delay or a synthesizer with modulating filters, these are part of the intended sound but be sure your timing and performances are very good. So, generally, reverb, delay, generic modulation, compression and EQ that you add after you record the track is what I'm talking about. But if it has to be that way print it, it's not uncommon for some file requests to happen after being hired or the mix has started. 

That being said, most engineers like to have your rough mix as reference. With all of your processing on, bounce a mix to include. Rough mixes help your mixer hear your emotional response to the song. Some of us even create our own for each song as an emotional reference for ourselves.

5. Label your tracks clearly! I've received tracks in all manner of words that don't describe the track itself or are so long that the name is illegible in my DAW. Short and simply is usually the best. Titles like Kick In, Kick Out, Snare Top, Lead Vocal or abbreviations like Kick O, Snare T, T 1, Vox (vocals), EG (electric guitar), RTM (rhythm) are common and help easily define what instrument the track is. Pro Tools in particular imports the file name right in to the track name, so the shorter the file name the better. No need to include the song title in the track name but more on creating folders for your tracks below.
Labeling your tracks clearly during recording will save you from having to rename mislabeled tracks later because most DAW's will automatically name and catalog your files according to your track titles.

6. Track consolidation and export. It's at this point that I recommend making a copy of your entire project folder and from here renaming the new copy to work from. The many DAW's have different processes for performing a track consolidation task and call them different names but, in short, it is a process that takes all of your edits on a track and creates a continuous region/clip of your track. It is advised that you have all of your tracks start from the session start (0.0.00 or 1.1.00 depending on your DAW) so to ensure they will line up when being imported into another session. After you have consolidated/flattened your tracks, you can delete all of the unused regions/clips from your session and hard drive to free up space. DO NOT delete if you did not make a copy of your session before consolidation. When your tracks all start from the beginning of a session and are continuous to the end of the parts contained in that track, they are ready to export to a separate labeled folder for your mixer.
6.a. Midi - most of the time I request the midi files for certain instruments. This is because there are a lot of sounds out there and not all of them are good. I personally have invested in some good sounds for piano, Rhodes, strings and drums to help with my clients mixes. I will use them to augment or replace sounds that don't work. Prep is the same as your audio files.

7. Export folder and other info to include for your mix engineer. Properly labeling your folder is simple and can be done with just the song title and indicating they are the files for mixing by including "multitracks for mix" or similar, but perhaps the most efficient includes other information that your mixer would want to know. I prefer a folder labelled like this: "Song Title 120bpm Cmaj". This label tells me the song key and tempo for the song I'm about to mix and that information is useful for a variety of advanced mix techniques.
Another useful tip is to separate your different instrument groups into labelled folder with in you master folder. Most mixers group like instruments together and since files end up alphabetized, it saves time for the engineer to import them in groups such as drums and percussion, keys, lead vocals, etc to easily sort them out within the DAW. Most engineers won't be upset if you don't take this extra step but they will certainly appreciate it when they don't have to sort through 100 tracks to group instruments.

As I said before, these are good practices for any project whether you are sending them to another engineer, archiving or migrating to a different system. They will save your mixer time and expedite mix turn around. Most professionals are happy to guide you through this process if you are unsure. There are a ton of videos and materials online to help you navigate your software to help you consolidate your tracks, clean up your edits or just about any other process. If you have any questions about preparing or sending your tracks, or would like to hire me to mix for your, send me a message I'm happy to help.

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