Are your home recordings ready for professional mixing?
Many artists and musicians now routinely record themselves. How can you make sure though, that your home recordings are ready to send for professional mixing?
With shrinking budgets, artists often have to self-fund their albums. This all means that home recording is on the increase.
It is now easier than ever for people to record themselves at home with affordable equipment. With a few grand in the bank, you can equip yourself with a decent laptop, mic, and headphones and record a whole album.
What is more difficult to do though, is to mix to a professional standard at home. Professional recording studios have often spent thousands on acoustic treatment and acoustic design. This all makes sure that the sound coming out of the speakers is predictable.
But how can you make sure that your tracks are ready to send to a studio to get mixed?
If you can do a lot of the preparation before you send your files then you’ll save time and therefore money. No mix engineer wants to have to completely re-organise your session before they can mix the song.
I had an EP sent to me to mix the other day and it was beautifully organised. All tracks were numbered, they all started at a common time and the session was easy to navigate. This all meant that I could focus on the music and concentrate on making it sound great!
It’s easy when you record yourself to keep adding tracks and never name them. This leaves you with lots of files named Audio_1, Audio_2 etc which isn’t helpful.
Instead, name your tracks immediately so the audio shares the same name. When you export your master stems for mixing they will be easy to find. Also, choose names that are descriptive. Instead of “Guitar 1” and “Guitar 2”, try using adjectives that describe the tone. “Crunchy Guitar”, “Sparkle Piano” and “Flange Bass” all help the mix engineer see what the track’s role is in the song.
We have several posts on best studio practice, especially our series on recording a band. The posts can be found in the Sound Advice archive.
Make sure that all edits and comps are complete before sending the files to mix. If you have a specific blend of the 5 mics you used on your guitar amp then commit and pre-bounce this down to one track.
If you know which vocal sections you like out of the 100 takes you recorded, then make that selection. Not only does this help you focus but it cuts down the session size that you need to upload!
Likewise, make sure that you check any edits between clips. These should be free from clicks and pops and have crossfades already applied. This can save your mix engineer hours of non-essential time that is costing you money!
Tuning and time correction
Tracks that are in time are easier to mix. There. I’ve said it.
If your bass player has bad timing then it will always be hard to find a good balance between her and the kick drum.
Likewise, if your rhythm guitarist has poor timing, he won’t feel like he’s driving the track.
Timing problems can be a real problem with home recordings but if you can sort any timing problems before you mix, the outcome will sound more professional.
Similarly, if you can tune any dodgy notes beforehand you’ll save your mix engineer doing it. This can all add up to a lot of extra hours that you don’t necessarily need to be paying for if you have the ability.
If you’re unsure of your abilities then speak to your studio. You could always send both files – with correction and without.
With modern 64-bit computing, you don’t necessarily need to be as interested in recording levels as you once did. Technically-speaking it’s impossible to clip the digital mix bus. However, when mixing, it’s very time consuming to clip-gain everything. Also if you’re using analogue hardware then you need to make sure your levels aren’t too hot.
If you can have all faders at 0dB and hear a good balance that would be great for any mix engineer working on your music. If they put up the faders, however, and some things are very loud and some inaudible then you’ve created work.
The engineer will need to turn individual tracks up or down at the clip level. This takes time which costs you money.
If you want to know more, there’s a great article on how to set proper recording levels.
Most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) nowadays have excellent export features. You should be able to render all audio files, free from processing from a common time.
This means that your engineer should be able to import all the audio and the tracks will align with each other. If not then the engineer will have to align by ear – not a great situation to be in.
If in any doubt, bounce a reference mix along with your stems. This is very helpful as you can also hear if any tracks are missing from the arrangement.
Always bounce in the resolution you’ve been recording in. There is no benefit to bouncing out tracks in a higher sample rate. If you want to use a high sample rate then record in it, to begin with.
Make sure you bounce at 24 BIT in a PCM file format – either WAV or AIFF. No mix engineer wants to be mixing MP3 files!
Check your work!
Whenever I bounce stems for a client, I always import them back into a new arrangement. This gives me the opportunity to check they all work and that nothing is missing.
If there are large volume differences then this might be the time to get them closer to the balance you want to hear. You can apply a gain plugin or bounce the audio post fader to get a better balance.
Once you’re happy with the stems, check their labelling and put them all in a common folder.
This should have the name of the song and the BPM. If there are any notes for the engineer put them in this folder in a plain text document.
You can then zip or compress this folder and upload so that no files go missing in transit.
I hope this has given you some ideas where you can save your mix engineer some work. It’s worth taking a technical look at your tracks once they’re finished as you will get a better outcome. Time saved tuning, timing and editing your home recordings can pay dividends when it comes time to send them for professional mixing.