How To Prep Your Files For Your Mix Engineer



The availability of online information and affordable gear makes it easier than ever for many DIY musicians to record, mix, and master their own material, but this can often be out of necessity and isn't necessarily the best approach for everyone. Even if you can do all of these things by yourself, it doesn't mean that you should. Most of the great music we've all heard and use as benchmarks for our own work involved some collaboration between talented professionals who contributed their specific skills to do one thing really, really well.

For the mixing phase, a dedicated mix engineer brings a fresh set of ears to the project who can listen objectively to the song in this crucial stage to blend and enhance the very best aspects of the recorded performance and reduce anything that distracts from it. Any rough mixes made during the tracking phase can be used by the mix engineer as a reference point but ultimately you will need to provide the individual multi-track files in such a way that gives your mix engineer as much flexibility as possible to do their job well. Likewise, the mix engineer will do the same to allow the mastering engineer to do theirs.

While workflows will vary from project to project and personal preferences always play a role, there are some items that are simply required. I've separated these from the "nice to have" items but often times it's several small things that will add up to either keep the project moving forward or to rob it of your time, money, and objectivity.

I'm more than happy to help answer any questions you have about the process and what might be needed. If in doubt, please reach out! I'd love to help you get your music out into the world the way you hear it in your head, or even better. 

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File Requirements for Mixing:

  1. Avoid clipping. Recording your audio at too high a level can result in distortion. Unlike the analog days, digital clipping sounds bad but can be avoided by recording at a more conservative level. Some headroom is always required for mixing and mastering and clipped tracks cannot be "fixed in the mix".

  2. All tracks must start on Bar 1, Beat 1. If your song's total duration is three minutes, thirty seconds (3:30), then all individual tracks should also have that same length when exported. If in the same example, your guitar solo doesn't come in until the two-minute mark (2:00) then there should be a full two minutes of silence in front of it so that it will be properly aligned with the other tracks. If this is not done correctly, the guitar solo would start at the very beginning of the song when imported into a DAW and be completely out of time with the rest of the performance.

  3. Use that tuner between takes. Stringed instruments such as guitar, bass, mandolin, and ukulele can easily become out of tune during the tracking session and need to be kept in tune at all times. Some pitch correction for a stray vocal is one thing but there's very little your mix engineer can do to correct tuning issues for multi-stringed instruments.

  4. All tracks should be recorded using the same sample rate and bit-depth. This is especially important to pay attention to when your tracking is done over multiple sessions and/or in different locations. If you're not sure which settings to use with the gear you have, start with the defaults and don't change these during the tracking session. Sample rates of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz are typical, along with a bit-depth of 24 or 32 bits.

  5. Do not export your multi-tracks as MP3 files. MP3 files do not preserve the audio quality necessary to deliver a professional-sounding mix and should be avoided whenever possible. Most DAWs and recording apps provide the ability to export in higher-quality file formats. Your multi-tracks should be exported in a lossless format such as WAV or AIFF. Another popular lossless format is FLAC.

  6. Print all MIDI tracks/virtual instruments as audio tracks. This will preserve the intended sound as it was originally performed. For flexibility and/or last-minute production choices, you may provide the MIDI track in addition to the printed audio.

Make your mix engineer even happier by providing these "nice to have" items:

  1. Export your multi-tracks dry, without effects. This means removing any reverb on your vocals, or a delay effect on the guitar. If the effect is essential to the sound you want, please export the effect to a separate track. Your mix engineer can then add or blend these effects with the dry signal during the mixing process instead to better balance them with the overall mix.

  2. Avoid unnecessarily high track counts by committing to your sound during tracking. In general, one guitar part should be recorded to one track. While it is very common to have more than one mic placed on the guitar amp when recording, please consider making any blending decisions during the tracking stage by bussing those signals to a single track to capture the desired sound as you're hearing it right then and there. If for example you place three mics on your cabinet, six different guitar parts could result in 18 tracks alone! Your mix engineer will then need to spend more time blending each guitar part as opposed to simply mixing the song.

  3. Rename your exported tracks with descriptive names. Nothing brings the workflow to a crawl like having to audition each file individually just to identify what it is. Your recording software may automatically name or export files sequentially as Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, etc. but please take a few seconds to rename them as something more descriptive, such as "Bass" or "Overheads" instead. It's also common to label vocal tracks with the singer's name. No disrespect to "Ray-Ray" and "Lisa" but it would be more helpful to see "Lead Vocal" or "Chorus Harmony" instead.

  4. Do you have a rough mix? Few people like being told what and how to do something; however, your mix engineer should always appreciate a road map of sorts—a reference point to identify what you like or don't like about what was previously captured.

  5. Do you have a lyric sheet? Some mix engineers (myself included) love to receive the lyrics upfront to better understand what your song is about and how the music helps to tell that story. Even when written in a different language, the text can be easily translated to provide a general idea of the meaning and emotions you're trying to convey.

What other questions or concerns do you have about getting your song mixed? I'd love to hear about your music. CLICK HERE to get started.

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Matt Recio

Quality mixing services for your music and audio projects.