What Does an Engineer Need From You to Start Mixing Your Music?

What Does an Engineer Need From You to Start Mixing Your Music?

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Vally here - There are plenty of materials online on best practices for home recording and producing, but not many on how to best set up your audio engineer for success once the songwriting/production stage is complete.

I’ll speak from my perspective, as an audio engineer, on what I have found works best in terms of best practices at a high level. This is an attempt to demystify the approach for any artist or producer out there that might be nervous about working with a new engineer, or wondering to themselves how they can set up their project for a positive outcome.

After working on hundred of projects and thousands of songs, with artists local to New York City/Brooklyn as well as internationally, I've seen a range of approaches that I'll boil down to 2: A "bare minimum" approach and, conversely, an ideal approach which will ensure your vision as the client is more clearly communicated. It’s possible that each audio engineer will approach working with clients differently, so I’m just speaking from my experience. It’s best that you ask the engineer you’re working with what their process is and what they would ideally like from you to get started.

The Technical "Bare Minimum": The Multitracks

The Multitracks are the Independent, individual elements of your song bounced out as their own audio files. They should all be the same length, inclusive of the silence starting from the beginning of the song (probably, 0:00:00 in your DAW) all the way through to where at least that instrument exits the arrangement or fades out. Sometimes people conflate this term with "Stems", but stems are more classically associated with pre-grouped elements of the mix down to 8 (or, 4) tracks. In my case and most cases for mixing, I want to be working with tracks, not stems.

1) Vocal Tracks

  • Dry, no compression or EQ applied in post.
  • This is a more advanced tip that should get its own blog post, but if you are sending your vocal effects to bus/aux tracks, send the multitracks of those as well. I might be able to use those exact effects (if you are specifically tied to those effects creatively).
  • Do not send as an acapella, send each individual vocal track you are using in your arrangment. You (hopefully) have already comped the vocal on your end, and know which take you want ot be the lead vocal, a backing vocal, ad lib track, etc. Labeling these as such greatly helps the engineer.

2) The Music Tracks (or, if not possible, the two-track instrumental)

  • Preferably, this is in the form of multitracks. Each synth, guitar, 808, bass, etc. getting its own dedicated audio track. Drums should be separated into their own tracks (if possible, i.e. it's not a two-track drum break you grabbed off of splice or from a drum pack) into kick, snare, closed hi-hat, open hi-hat, lazer sound, cowbell, etc.
  • If the instrumental tracks are unavailable, the music might be in the form of a two track instrumental. Again, the original lossless format (.WAV, .AIFF, etc.) is the best option here. A ripped MP3 of the two track instrumental is the least preferred format for the music to be in when it comes to mixing. It is absolutely possible and doable to mix with a two-track MP3 (I do it all the time) but for your own education just understand that this is sub-optimal for mixing.

I personally prefer that the client looks into getting the multitracks for their instrumental prior to beginning the mixing phase, and understands which route they are going to take. I think it’s not the best use of time (for anyone) for the engineer to start mixing a song using a two-track instrumental, and then halfway through the mixing process the client sends over the instrumental tracks.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER? A litany of reasons, but here's two:

  1. If the music is only available in the form of a two-track instrumental, it handcuffs the engineers ability to make many changes to individual elements of the mix. I can apply all sorts of processing to a two track to improve it, but I can do a much better job for you and your music with the multitracks. Examples include, balancing and tightening up low end, enhancing the stereo field, achieving loudness etc.
  2. Once I done what I can with the two-track instrumental, it could affect how I am approaching the vocal mix. If the artist wants to swap out the instrumental for multitracks halfway through the mix, I find myself taking many steps back before moving forward to improve the outcome of the mix. While it will be better for the mix in the end, it will delay your project which is why I suggest artists determine their approach before beginning the mixing phase.

The Ideal Wish List: Assets and Information that Help the Engineer Meet Your Preferences

As an engineer, part of what I have to do is understand and meet the client’s preferences. If a project seems to be getting started at the "bare minimum" approach, I start asking for the following assets and information. In my expeience, any client that provides the following out of the gate has not only done their homework and clearly understands what they want, but the experience for them is also much more satisfying.

1) The Tracks

Labeled, individual drum tracks, etc. (as previously above).

mixing the tracks

2) A Demo/Rough Bounce of Your Song(s).

Assuming you recorded this song at home, you probably have bounced out a demo (or, two). Sharing the version you are most attached to will help the engineer:

  • Double check that the vocal tracks you send all line up with the instruments/music tracks.
  • Listen for what effects you are using (if any).
  • Identify any arrangement differences between your demo and the instrument tracks. I've found it's not uncommon for artists to make arrangement changes to music they procured during their songwriting stage, and then neglect to apply those same changes to the instrument tracks.

3) One or Two Mix References.

What do I mean by “reference”? Well, what are you using as a north star for mix quality or how the sonics of music make you feel? Is it the recent Larry June x alchemist? Send it. Is it the most recent Tyler the Creator? Veeze? Send it! This helps the engineer align to your vision and easily reference that song when working.

4) Screenshots of Autotune Settings, or Other Effects Settings (If applicable)

Some artists consider certain effects on vocals to be part of their signature sound. Autotune, when used creatively, falls into this category for a lot of artists. You might have bypassed the autotune when sending your stems, but want the engineer to replicate the settings exactly? Send a screenshot of your autotune settings. Send different screenshots for hook/verse/ad libs if the settings are different

5) Send the session (if you want)

If your engineer is using the same DAW you are, send the session! It isn’t required, but it can only help. Some engineers mix in a variety or DAWs, some only mix in one or two.

Send your engineer all of the above for your project, you you're more likely to get back mixes that blow your expectations out of the water.

If you are in the market for an audio engineer, or have any questions on this blog post, shoot us a message and let's talk about your project!

As for what's up like, 'RIGHT NOW' right now?

Steak, potatoes, and broccoli after a long week of mixing and recording sessions

Been upleveling my steak game with compound butter recently. Roasted garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, hot seeds, a touch of honey and olive oil. Keep it in the fridge and toss just a bt of that into eggs and other sauces throughout the week. Also, roast your potatoes at 350 for 2 hours and they will crush.

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Ciao ciao.