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How to Prepare Your Songs for Professional Mixing

27 Feb 2017

Interview kind: text · Reading time: 17 minutes

As every musician and sound engineer knows, mixing is a key process for your music. Once you’ve got all the different tracks recorded, it’s time to get the right balance between the different elements and find the perfect feeling for your track.
 
If you’ve decided to hire a Mixing Engineer to fulfill this task, you should make sure that this person receives everything he needs in a way that doesn’t distract him from this important task.
 
In the “cloud era” we’re living in, it’s becoming more and more common for artists to record their music in one place and then sending the tracks to a different person to get them mixed. This operation involves different Digital Audio Workstations, editing softwares, audio formats and so on.
Buying someone else’s time to do such a highly specialized and technical operation means trying to keep the engineer’s focus on the things he’s really good at: mixing.
 
Here are a few tips to make sure your tracks and your DAW sessions are ready for mixing
 
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1. Session setup
 
If you’re sending your DAW session to a mixing engineer, make sure it’s properly set up and ready to go, so he can start mixing your music straight away.
Increase the buffer size of the playback engine and enable the automatic latency compensation to make sure your DAW can handle a large session with a vaste number of plug-ins.
 

How to set the Buffer Size on Pro Tools
- choose: Setup > Playback Engine
- increase the H/W Buffer Size choosing a higher number of samples
- select the Delay Compensation sample value (lots of plugins —> higher value)
- choose: Options > Delay Compensation to activate it
 
How to set the Buffer Size on Logic Pro
- choose: Preferences > Audio > Devices
- increase the I/O Buffer Size to higher values
- choose: Preferences > Audio > General
- make sure the Plug-in Latency Compensation is set to All
 
How to set the Buffer Size on Cubase
- choose: Devices > Device Setup
- select the audio ASIO Driver you’re using in the Device window (ASIO4All is default)
- go to the Control Panel and tweak the buffer length
 
 
 
2. Polish your tracks
 
Whether you’re sending a whole session or just the separate tracks, this step must be your priority.
 
First of all, only send the tracks you want to be mixed. I know, it sounds stupid, but unless you’ve payed for someone’s production too, the mixing engineer doesn’t need unnecessary elements on his session. Once you’ve chosen the perfect take, make sure it’s perfectly edited. Put fade-ins and fade-outs at the beginning and at the end of every audio clip and crossfade every interaction between two clips.
 
Try switching between your monitors and a pair of good headphones to get rid of every possible click. Make the necessary time and pitch corrections before you consolidate the whole track. If you’ve used time correction editors (e.g. Beat Detective), make sure every fade is in the right place. If you’re using tons of auto-tune on the lead vocal, it’s sometimes useful to duplicate the track, render the auto-tuned one and leave the other one dry.
 
 
How to fade in/out on Pro Tools / Cubase
- place the pointer at the beginning/end of a clip in the top corner
- adjust the fade by clicking and “pulling” to the desired length
- edit the fade options by double clicking on it
 
How to fade in/out on Logic Pro
- Select the fade tool as primary or secondary in the top toolbar
- go at the end of the clip and click (or cmd + click, if it’s a secondary tool)
- “drag” the fade to the desired length
 
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3. Labeling
 
One of the mixing engineer’s most feared nightmares is opening a session / audio-file folder and going through a 50-track-long list of “Audio 01”, “Audio 02”, “Audio 03” files trying to figure out which is which. Make sure every track has short and simple names.
 
Write all of the track’s details (the mic you used, if it’s a DI track and if there’s any post-processing on it) on a separate Pdf file and place it in a separate folder or use the track comments directly on the session.
Keep your audio file folder clean and eliminate all the unused playlists with all the related clips. Make sure every sub-folder is named correctly (and color labelled).
 
 
How to name a track on Pro Tools
- double-click on the track name
- use cmd + left / right arrow to navigate between different track windows
 
How to name a track on Logic Pro
- click on a track
- use shift + enter to edit the name
- press enter to close the editing option
 
How to name a track on Cubase
- double-click on the track name
- confirm the name by pressing enter
- holding shift while pressing enter changes the track events according to the name
 
 
 
4. Effects and Plug-ins
 
Recording instruments with effects on top of them is a common production technique.
For example, a certain effect pedal combined with a certain amp can give you the perfect guitar sound you’re looking for, so keeping everything “dry” isn’t always the best choice. It’s always better to keep a separate dry track recorded through a D.I. box and properly labelled, so the engineer can eventually work on it instead.
 
If you’ve used some plugins, make sure they’re inactive before you print the single tracks. If you think it’s necessary, you can do a rough mix with all of the plug-ins turned on so the engineer can get a feeling of the direction you’re heading to. Just make sure it’s (I promise this is the last time I’m gonna say it) properly labelled and placed in a separate folder.
 
