I frequently get asked by my clients about how they can best deliver their projects to me over the internet for me to mix. Online music mixing services have become very popular in today's music industry, yet I find so many people get the whole 'sharing a project' thing wrong.
Clients that understand how to collaborate with an online mix engineer are, in my opinion, rewarded with the following:
- A short project timeframe
- A budget that doesn't change from the original quoted rate
- A stronger integrity to the resulting mix
- A great working relationship with the mixer.
Talented Mixers strive to bring out the creative and most emotive elements in a song. This generally can only be accomplished when projects have been well prepared in advance by the client. A well prepared session will save any mixer from having to perform mundane tasks such as identifying tracks and audio clips starting with the name "Audio".
Below are my most important mix preparation steps I recommend to all my clients.
Format Of Project
We all know that the art of music production doesn’t occur in one universal DAW such as Pro Tools, Logic, Sonar and so on. The first thing that needs to be established between yourself "the mixer" and client is the software you share. I like to check what VI's and plug ins the client used in the project as some mix processes can be potentially irradiated if compatible software exists between the two studios.
If the two parties use different DAWs then the most efficient way for an online mixer to receive projects is with the old tried and true method of exporting and sharing audio stems in either .WAV or .AIFF format.
Brief & Reference Tracks
Briefs give both parties the opportunity to agree upon aspect of the process. Using good reference tracks can also help in planning the outcome of the mix. I've found reference tracks to be useful for demonstrating to clients ideas i may have rather than myself trying endless ideas in the context of a mix against the clock.
A rough mix will provide the mixer with an insight and representation to the client's brief. Encourage clients to provide you with a rough mix that lends itself to their creative vision rather than their technical technical requirements. I'm much more interested in hearing a clients idea of reverb and delay than how loud they can pump a final mix with an L2.
Naming Stems, Folders & Mix Notes
Insist that your clients name tracks and audio stems correctly and in clear language. Mixers do not want to sort through 24+ tracks all named “audio ##” or “track ##”. I either charge a client for more preparation time or recommend they resend their files with clear names.
If I have a client that is working in another DAW I ask that they organise the project stems into relevant folders on their computer. This makes it very easy for me to import, organise and prepare the session on my end for mixing.
Always try to get clients to provide you with detailed mix notes as they will support you and the project. At the very least you need the project's BPM, file formats, sample rates, and bit depths.
Cleaning Space & Tidying Audio
This can be a very tedious stage yet it is an extremely fundamental process prior to the mixing. Encourage clients to trim, delete and fade audio clips that do not add anything to the song's structure or production. Such as:
- Gap in between the singer's melodies
- Buzzing sections on electric guitars before and after solos.
Again, these are the sort of avoidable tasks I charge clients more for as it simply takes more time.
Wet Or Dry Effects? Compression & EQ On Or Off?
Some clients are unsure when sending audio with or without effects. This is when I try to get them to think about their production choices, the musical moments within the arrangement and ultimately... their mix expectations.
For instance, if a guitar stem has a tremolo effect then the client needs to think if that effect Is integral to the song & production. If so, they need to ensure the audio has the tremolo printed/embedded to the audio file. If they are not sure they should send it clean and add this to the mix notes.
When in doubt though clients can send both. Clients that provide me with both the wet (effected) and dry (clean) versions of such tracks it gives me "the mixer" the creative freedom and choice to either use it, leave it or recreate the effect as this then gives me the further opportunity to develop the creative idea, if need be.
Tracking and rough mix stages can get a bit disorganised. I've found many of my client's mixes to have gain staging problems. Ensure that clients forward projects with the audio stems having no trace of digital clipping or distortion.
It is always good to recommend to the client that they include 5 to 10dB of headroom between the loudest part of a track and peak by including sometime like a TRIM plug in attenuating the level of each track at the end of each chain.
Do you mix for clients online? Let's get a good discussion going. Please contribute your methods of sharing and collaborating projects online.