Maybe the engineer who would be a perfect fit to handle production duties on your album lives halfway around the world and it simply isn’t feasible to record your album at their studio. Maybe you’re on a strict budget and must choose which elements of an album’s production to delegate to professionals. Perhaps you or someone you know has a decent audio interface, computer, some microphones, and some loose knowledge of recording from making your own demos. These are all practical and reasonable circumstances that many bands and artists find themselves in! Engineers like me love the opportunity to work with artists from around the world and “remote mixing” opens up the possibility of working with bands from anywhere, regardless of location. HOWEVER! There are some very important things for bands to understand before they commit to bringing their album to fruition in this way.
1. A recording is what defines the sound of an album – not a mix.
Most artists don’t fully understand the importance of source material when it comes to recording music. It is critical for all artists to know that a poor recording can only be polished so much – even by the world’s best and most experienced engineers. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that if you hand a legendary mix engineer a multitrack session of subpar tracks, you can still come out the other side with a sonically-gold record; unfortunately that is just not the case. There is a real limit to what an engineer can do when it comes to “polishing a turd” of a recording. If your tracks are recorded in a bad sounding room with unpleasant resonances, inconsistent or clipped levels, and shoddy or off-time performances, your engineer will spend more time doing damage control than being creative and mixing to the best of their ability. It’s important to temper your expectations before you send your self-recorded album to be mixed professionally, especially if you know that there may be some technical issues in the recording itself.
2. Create a new session for every song on your album or EP.
Instead of recording all of the songs on your collection in one long DAW session, create a new session for every song. This will make properly exporting your files infinitely easier and will keep you from getting confused with track labeling. Also very helpful if your songs have a lot of tempo and meter changes!
3. Label your audio files correctly and stay organized during the recording process!
How many times have I opened a .zip folder of album files and been met with a deluge of unnamed tracks named “audio_1”, “audio_2”, etc.? TOO MANY TIMES. When recording your own band, take the necessary time to label all tracks correctly. This means before you hit record for the first time, and before you export your files out of your preferred DAW. When exporting your multitrack files (more on that later), double-check to make sure the track labeled “Snare” is not actually the lead vocal. It will save hours of time that you don’t have to pay for if you’re just careful and organized!
4. Follow these rules for exporting files out of your DAW:
- Check every track to make sure all punch-ins have been crossfaded and don’t “pop” when played over.
- Consolidate your tracks so that every track is one continuous file, and they all start from 0 in your session.
- Export all tracks as multi-mono Wav files in whatever bit depth and sample rate you recorded at (eg 24-bit, 48khz).
- Create unique folders for every song’s files. All audio files belonging to “Song 1” go in a folder labeled “Song 1”, etc.
- Once all files have been exported into their unique, labeled folders, create a .zip file containing the folders for all songs. Upload this .zip file to your cloud of choice (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) and share the link with your engineer!
5. Send your engineer an organized list of tempo/time changes per song and any specific ideas you have for the mixes.
The tempo and time changes are only important if you recorded to a click track. If this is the case, you could even export a midi file containing the click data! (There are many great youtube tutorials for doing this in every DAW.) Besides tempo information, your engineer wants to know what YOU want from your album’s mix. Do you envision the vocals set back inside the band on one particular song? Do you want the drums to have a massive 80’s style reverb? Do you want an obnoxious flanger added to that one guitar break at 3:30 into one particular song? TELL ME! If you have these kind of specific ideas, type them out in an organized list, per song, being as detailed as possible. The more information you can convey about your creative vision, the better your engineer will be able to execute.