There’s plenty you can do to set your mixing engineer up for success. Ken Lewis recommends committing important production choices to audio before sending your tracks off for an audio mix.
In “Prepping for an audio mix: Get your session, tracks, and notes in order,” multi-Grammy Award winner and Audio School Online creator Ken Lewis suggests you include certain effects and automation choices in your rough mix when sending your tracks off to be mixed – while cutting others that could be confusing or unimportant. One way to put this principle into action is to commit those choices to a new audio file.
Let’s say you have a Leslie emulator plug-in and a digital EQ setting on your lead guitar track, as well as some automated volume rises and dips. It can be helpful for your mixing engineer if you essentially re-record that track – including those effects and automation – so everything is there in a single, new audio file. Different recording software packages make this happen in slightly different ways, but it’s usually pretty basic functionality that’s just a mouse click or two away.
Here are some specific situations in which Lewis recommends committing your production choices to audio before sending your tracks off to your mixing engineer:
Tuning and timing
When it comes to adjusting the tuning of a vocal track, for example – or nudging the timing here or there to make certain words lock better with your drums and bass – Lewis recommends committing changes to audio before the mixing engineer receives the tracks.
“Vocals are so much harder to mix than anything else,” he says. “Removing effects like reverb and delays is helpful when it comes time for me to mix a vocal, but keep the vocal tuning and editing in place. It lets me focus on the mix itself.
“If you love the reverb or effects you used on your vocal,” he continues, “give me a separate stem of the effects only. Keep the tuning – otherwise, give me dry vocals. If you have a vocal with a special effect like a distortion, filter, or filter sweep, commit that to audio. Don’t expect me to redo it if you already have it dialed in.”
Important automation moves
Do you have string pads that are automated to fade in right before your big chorus, or specific horn hits that you automate to be dramatically louder in the mix than the rest of the horn parts? Commit those automation changes to audio, Lewis recommends, before sending your session to the mixing engineer.
“As a mixer, I usually start working with all of my faders down,” says Lewis. “If I have a bunch of automation causing volume levels to jump around when I’m getting basic balances, it’s going to make things difficult. Whenever I get sessions with lots of automation that isn’t already committed to audio, it’s a big problem – it’s slow and tedious to deal with, and gets in the way of me doing my job.”
Keep routing to a minimum
When you’re recording or producing a song, you may route certain tracks to auxiliary (aux) sends – in other words, if you want five backing vocal tracks to all be processed with the same combination of channel EQ and plate reverb to get that awesome choir texture you’re craving, you might route all of them to the same aux for those effects. A useful workflow tool indeed – but a potential nightmare for mixing engineers.
“I recently got a song with well over 100 tracks, and probably a third of them were routed to other auxes,” says Lewis. “I had to figure out what each track was doing, where it was going, what was happening both on the source track and the aux channel where it was routed to. If I have to do that once for each of thirty tracks, that’s hours spent just dissecting what’s going on before I can even begin mixing. It really gets in the way of working as a creative mixer.” Save your mixing engineer the headache and commit such things to audio.
Sidechaining is a production technique that, among other things, can help dance tracks hit hard – but can cause problems for mixing engineers if not committed to audio.
Sidechaining refers to that pumping effect often heard in EDM and pop when certain sonic elements – usually synths and bass – disappear on the beat and instantly swell back up on the offbeat. There are specific plugins that create this effect automatically and lock to your session tempo, or you can set up a compressor to do it for you. Lewis prefers using plugins like Waves Pumper that create this effect quickly and easily.
“Make sure to commit all of your sidechain filters to audio before sending your session to your mixer,” says Lewis. “Even if you’re not specifically doing the EDM sidechain pumping thing, don’t leave it to the engineer’s hands to make that work. Everybody does sidechain slightly differently and you, as a producer or artist, are the best person to dial in the feel that you love.”
For more on Ken Lewis, visit www.audioschoolonline.com.
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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