How to prepare your recordings to be PROFESSIONALLY mixed
Article by Dan Guerrie.
The first thing you're probably asking is, "Who is this guy and why does he think he needs to remix my album? - It's perfect just the way it is!" The fact is your mix isn't perfect, at least to their ears and a remix is necessary before they'll feel comfortable playing your recording for other people. Most of the relationships that you'll have within the recording industry are very fragile. Many times you're only one flop album, production, mix or artist presentation away from losing that contact permanently. As a mixer and producer it's essential to my career that I preserve my reputation with other industry professionals. Consequently, I never send anyone's album to any of my contacts unless I've mixed.it (this also doesn't mean I send everything I mix to them either). This is the only way I have to control the quality of what is getting sent to others in the industry.
Here's an example of why you want to seriously consider letting someone remix your songs. I was invited to participate as a panelist at the Durango Songwriters' conference (probably the best one of these types of conferences in the world). One of the other panelists was the head of A&R for a very successful Nashville based publisher. After the session ended he said "We're looking for some music right now - if you mix anything good why don't you send it to me?" I sent the word to some famous musician contacts and asked them they'd let me present their music to this publisher. My only terms were that if I felt like the song would need a remix before I forwarded it to the publisher they'd let me do it. I got deluged with CDs from not only my contacts but also from their friends and bandmates. I made the same offer to a unknown musician friend who was struggling to get his very good project noticed.
At first he was excited for the opportunity, after all you don't get a shot at signing with a large Nashville publisher every day. A couple of days later he calls me and says "I've been thinking about it and the mixes I've been doing at my house are perfect and I don't want anyone screwing with them, so I'll just have to pass on this one if you don't want to use them the way they are". I didn't feel good about what I was hearing and without a remix I wasn't going send any of his songs to the publisher. So, needless to say, his songs never got presented to the head of A&R at the publisher, the very person who could have helped make his career. To this day he's still on the hustle to get anyone with influence in the industry to look at his band and has turned down other offers from producers and attorneys to present his songs to major label A&R under the condition that they could remix his record. There's no denying the fact that you have to let other people become involved in your project if you expect them to help you promote your career in music.
Now that we've sorted that out, let's get back to how you're going to get those tracks to a mixer, producer, or A&R guy.
Here are the steps you'll need to do to get your tracks ready to send to a mix engineer.
I get projects to mix that have been recorded on a wide range of equipment (I recently mixed a project that was recorded on Tascam DA-88 recorders). Whether you've recorded using software, a dedicated hard disk recorder, modular digital recorder, workstation or analog multitrack you're going to need to get those tracks converted to digital files to make your multitrack recording compatible with all DAWs and hard hisk recorders. If your project was recorded on modular digital multitracks (the Tascam DA88), ADATs or analog multitrack, you'll need to find someone who can bounce those tracks over to a Pro Tools or a similar DAW so they can be turned into audio files. There are studios and services that can do this for you. Sometimes the mixer or producer can help you get this done but you're always going to do better on price if you find someone yourself.
Once you've got the recording in the DAW, each track of each song needs to be 'rendered','flattened' or converted to a continuous Broadcast WAV, SDII or AIFF File. All files / regions for each track should be consolidated to a single continuous file. Tracks like guitar solos, that only occur during the middle of the song, will end up being one long audio file with silence during the places where there's no sound recorded.
Send the mixer one complete set of flattened, unprocessed audio files which have no plugins or volume automation on them. These files are essential if you want a release quality mixdown. Most mixers, myself included, will not take on a project if the plugins are rendered to every track. I had a project come to me last year for a remix from an indie label who wanted to sign an artist and release their CD. The engineer had used Auto-Tune on all the vocals. The parameters were improperly adjusted and the result was a lead vocal which sounded like Cher's vocal on Do You Believe. OK for the pop and dance genres, definitely not OK for the heavy metal genre. Because the Auto-Tune plugin had been rendered to the original vocal tracks there were no unprocessed tracks to use. The only option would have been to put the vocalist on an airplane to me so we could re-record all of the vocal tracks. The label didn't want to invest the time and money into doing this so they dropped the artist. Less than a month later I got another heavy metal band's tracks from that same label to mix for release.
Any signal processing or plugin that's an important part of the production (volume level automation, compression, etc.) should be rendered to the audio file in addition to the unprocessed file. Don't expect the studio or mixer to have the same plugins or processing gear you used on your recording. If you want it on the recording, send it to the mixer in the form of a rendered file. But remember to include the unprocessed version also.
Any 'comped' tracks (multiple tracks compiled into a single track) should be included as a single flattened or rendered file. Original files for the comped track should also be included. If possible send your notes to the mixer so he knows which sections of the tracks were used to make the comped track. If necessary he'll be able to reproduce what you did.
All soft-synths or soft-drum machines must be rendered to audio tracks. If you want keyboards in stereo you'll need to make sure they're recorded that way. Each keyboard patch and drum should be bounced to a single track (it's common to see 6 to 8 tracks on a drum machine alone). Same goes for any Acid loops or similar chunks of software. Make sure you've rendered audio and not just bounced a MIDI track over to a file. Turn off all reverb, delay and effects on these tracks.
There should be no more than one file per track (this is the standard rule). Stereo tracks need to be split into two sound files and labeled 'L' for 'left' and 'R' for 'right' after the track name.
If time code was supported, the original positional reference should be incorporated in the file. If no time code or positional reference was used in the recording process, all tracks should be converted with a start time of the sample count equivalent of 1:00:00:00. All tracks including partial tracks, such as guitar solos, and background vocals need to have the same start time so that the proper time relationships between tracks is maintained.
Four clicks should be placed at the beginning of every track as a reference for its start time prior to 'flattening'. The clicks should be placed at the same relative time location for each track.
All files should be copied onto a CD-R, DVD-R or USB flash drive for mixdown. The preferred format for a USB drive is Mac Extended Case Sensitive. A standard formatted (PC Fat 16 or Fat 32) is acceptable