cleaning up

Unless you’ve worked in the industry, a lot of you won’t know the rules when it comes to preparing your recordings to be mixed. You know that once you’ve recorded your song, you’ll need to get it mixed and then mastered, but it may come as a surprise when the mix engineer sends your track back with a nasty message telling you to clean it up first, or prepare it properly. 
Although this person may come off as a complete jerk, he/she is actually being very kind. A complete jerk will mix it, probably using takes/parts you don’t want, and with all the noise and pre/post song coughs and stick clicks left in.
A song is something you build over a long period in a designated area at home. Replace the word ‘song’ with ‘spice rack’, and ‘designated area at home’ with ‘garage’. Now you may be able to understand what I’m talking about. To someone who doesn’t know what your badly made spice rack is supposed to look like, they may think that all those off-cuts and bent nails lying around it are part of it. That’s what your song looks like when you’ve finished recording. There are unintentional string scrapes, creaking noises, and extra snare drums throughout it and the session is probably littered with audio clips that are no longer needed. These things should be removed before sending your song off to be mixed.
The first time I encountered this, I told the guy that he should clean his tracks and get rid of all unused clips in a very long and detailed manner as he had no idea what I was talking about. If that guy had been someone running a commercial studio, I would have yelled the first part and suggested that he not waste any more of my time by sending me unprepared tracks.
 
Here are a few pointers for cleaning up your sessions:
 
1. Make sure that the song starts and ends cleanly. Don’t have 4 seconds of noise before the song starts or an hour of the same thing after the song has ended.
2. Silence audio clips where there is no signal. In other words, if you’ve got a vocal track that has a very quiet recording of your breathing for the intro of the song, strip this away by using a ‘strip silence’ function within your DAW or trimming the clip and using a fade.
3. Clean the toms (unless you are intentionally choosing not to). In the same way you cleaned the vocal, remove everything but the tom hits and decay from the tom tracks. This will freshen up the drum sound and clear the track up by removing the bleed of the kit into the tom mics.
4. Get rid of every audio clip that is not in use and every track that is not in use. If you have decided not to use a track, hide it or delete it. If there are snippets of audio clips that are left over from clumsy edits, delete them.
5. Make sure that your clips list or audio pool is clear of all unused audio. You can usually select an option to ‘remove unused’ audio from the audio pool or clips list.
6. Clearly mark EVERYTHING. The mix engineer will need to know which part is which and where it is to be used if that isn’t already clear.
7. Send a clear and concise letter/email with your recording letting the engineer know exactly what you want.
 
Now, this list applies only to those of you using Pro Tools, which is the industry standard. You can send your entire session folder to the engineer. If you are using another DAW and the mix engineer doesn’t have it (which is very likely), you will need to mix down each individual track.
 
Here are some pointers for those of you in this situation:
 
1. Clean the audio tracks as above.
2. Centre pan and centre fader everything as long as this does not cause clipping. Keep stereo track panning as it is. Don’t mix down a track until you have undone any level changes or panning changes made since recording as this is hard to rectify later.
3. Set an end point for the song (any audio after this point will not be included) and mix down each track from the very start (0.00) so that they line up properly when imported later.
4. Make sure to mix down mono files as mono files and stereo files as stereo files, and in the same format they were recorded in i.e. .wav 24bit 44.1kHz
5. Make sure that each track is given a name that makes sense. I’d rather see ‘GTR Rthm Strat Verse’ than ‘Audio_1.2.3300’
6. Send a clear and concise letter/email with your recording letting the engineer know exactly what you want.
 
If you are attending the mixing session, there will be plenty of opportunity to make sure you get what you want, so the last point won’t matter. However, don’t think that means you can skip anything else. These sessions need to be ready to go and you shouldn’t expect a mix engineer to clean your sessions – it’s not his/her job.
If you plan on mixing yourself…You still need to do it! Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of your time getting bogged down in the mess that is your session rather than having fun mixing. If you are recording in a commercial studio, this will all be taken care of. If you plan on using a different mix engineer, expect the studio to prepare the sessions before handing them over. If they do come back with an angry letter from the mix engineer, make the studio take care of it free of charge.
 
Thank you for reading. I look forward to sending you all angry letters.

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