This article will show some best practices to prepare your tracks for professional mixing.
The 11-point checklist below will help you move effortlessly from the production phase to the mixing stage.
Now, for producers mixing their own songs and productions, these tips will give a great insight on how to prepare tracks for a great mixing workflow.
Even if you want to outsource your songs, implementing these systems in a project will give a great starting point to a mix engineer. It will help the audio personnel understand the project from artist’s perspective.
Moreover, it is your part as an artist to prepare all your tracks CORRECTLY before sending them out to a mixing engineer.
Let’s jump right into the tips one by one in a sequential manner.
11 Steps to prepare your Tracks for Professional Mixing!
Here is an eleven point checklist for producers to prepare tracks for mixing engineers.
1) Proper Arrangement
Remember to make sure that you have your track elements in place before you move through the different steps mentioned in this article.
It is not the responsibility of a mix engineer to arrange your audio files. Song arrangement must be done before sending the audio files out.
Listen to the song with each and every bounced audio file to make sure that they sit in proper place.
2) Simple Track Names
When preparing your project, the first thing is to assign straightforward and on-point names to each track. Implementing an easy step like this will help you and the mix engineer better visualise the song.
Most of the time, a mix engineer will explicitly ask an artist to reassign names of all the tracks before receiving the audio files.
It will help the mixing engineer to:
- Know about the audio recording instrument,
- save time by not listening to every track and renaming it themselves.
Additionally, doing something as simple as renaming track names looks professional and warm.
Here is an example of a good and not-so-good track name.
|Poor naming style||Properly named audio track|
|rec_guitar_jimtake3_final||Lead Guitar Verse|
3) Colour coding your tracks
Now that each track has its identity, it is time to colour code tracks based on similarity.
For this step, colour code all the basses, guitars, synths, drums, pads, horns and other instruments. It is preferred across the industry to give each group of sounds like basses a similar colour, for example, Red. It helps an artist to identify the type of audio file quickly.
All in all, this step has the power to make your session a lot more organised and visually appealing.
4) Positives of Bouncing tracks
Bouncing all the tracks into audio files from MIDI is vital to shift mentally from the production phase to the mixing stage.
A smooth transition into the mixing phase requires bouncing MIDI to audio. Only then can we shift from creative to the more technical part of the process.
This is especially true when an artist is mixing their track all alone. It forces you to complete rather than improve the track.
On the other hand, bouncing tracks helps to prevent any accidental changes. I have seen it happen multiple times.
Bouncing tracks is always sweet as it takes stress off your CPU and leaves enough power for adding plugins.
5) Basic Mixing
When preparing your tracks for mixing purposes, make sure that you remove dead silences from the audio files.
Removing the silent parts from an audio file helps ensure there are no clicks or pops. These pops, clicks and unwanted noises can become highly annoying in the mixing process.
So, to avoid frustration and save time in the mixing process, it is highly recommended to trim down tracks to include only meaningful recordings.
6) Bypass plugins
Next step is to remove and bypass all the effects chains or plugins that you may have on your audio channel.
Remove or bypass all the plugins whenever you send audio stems for mixing. Leaving the effect chain on the track and not removing it can hinder the creativity and effectiveness of a mixing engineer, especially if you are not their regular client.
However, there are some exceptions to this step as well.
Firstly, there is no harm in keeping the auto-tune and pitch correction effects on the audio channels before sending it out for mixing.
Secondly, you can keep a processing or plugin effect that you like because it is your song. You have complete control over what goes in your final song mix.
But, I recommend talking with your engineer about the effect that you have left on the audio. Discuss the plugin settings and the result you want to achieve.
Nonetheless, sending a dry copy of the audio alongside the processed signal is recommended.
7) Buss-friendly Approach
There are certain tracks in a song that can benefit from buss processing. In such cases, it is better to buss them together.
Buss friendly approach is seldom talked about in the mixing industry. Bussing allows a mixing engineer to glue sounds together. And make it sound integrated with a mix.
Audio Bussing allows the same processing on multiple tracks. You can apply compression, EQ, saturation, and creative effects all at the same time.
Furthermore, audio bussing also has a significant upside. It reduces the CPU load as the same plugin settings are applied to the bus tracks. Doing so leaves enough CPU power to apply effects and processing on other audio tracks or busses.
Hence, a win-win situation.
8) Separating Drum Rack elements
We are making great progress. The mix engineer is going to be so fond of you.
This tip is a simple one but can be forgotten at times.
If you use electronic drum racks in the production, ensure that the drum rack is broken layer by layer into audio files before sending audio files for mixing.
As i said, separating drum rack channel into independent tracks is seldom under-looked. You don’t want the mix engineer to call you saying he is unable to find individual drum audio files.
9) Gain Staging
This step is essential to mix your track after the production phase.
Gain staging considers and solves the issue of audio clipping and distortion. Gain staging is quite popular in mixing audio tracks.
Moreover, this technique is a by-product of mixing in professional studios with mixing consoles and a high number of analog hardware equipments like compressors, EQs, and many more.
Gain Staging is commonly applied before mixing to make a music mix sound louder without clipping or distortion.
10) Additional Information
If you think there is an essential important thing that a mix engineer may forget, note it down and send it along with the project files in a text format.
This document can contain information about:
- Song tempo,
- Notes about the song,
- Processing or effects chain,
- And so on.
Also, discuss these things beforehand with the mixing engineer over a meeting to discuss your expectations.
11) Export Audio Tracks into folders
It is time to put each audio file together in different folders while exporting. Additionally, you can name each folder according to the sound type like bass, guitars, synths, drums etc.
The cool thing is that you have narrowed each track into its category. The mix engineer will also appreciate that you took the time to gather and arrange tons of channels into every individual unit.
Final part of the process is exporting the audio files in their respective folders. Put the bass tracks into the bass folders and so on.
Lastly, merge the additional information text file into this folder and send it out to your mix engineer over the mutually agreed medium.
Properly organising the tracks reduces the time it takes for a mix engineer to further prepare a session for mixing.
Moreover, these tips helps both the artist and mixing engineer to stay productive during the mixing phase and focus on important tasks.