Alright, guys. I’m going to lay it out as clearly and concisely as I can. I’m going to tell you exactly how your multitracks should be formatted when sending off for mixing and mastering. When your recording session is organized, you are organized, and your mix engineer will be organized, making the final product that much better with no surprises along the way.
Before we get TOO Far…
First off, it should go without saying, you have to have a fully written and recorded song. Not just a recorded song, it has to be 100% ready to go. This means that when the mixing engineer receives the WAV files, they are ready to be mixed. There should be no instances where drums, bass, guitars, or vocals should need editing or tuning. Editing, arrangement, tuning, and other mix prep items need to be handled before mixing can happen, unless discussed beforehand.
To be perfectly clear, I’ll quickly recap this first point, as it is crucial with no shortcuts: Fully recorded song, everything edited, everything tuned, no need for any extra work production-wise. The phrase “plug and play” comes to mind.
It comes down to getting things done right from the source, and not relying on someone to just “fix it” in the mix. Once you have your song perfectly laid out, you can now start thinking about who you want to send it off to for that radio-ready sound.
Guys, creating music is exciting, but be honest with yourself and ONLY send off the multitracks if each instrument/vocal take is perfectly the way it was intended to sound. If you’re not 100% happy with how they sound, you’ll never be happy no matter what the mix engineer does. No badly sung phrases, no badly played instruments, no bad edits/clicks/pops or otherwise. Do not expect or rely on the mixing engineer to find and fix your mistakes. It is often better to do things right at the source in order to release a great song.
Organizing in the Session
It’s important to have all of the drum/percussion tracks grouped together, all of the guitar tracks grouped together, all of the synths grouped together, all of the vocals grouped together, etc. Keeping tracks organized into simple sections will help you keep track of all the moving parts. No track will be forgotten, mislabeled, or otherwise ignored in a well-organized session. When it comes time to compile your WAV files together this will help everything go smoothly.
This is a crucial step that is most often overlooked when transferring files. Not much needs to be said for naming files - there is a right way, and a wrong way to do it. Proper file naming eliminates any room for miscommunication of what a track should be.
Here are some examples of ways NOT to name a track:
Audio_901349029-3294.WAV, Audio_384982384-9238.WAV, Audio_9283498239483-3433.WAV
[Song Name]_Todd_923493.WAV, [Song Name]_Peter_234798.WAV, [Song Name]_Dave_438483.WAV
Audio_1.WAV, Audio_2.WAV, Audio_3.WAV, Audio_4.WAV, Audio_5.WAV
Now, here are some examples of how your NEW naming structure will follow:
DRM KIK GGD.WAV, DRM KIK SLATE.WAV
DRM SNR BB.WAV, DRM SNR GGD.WAV
DRM RACK 1.WAV, DRM FLOOR 2.WAV
DRM RM L.WAV, DRM RM R.WAV
GTR RHY L.WAV, GTR RHY R.WAV
GTR LD AMB R.WAV, GTR LD CHORUS L.WAV
VOX MAIN.WAV, VOX DBL.WAV, VOX HARM HI L.WAV, VOX CHORUS MAIN.WAV, VOX SCRM.WAV
FX BOOM.WAV, FX CYMB RISE.WAV, FX GUNSHOT.WAV
Make sense? A clear-cut naming structure will eliminate any confusion and keep everyone on the same page.
Another way to look at it is that this proper naming routine helps you just as much as the mix engineer. Imagine you wanted a flutter synth sound raised up, and you relay your wishes to the team… will everyone know that you’re talking about “Audio_39482938_9283.WAV”, or will they know you’re talking about “SYNTH FLUTTER.WAV”?
Same Start/End Time for each track
Every track in your song should have the same start and end time. Why? Because I will bet money that your mix engineer doesn’t like to piece together your song like a puzzle and would rather get to work. This is a simple step that will keep your song nice and tidy.
Leave a few seconds of dead space at the beginning and end of the track to let the mixing and mastering engineer dial in a fade in/out.
No track should be clipping/distorting, and leave at least 6 dB of headroom.
Listen to each track and make sure that no other instrument is playing on the same track as another. Nothing is more perplexing than trying to mix a rhythm guitar when you hear the drums going on in the background… or whatever the case may be.
Export your tracks in stereo to ensure you’ll get the right spatial image and panning of instruments/vocals.
It is okay to export tracks that have been lightly pre-EQ’d. However, it might be a good idea to turn any compression, delays, or reverb off unless it’s an integral part of the track. For example, if you have a stereo delay on a synth sound that you really love; export the track with that stereo delay.
Remove ANY AND ALL mix buss processing so you don’t accidentally “dirty” the multitracks and compromise the sound for the mixing engineer. It’s best to have the multitracks as raw as possible.
Export File Format
While each mixing and mastering engineer have their preferred file format, here is your BEST bet… 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV files. Your next option would be 24-bit, 44.1 kHz WAV files. DO NOT EXPORT MP3 FILES. Just don’t. MP3, and file formats like it, will not be of sufficient quality for a mixing and mastering engineer to correctly process the song.
Include a rough mix in the file package in order to provide a clear image of what you are trying to achieve. Having this reference can aid the mixing engineer when making decisions on reverb, delays, panning, whatever it is they are hearing.
STRICTLY SENDING FOR MASTERING
If you are strictly sending a mix off to be mastered, there is no need to send multitracks. Mastering is just for polishing up that one 2-channel mix buss. For mastering engineers, there are a few important things to note as common etiquette so that they can do their job.
Leave the mix buss compression off, and take off any other plugins on the mix buss that may affect how the mastering engineer works. This includes saturation/tape distortion, stereo widening, multi-band compression, and de-essing.
Like with our multitracks, you want to give the mastering engineer a little headroom to work with. Anywhere from 6-12 dB of headroom should be sufficient. That’s it, that’s all!
There you have it, sending your song off to be mixed and mastered might be a little more complicated than you first thought, but the positive effect of being organized will only help your music become great.
If you’re reading this and think, “What if I don’t know how to edit or tune vocals?”, that is perfectly okay. The important point to consider is being open and honest with whoever you are working with so they know what to expect. Keep an open dialogue!
Checklist for Sending Songs off for Mixing and Mastering
1. Start with a Song
Recorded, arranged, edited, tuned
Sign off on the Production
Same Start/End Time for all tracks
3. Track Prep
NO clipping, at least 6 dB headroom
NO processing baked into tracks (compression, delays, reverb, etc.)
NO active mix buss processing, if any
Export in stereo to retain panning/stereo image
4. Export Files
24-bit, 44.1 kHz (or higher) stereo WAV files
Include Rough Mix for reference, or any other helpful notes about the production
NEVER EXPORT MP3
5. Send it
Organize folder and zip it up
Send it off to be mixed and mastered