Getting a song mixed can be an exciting and daunting experience at the same time. You’ve spent so much time making sure that you’ve created your best art – now its time to put it together and add the polish it needs to leave a mark on the world when its finally released.
Making sure a mix goes smoothly requires some preparation on your end as the artist. As a mix engineer to many – I’m here to help you make sure you get the mix you want by offering some advice on preparing stems for mixing.
- Ensure all the production and vocal takes are edited and finalized before sending anything in to be mixed.
When sending stems for mixing, the mix engineer should only be provided with high-quality audio of the final takes to be used in the final mix. The mix engineer’s job is to take what you give him/her and make it sound the best it possibly can. Their job is not to act as a producer and pick and edit the best takes for you. That should’ve been done already.
Therefore, you should not be including alternate takes, or variations to be considered for use – only the absolute necessary and final takes should be provided for mixing.
- Ensure that all the files are cleanly recorded and are not clipping.
While a mix engineer can work all kinds of magic to a song – they can’t do much if they aren’t given the proper raw materials. This includes making sure all files are recorded properly with an adequate amount of headroom (usually -6db) for each track and are not clipping (track volume going into the red).
A mix engineer cannot fix something that is broken at the recording level – they can only enhance what’s already there so be sure to record your tracks properly. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, then prepare to receive back a mix that may be flawed due to factors outside of your mix engineer’s control.
- Ensure all files are consolidated so they start and end at the same time.
Consolidating an audio file means taking multiple separate audio clips that live on a single track and joining them into one file, filling the gaps in between the clips with silence. As you may be sending your song to someone who uses a different DAW and set-up to mix, it’s crucial that the files you send are consolidated.
Make sure all of these consolidated audio clips start at 0:00 and end when the song ends. This will ensure that the mix engineer can load the files into their set-up, and have every instrument/vocal line-up and play exactly when they should on the grid.
An example of consolidated audio files inside of a Pro Tools session.
- Ensure all the files you are sending are organized and correctly labeled.
Never send files with generic names such as Audio 1, Audio 2, etc. Not only is it not helpful – it ends up requiring a great deal of time on the engineer’s part to make sense of as they have to go through each individual file, carefully listen, and rename them just to get the session set-up.
This is counter productive – the mix engineer should be focused on mixing and making creative decision to help your song sound better – not spending an hour trying to figure out what’s what, labeling and getting organized.
Be diligent – make sure files are organized and labeled correctly so your mix engineer can focus their energy on creating the best mix they can for you.
- Make sure your vocals are tuned before sending in to mix.
In my opinion, vocal tuning is in the same category as compiling and editing. It’s something that should be done before mixing and not during the mixing process itself.
Not every mix engineer tunes vocals, or if they do, it’s an additional expense separate from the mix. Make sure you have this conversation with your mixing engineer and don’t assume that they will be tuning your vocals just because they are mixing your song.
- Send WET and DRY versions of files.
By WET and DRY – I am referring to files that have effects printed on (WET) and files that do not have any effects printed on (DRY). Effects can include reverb, delay, distortion, EQ, compression, etc.
When getting tracks ready for mixing, its best to provide both in separate folders that are clearly labeled so the mix engineer has the option to use either version when mixing your record.
Perhaps they can’t get the same reverb you had on a snare – by providing them with WET and DRY files, they can use your WET version in the mix without having to ask you for it. This saves time later and helps get you closer to the mix you want.
An example of how to organize and label WET and DRY files for your mixing engineer.
- Include a PDF document with important session information such as BPM, song key, lyrics and any notes that are important to consider when completing the mix.
While many engineers use special programs such as Mixed In Key to determine some of this information – it’s better to take the extra step and include it in a PDF to reduce the margin for error. Remove all of the guesswork for the engineer and make sure they have all the information they need to in order to do a good job. Even something as simple as having the incorrect tempo can throw a lot of things off during the mix.
If you have specific requests or ideas for the mix, be sure to include a note of them in the document as well. For example, you may request little to no reverb on a specific vocal, or want a specific instrument to be treated and conveyed in a particular way. Don’t assume the engineer knows your vision – tell them upfront and clearly in order to help get you there faster and more effortlessly.
- Send a reference mix of the song you’re getting mixed – even in its rough demo-state.
The first thing I do when I receive a new song to mix is listen to the artists’ reference mix. Sure – it may not sound the best it can – but there is usually a vibe there that I need to focus on preserving, or it at least helps point me in the right direction.
Therefore, It is crucial that you send a reference mix of the song you’re having mixed as a high-quality WAV if possible. This is typically the latest version of the mix, usually from a recording session that has rough balances and some FX applied.
You may be asking- why would I send a reference of my song that is still rough?
The mix engineer may or may not know you – and may or may not be familiar with your music and taste- especially towards this song they’re about to mix. Sending them the most recent version will give them a good reference point. They’ll notice specific things, like how loud your vocal is relative to the instrumental, and they’ll be aware of specific delay throws or effects you have on the reference and replicate them within their mix.
Ultimately, the reference helps the mix engineer know what you’re used to hearing the song sound like – and they may use this information to recreate the vibe – except bigger, fuller and more badass in the end.
- Send files through a service such as WeTransfer, DropBox, Google Drive, etc.
Once you have all the files, you need to figure out how to get them to your mix engineer so they can do their job.
Most of my clients rely on WeTransfer, which is free to use up for a transfer up to 2GB. They also have a paid service for larger files.
Other services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive can also be free up to a point. When using these services, ensure the sharing settings allow for the other party to edit and download the files so they can mix your song immediately without requesting for permission online.
Alternatively – if your mix engineer is in the same city- you can arrange to meet in person and swap files using a hard-drive.
We tend to glamorize some parts of the music-making process and neglect others. Mix preparation is a process that is often ignored and arguably takes up a lot of time. I’ve had some mixes take me several hours just to set up due to the client ignoring some of these above points.
Save yourself and your mix engineer time, energy and avoid any miscommunications by following my advice above- and share this post with your artist friends to help them on their next mix.