Optimum mixing checklist

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Four easy steps to facilitate a better mixing job on your music

1. Defining your objective

Mixing can take a song to a completely different direction than what the recording sounds like or what you had in mind in the first place, so you’d better provide your mixing engineer with sufficient information about your vision for the song. This can be quite hard to put into words but these two things will help tremendously:

  • Reference tracks – Provide one, or a few song titles that have some of the sonic elements you want and describe those.
  • Rough mix – Do your own rough mix, emphasizing your goals and tastes. Even if it doesn’t sound great you can mention what you like about it and what you don’t, this is valuable for the mixer.
Man listening to music

2. Pocketing, editing, comping, tuning and other -ings

Editing vs Mixing

Making adjustments to the performances that were recorded is of paramount importance for the quality of the final result. Common performance-enhancing adjustments are:

  • Pocketing – Quantizing hits to the grid, or closer to the grid depending on genre and requirements.
  • Editing – Getting rid of breaths, background noises, unwanted bits of audio and whatnot.
  • Comping – Crafting an optimal track by tastefully selecting the best bits from multiple takes of the same performance and assembling them together.
  • Tuning – Adjusting the pitch of any note that isn’t close enough to the intended pitch. Prevalent on vocals, occasional on instruments.

Be sure to have this handled beforehand or ask your mixing engineer if they can do it, but be aware that this can be quite time-consuming and is usually not included in the mixing price.

3. Preparing your tracks: get tidy!

There are three best practices that can make both your lives and the mixing engineer’s easier. Not only will it take away the inevitable frustration felt when you have to deal with second-guessing or to-ing and fro-ing and the incurred loss of time and enthusiasm, but it will also facilitate a clean, fresh start for the mixing session, with the focus being solely on making your music sound great. These are:

  • A logical track naming system. Label your tracks with short names that actually identify their content. “Clean GTR Left” is a good track name, “2019-06-15take67 SM57onedge driveoff” is not. If you don’t have a naming system ask your recording or mixing engineer, they do. If you are sending multiple songs, make sure each one has its own, clearly labeled folder.
  • Consolidate your tracks and make sure they all start at the exact same point in time. You might be able to snap this solo that your lead guitarist recorded at home during the pandemic lockdown into place, but please assume your mixing engineer isn’t and do not leave any room for mistakes.
  • Export your files in a lossless format (preferably wav), at the sample and bit rate they were recorded at. Export mono tracks to mono files.
Messy vs Organized

4. What do you send exactly?

Cloud websites names

Here is a list of what you should and shouldn’t send to your mixing engineer.

  • Do send all the tracks as audio files (not midi!)
  • Don’t send any track that shouldn’t be in the mix (unless you want your mixing engineer to make the decision, in which case let them know)
  • Do send a midi file with the tempo map, time signature changes and section markers
  • Don’t send processed tracks (with effects such as delay, reverb etc.) unless they are absolutely essential to your specific sound
  • Do send dry/DI tracks along with wet/amped ones in case the mixing process exposes a need for re-amping or alternate effect treatment
When you have it all sorted out, you can use a cloud-based service to share the files to your mixing engineer, such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
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Something missing?

Do you have a question that remains unanswered? Would you like me to expand on something or address a different topic?

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