Preparing your music for mixing
There are now so many DAWs, so many plugins, so many virtual instruments, etc, that it is not economically feasible for me to own every single piece of software and be able to directly open anyone’s project file. So in order for me to provide you with high quality mixes on a tight budget, I ask that you export your music as separate WAV / AIFF files for me to re-import and mix for you.
(This is also a very good way of archiving old projects, in case you wish to work on them in the distant future, without having to rely on having exactly the same software!)
So, this is a DAW-neutral guide for preparing and exporting tracks for mixing. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can usually also arrange to help you in person.
1) Duplicate your project file
You’re about to make a lot changes to your project file, so you might want to duplicate it so that you still have the original. Some DAWs also allow you to create an “alternate version” of your project in the same file, which might be more convenient.
2) Pan all tracks to the centre
Pan all tracks, aux channels, busses, and the master track to the centre.
3) Remove all FX from the master bus (main output), and all busses / sub mixes [if you have FX there]
I’m not talking about the individual tracks yet – we’ll get to that later. For now, make sure that your master bus / stereo output, and any sub-mixes or buses, don’t have FX on them.
This is particularly important because, for any non-linear effect (compression or distortion), by the very definition of non-linear, F(A + B) =/= F(A) + F(B). So when you bounce these tracks out individually, if there are non-linear effects on the master bus, they will operate completely differently to when playing back the mix as a whole.
4) Bypass / disable effects on individual tracks
This step is a bit more complicated, because you might want to keep some of the FX on.
So I’ll go through the different effect types and how to deal with them.
EQ is one of the most important areas where I can improve your mixes, so I would recommend you remove it.
In particular you should remove any aggressive lowpass / highpass filtering, and any narrow boosts. Very gentle boosts, or gentle narrow cuts, can be left in, but there is no need keep them.
If you are using EQ in a more creative sense, ie modulated filtering etc, which is part of your sound design / arrangement, it’s best to leave that on. (Eg resonant distorted lowpass filter, modulating filters of any kind).
Removing reverb and delay
Reverb and delay are the most important effects to remove, for two reasons.
The first reason is that, if a track has reverb on it, there’s not much I can do to improve the mix. I can’t pan, I can’t fix the pitch or timing effectively without it sounding weird, and I can’t really EQ or compress or do many other things very well.
The second reason is that, reverb is something I can often improve dramatically, using various techniques to drastically improve the sense of “space”. But I can’t do any of this if the tracks already have reverb or delay on them.
Small amounts of room ambience from live recording usually aren’t a problem though.
When using virtual sampled instruments (eg, Kontakt instruments or samples) there will usually be an option to disable reverb / delay in that instrument’s settings.
When using virtual synths, it is also good to disable any built in reverbs or delays.
If there’s a particular reverb or delay that you really like:
If there is a reverb or delay that you really really like, then you can always send me a separate track with 100% wet reverb / delay (ie, just the reverb or delay effect on its own, with no dry signal).
Then I’ll have two tracks: dry track with no reverb / delay, and wet track with 100% reverb / delay, and I can work with them much more easily.
It’s very helpful to remove compression, but it’s a bit more subjective. If you’re using compression to even out volume levels, then you should remove it, as I will be able to compress appropriately for the mix.
However, if your use of compression is “creative”, ie you like the distortion or the way it handles transients, then it is ok to keep it on. Just make sure it isn’t sucking the life out of the part, destroying transients etc. It is a matter of taste. If in doubt, send me both wet and dry tracks, with and without it.
Removing creative effects, modulation, etc
In general, leave these on. But bear in mind, that sometimes I can make small subtle changes to effect settings to improve how something sits in a mix. And usually less is more, especially with distortion. If in doubt, send me both wet and dry tracks.
5) Set all faders to 0 dB, but be careful…
Make sure that no individual track is clipping (hitting anywhere near or above 0 dBFS).
Also, if a track is very quiet, bring its volume above 0dB, or add a gain plugin to do this while leaving the fader at 0 dB.
Also, make sure that volume automation has been removed.
(Note: it is important to do this step after removing the FX, because the FX may affect volume levels).
6) Bounce / export all tracks separately
Finally, bounce all tracks as separate WAV / AIFF files. Many DAWs can automate this process, and if you are having trouble, I will usually be able to help you in person. If your DAW can’t automatically do this, then it is a case of soloing and/or exporting each track separately.
You will want to export as WAV / AIFF, 24 bit, with no dithering, and at the same sample rate as the project was recorded at.
Make sure the exported files are clearly named.
A note on drums
Whether you are using drum samples, electronic drums, real mic’ed up drums, etc etc, I can only get a good drum mix if I have separate tracks for bits of the drum kit (bass drum / kick, snare drum, toms, overheads, percussion, other samples etc).
To get your drums to sound punchy while also sitting perfectly in the mix, separated tracks are a must.
If you are using one of the big multisampled drum libraries (NI Studio Drummer or Abbey Road, Addictive Drums, Logic Drummer, Superior Drummer, EZDrummer, Steven Slate, many others, etc) you are usually able to mute different elements of the drum kit, or duplicate the tracks with drum kit elements solo’ed.
7) Make a note of the tempo.
Make a note of the project tempo. I don’t need to know the tempo to mix your song, but it does help if, later on, you want me to do any editing of time or pitch, or to add extra parts to your music. If you have complex time signature or tempo changes, we can discuss this together.
8) Send me your reference mix (optional)
If you have a mix that you’re not happy with, but gives me a good idea of the “vibe” of the mix, or which instruments need to be more / less prominent, I will be happy to take a listen.