HOW TO PREPARE A SESSION FOR MIXING
BASIC CLEAN UP
- At first, please check your tracks for any unwanted noise, clicks, pops and other stuff that’s not part of the final production.
- Cut out everything that needs to go, trim the beginnings and endings, so that there’s just the useful information and no unwanted noise.
- Make fades or crossfades in the beginnings, endings, and where files overlap, to prevent clicks. Never fade into the actual audio! Zoom in and double check to make sure the very beginning of the waveform is intact.
PRINT VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS & AMP SIMS
MIDI and DIs give me maximum flexibility, but having to start with only those means I have to create a tone completely from scratch, without knowing what you were going for. That’s producing and not mixing. So, please always include the tone you got, so that I get an idea and a reference of the sound you came up with for that specific part.
Always use the same sample rate and bit depth you’re already using in your session. So, if the session is 44,1 kHz / 24 Bit, print (export) all of your files exactly like that.
- Check if there are any virtual instruments (MIDI) and/or DIs (bass / guitars)
- Export virtual drums as individual tracks (WAV files). One for each microphone. Just as if it was an actual drumkit.
- Export all other MIDI instruments as WAV files, as if they were actual instruments, recorded with microphones. Include all effects that are a crucial part of the sound. Remove all effects that are not essential, or have to be changed.
- Make notes on everything you’ve removed. That way I know, which effects are currently missing and need to be added again.
- Print (export) all amp sims tracks as WAV files. Print to a new track or export into a folder, don’t replace the DI! You want to have both in the end.
- Re-import all the exported files, or even better, print them to a new track while you are exporting, so you don’t have to re-import. Check if they align perfectly with the DI / MIDI.
CHECK & ADJUST THE GAIN
- Now that you have every track and every part as a WAV file, please check the gain on all the WAV files. Make sure the faders are at zero („0“) and you have at least -6dB headroom on each individual track. That means no individual meter should show more than -6dB peak.
- If you are using plugins that are an essential part of the sound, leave them on and adjust the output of the last plugin in the chain, so that you have enough headroom.
- „Headroom“ means space between the actual peaks of the signal and 0dB (clipping happens if the signal goes over 0dB. This has to be avoided, unless it’s a conscious creative decision)
- This headroom check is crucial for the next steps! So don’t skip it, please!
Consolidate Takes & Tracks
- Drag all the individual events that have the same sound and belong to the same microphone onto one track, unless they overlap or unless they are different layers that are meant to be on top of each other. So there should be no single instrument that’s split up into different tracks, just because it was a different take for each part. Only leave overlapping parts on individual tracks.
- Make crossfades between the different events you have now on each track to prevent clicks. Make sure the crossfades are as short as possible and don’t accidentally remove anything.
- Consolidate the events to one single WAV file per track.
Check & Adjust Starting Point For Export
- Check how you’ve set the starting point for your export. That’s a little different in every DAW. Just make sure when you hit export, that every single track is exported from the same starting point. If the actual part on that track only comes in at the end of the song, export it still right from the beginning, so that it aligns with all the others, when imported into a new session.
- The starting point should be at beat 1 of a bar, so that it’s also aligned to the click, when imported into a new session.
- It doesn’t matter how many bars of space you leave before the actual song starts.
Check If Mono Or Stereo
- Check if all your tracks are really stereo or in fact mono. Many people export stereo files, although it’s actually all mono. A single microphone, for example is mono. A guitar DI is mono. Real stereo tracks are very rare. The only things that are really stereo in your songs, are probably MIDI instruments, like Synths.
- All of the microphones you recorded are mono, except for when you recorded a pair of microphones onto one stereo track on purpose.
- Stereo means, that left and right are not the same. So every track that comes straight out of the middle, when you listen in solo, is mono, because left & right are identical. Every track that clearly has different information coming from left & right, is stereo.
- Once you’ve identified what’s mono and what’s stereo, adjust the export settings accordingly, or convert the tracks in your DAW before exporting. So that you end up with all mono files, except for when it’s a real stereo track. Oftentimes people use stereo tracks for everything, even for the mono stuff. That results in unnecessarily large files and requires higher processing power.
- If you skipped the gain adjustment and don’t have enough headroom, you can get clipping and distortion here, because converting to mono increases the level.
A good example for names and order would be the following:
09 Rhythm Gtr
10 Lead Gtr
11 Acoustic Gtr
12 Lead Vocals
13 Vocal Doubles
15 Background Vocals
16 Gang Vocals
20 Special FX
Create & Label Folders
- Create folders on your computer with the following structure and labelling: Band name -> Project name -> Song name
- Create one folder per song inside the „project name“ folder.
- Export all your tracks of each song into the folder labeled after that song. Mono as mono, stereo as stereo. Check for clipping and make sure all unwanted effects are off and all faders and pans are at „0“. Also, check the starting point again. It has to be exactly the same for all tracks.
Create Info Sheet
Create an info sheet for the whole record and one for each track. It should have the following data on it:
- Song title
- Tempo (in bpm)
- Time signature (4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc). If there are tempo changes within a song, make sure to export the tempo map, as well.
- Any additional info about your vision, possible reference tracks, things you like or don’t like in your raw recordings, things you want me to emphasize, things you want me to hide, special effects I should add, any certain vibe that has to be created, etc.
- The info sheet for the whole record should contain your overall vision and what you are trying to achieve. Sound-wise and also in regards to your audience or the medium you’re going to release it on. There should also be the song order and any meta data like ISRC codes or EAN/UPC codes, or anything like that.
- Include sheets in your folders
Check Folders, ZIP & Label Them
- Double check all your folders. Test your files and see if they align perfectly, don’t clip and contain the right audio. To do that it’s best to open an empty session and just import everything by dragging it to the same beat 1 of a bar. Everything should be aligned perfectly throughout the whole song when you do that. Hit play and listen.
- If all is good, zip the whole band folder and label the ZIP file (band name). If that file gets too large, zip the individual song folders, instead. Send the project info sheet separately in this case.
Upload & Transfer
You’re done! Thanks! 🙂