5 Tips for Sending Songs to a Mixing Engineer
There are many different reasons to have someone else mix your songs. Whether you’ve recorded in your bedroom and want a more professional sound or if you’re a pro just looking for another set of ears to make your project better, the following are some helpful tips for streaming the process.
Properly Export Your Stems
Unless you and your mixer are working in the same DAW, they’ll need you to export stems, which are the audio files they’ll use to mix. It’s important to export stems rather than send the mixer your project folder or audio files folder because any edits you’ve made won’t be contained in those places. Each DAW has it’s own methodology for printing stems, but there are some things you should consider no matter your DAW:
Each stem should start at the beginning of the song, even if there’s nothing on that track until halfway through. When the mix engineer imports the files into their DAW, they’ll line them up by placing each of them at the same starting point. If all the files don’t start at the same point, your productions won’t line up correctly. The mix engineer will have less time to mix your song if they have to spend hours trying to piece together the arrangement.
Every file should be properly named (ie. the kick should be named kick). Your DAW might properly name the files as it exports them, but it may not, so it’s important to check. Having to solo through and rename every track is another time-consuming task for an engineer that takes away from mixing.
Should you print your effects processing when you’re exporting stems? The answer to this question depends on you; however, a good place to start is asking yourself whether the effect is a production choice or a mixing choice. The reverb and EQ you used on the vocal are probably more of a mixing decision, but maybe the reverb on that synth is a fundamental part of the sound. If you really want it in the final mix, you should probably print it. And remember, you can always print the track with and without the effect so that the mixer has options.
Send a Rough Mix and some Reference Mixes
Sending your rough mix helps the mix engineer know what you’ve been listening to and what you want the mix to sound like. Some engineers listen to the rough a lot, and some won’t listen at all, but it’s always good to give them the option. It’s also helpful to send some notes describing what you like and don’t like about the rough mix.
Sending some reference mixes of songs that you like can help you illuminate your ideas. For example if you let the mixer know that you love the how the bass sounds in a particular song, the mixer can try to work towards that sound. Because language can be a barrier in describing what you hear in your head, having specific examples allows you to communicate without having the proper technical language.
Send your files in a .zip through file sharing website.
Compressing your files before you send them is super important for several reasons. For one, it makes your file size smaller, making the download time shorter. Secondly, it makes sure that your files can’t accidentally be altered in any way and provides a record of what you sent. I personally keep the .zip files that are sent to me, so that I can always go back to EXACTLY what was sent to me.
Because the files you’re sending will likely be large, they won’t fit in an email. For large, one-time transfers like this, I personally like to use WeTransfer, but any cloud-storage will work just as well.
Communicate Your Deadlines & Needs
Communicating your needs to a mixing engineer up front helps produce a better mix and makes sure you have what you need for release. If the song is going to be a single, then maybe the mix needs to be slamming right away rather than build slowly like what might be appropriate for a deep cut on an album. Like-wise if you’re planning to release the song on vinyl, there needs to be less bass and limiting. All these things need to be considered when mixing so giving your mixing engineer a heads-up up front will make the process go more smoothly.
Similarly, communicating your deadline will help your mixing engineer schedule their time. If I know I have a week to mix a song, I might take two days on MIX1 so that I can come back with fresh ears on day two and get MIX1 a little closer to the final mix. But if I know you need to have the song finished in three days, then I know you need MIX1 today.
Send Clear Mix Notes
While different engineers have different things they want in mix notes, the following are a couple ideas to help you communicate as clearly as possible.
Keep all your mix notes in one place, like an email chain for each song. When you text your mix notes, it makes it hard to go back to the last round of notes and address those things.
Giving specific times for your notes is extremely helpful, particularly when describing specific events (ie. “Is that a pop I hear at 2:16?”).
Try to use language that is as specific as you can. While most engineers have PHDs in translating client terms into technical fixes, a kick drum being too “blue” means different things to different people.