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How to prepare your music session for working with Producers and Mix Engineers

Preparing your music sessions for mix engineers and/or a producer is crucial in the final stages of music production. A well-organized session can make producer collaboration and mixing more efficient and creative. Here's a step-by-step guide to prepare your session for producers and mixers:

1. Backup Your Original Session: Before making any changes, always save and backup your original session. This ensures you have a point to revert back to if needed.

2. Clean Up Your Tracks:

  • Remove Unwanted Audio: Delete unnecessary recordings, sounds, or takes you don't want to be used in the final mix.

  • Consolidate Tracks: If you have multiple takes for one part, compile or "comp" them into a single best take and bounce the selection.

  • Clean-Up Edits: Use crossfades effectively to avoid pops, clicks, or abrupt audio cuts. Fade in and fade out regions where needed. When using crossfades on instruments, always place the crossfade before the transient so you don't lose the energy of the note or hit. (Example: If your guitar strum is on the bar, place the crossfade well before the bar so you don't lose energy at the beginning of the strum.)

3. Organize Your Session:

  • Name Tracks Clearly: Descriptive names like "Lead Vocals" or "Snare Top" are more helpful than "Audio 1" or "Track 2".

  • Color-code Tracks: Grouping instruments by color (e.g., all drums in blue, all vocals in yellow) can make navigation easier.

  • Group and Bus Similar Tracks: For example, group all drum tracks to a drum bus. This will allow you to process them collectively during mixing.

4. Tune and Time:

  • Tuning: Ensure all your instruments, especially vocals, are in tune. Use delicate pitch correction software if needed on your vocals. Producers may ask you to remove this if you have paid for vocal editing. For live instruments like guitars, please tune them every other take to ensure a professional sound.

  • Timing: Make sure all tracks are rhythmically tight. Use time-stretching or quantization tools for correction if necessary, but be careful, as quantization can hurt instrument tracks if not performed correctly. Your produce can help edit timing in post-production, but getting well-timed recordings at the source is always best. If working with a producer, track all your scratch tracks to a metronome/click so they have a great place to start.

5. Balance Levels and Panning: Create a rough mix by balancing the track levels and panning. This gives the producer/mixing engineer a general idea of your vision.

6. Export your Reference Track: Once you have a rough mix, export your song into a stereo file and label it "reference." This will help the producer/mix engineer get a feel for the effects you added during production.

7. Disable Effects and Processing:

  • Leave processing on only if you have effects or processing that are essential to the sound (e.g., a specific guitar pedal or synthesizer effect).

  • However, general mixing plugins like EQs, compressors, and reverbs should be turned off unless they are integral to the sound. You should also turn off any send effects before exporting your files.

8. Check Track Phasing: Ensure there's no phase cancellation, especially with multi-mic setups like drums. Flipping the phase on a track can help determine if there are phase issues.

9. Export Stems (If Required): Some mix engineers prefer to work with stems, which are sub-mixes of multiple tracks. For instance, a drum stem would contain all drum tracks mixed down to a single file. This is more common in stem mastering (processing groups of like tracks after mixing and before mastering, typically with analog equipment to provide color) than mixing. Discuss with your producer/mix engineer whether they need single tracks or stems for the task they are performing for you.

10. Provide Notes: If you want specific elements or effects or have comparative references from other artists or bands for how you want the final mix to sound, share these notes with the mixing engineer.

11. Ensure Adequate Headroom: Reduce the levels of tracks so that the master bus does not clip. Aim for the loudest part of your song to peak around -6dB across all tracks. If there is any audible (unintended) distortion on any of your tracks, turn them down. If you don't, then that unwanted distortion will be baked into the file you are sending to the produce/mix engineer once you export the tracks.

12. Consolidate and Export Tracks:

  • Consolidate: Ensure each track starts at the song's beginning and ends at the same point on the timeline, even if there's silence. This ensures synchronization when tracks are imported into a new session. You can achieve this in most DAWs by exporting all files between the loop markers or start and end markers.

  • Export: Export each track as its own individual WAV or AIFF file at a minimum of 24-bit and 48k (industry standard). Discuss with your producer/mix engineer what resolution they prefer. Never send compressed MP3 or M4A files to a mix engineer. Those types of files are acceptable for scratch tracks and collaboration only.

13. Gather and Send All Necessary Files:

  • Include all exported tracks, MIDI files (if any), and additional notes or resources.

  • Using file-sharing services or cloud storage can make it easy to share large sessions.

14. Communication: Always communicate well with your producer/mixing engineer. Discuss your vision, expectations, and any specifics you want for your song.

Following these steps ensures that your music session is organized and ready for a smooth mixing process.

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