Midi tracks should be exported as whole audio files, yet it’s always a good choice to leave the midi track in the session. Some engineers rely on high quality virtual instruments that can often solve many sound issues before getting into the actual processing and without touching the actual “midi performance” of the musician.
 
 
How to print MIDI to audio on Pro Tools
- create a new audio track (cmd + shift + n) —> (cmd + right arrow if it’s a stereo midi track)
- assign the midi track output to a free bus (track output > bus)
- assign the same bus to the input of the new audio track (track input > bus)
- set the volume of the midi track at unity (opt + click on the volume fader)
- arm the audio track (red button next to S and M)
- hit record (cmd + spacebar) from the session start
 
How to print MIDI to audio on Logic Pro
- join the different midi regions (click on the track header—> Edit > Join > Regions per Track)
- create a new audio track (cmd + opt + n) and choose mono or stereo
- assign the midi track output to a free bus (track output > bus)
- assign the same bus to the input of the new audio track (track input > bus)
- set the volume of the midi track at unity (opt + click on the volume fader)
- arm the audio track (by clicking on the red R button next the track fader)
- hit record (r) from the session start
 
How to print MIDI to audio on Cubase
- choose: Project > Add Track > Audio
- assign the midi track output to a free bus (track output > bus)
- assign the same bus to the input of the new audio track (track input > bus)
- set the volume of the midi track at unity (opt + click on the volume fader)
- arm the audio track (by clicking on the red R button next the track fader)
- hit record (r) from the session start
 
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5. Consolidate your tracks
 
After comping, editing and “fading” are done, duplicate each track onto a new playlist. Name this playlist in a different way from the previous one (for example the first one could be “Kick_COMP” and the new one simply “Kick”).
 
Consolidating means obtaining a continuos region of the track that includes all the different takes (“Kick.01”, “Kick.02”, “Kick.03” and so on) in a single clip. Make sure you select the whole track from the session start to the final fade-out before giving the “consolidate” command.
 
Applying this process just to the duplicated playlist allows you to keep a “rough” version of the track with all the comps, edits and fades, and at the same time it creates a new audio file correctly named like the new playlist.
This is a useful tip if you’re using Pro Tools as your DAW.
 
The click track should be recorded onto a separate audio track, so the engineer doesn’t have to figure out the tempo changes throughout the song.
 
 
How to consolidate tracks on Pro Tools
- enable the “ALL” group (bottom left corner) and click on a track
- create a new playlist (cmd + ù) and name it correctly (see point 3. labeling)
- select all clips in all tracks (cmd + a)
- copy (cmd + c) and paste (cmd + v) the tracks to the new playlist
- extend the selection to the session start (dragging the top left arrow)
- consolidate everything (opt + shift + 3)
 
How to consolidate tracks on Logic Pro
- select all the clips in all the tracks (cmd + a)
- choose: Edit > Join > Regions per Tracks
 
How to consolidate tracks on Cubase
- select all the clips in all the tracks (cmd + a)
- right click on the selection
- choose: Audio > Bounce Selection
 
 
 
6. Exporting
 
If you’re sending the separate tracks to a mixing engineer who’s using a different DAW from yours, this is the final step. Make sure your file export format matches the sample rate and the bit depth you've used for recording. If your session is set to 44.1 kHz 24 bit, your file format should be none of the less.
 
 
How to export tracks on Pro Tools
- select all the tracks (cmd + a)
- export (cmd + shift + k)
- choose the file format
- choose the destination (create a new “Mix Tracks” folder or something like that)
- hit Export
 
How to export tracks on Logic Pro
- hit cmd + shift + e
- choose the destination (create a new “Mix Tracks” folder or something like that)
- choose the file format
- tick the Bypass Effect Plug-ins box (just to be sure)
- hit Save
 
How to export tracks on Cubase
- choose: File > Project > Audio Mixdown
- choose the destination (create a new “Mix Tracks” folder or something like that)
- choose the file format
- hit Export
 
 
 
These useful tips could really make a difference in getting a good starting point for your mix, whether you’re engineering your own music or you’re relying on another professsional to do it. Remote collaborations have been improved thanks to many free online file-sharing platforms that allow you to share your project with professionals from all over the world.
 
We at Bantamu are here to make these collaborations happen. We strongly believe that if an artist finds the right person behind the desk that really understands his music, that’s when magic happens.
 
Do you want to make sure your folder contains everything the engineer will need for mixing? We’ve prepared a sample folder (taken from a real mixing session of the alternative rock band Maudit) containing all the necessary elements exported and labelled correctly, so make sure you check it out! That's what a mixing engineer wants to see before he starts working!
 
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