How to prepare stems for mixing
You’ve finished producing your new track and now you need to give it the polish it needs to shine at its best once it’s released. If you aren’t feeling sure about your skills, hiring a mixing engineer is definitely the wisest choice you can do. You’d never want to re-release a track or risk having it bounced by labels and promotion channels due to poor mixing.
In order to get the best experience with the engineer you’re hiring, you need to do some preparation to deliver stems in the best way possible.
As a mixing engineer, I’m here to help you make sure you’re delivering stems in the most professional way.
Ask for any special requirement
The very first thing to do. If the mixing engineer you’re hiring doesn’t give you some indications first, be the one making the first move and simply ask!
If you want us at Beat Spot to mix your track, then stick to the points in this article.
You can request a mix from us here.
Preparing the Session
Make a backup session
It’s always good practice to make a dedicated copy of the latest version of your track so you can work on them without any fear of messing up your project.
Send only tracks you want to be mixed
If you have any track and/or group that doesn’t need to be included in the final mix, then get rid of it.
Clean up tracks
Make sure each track only has the sounds you want. The tracks where there’s mostly need of some cleanup are vocals. Cut out everything part with background noise and breaths, unless they’re meant to sit in the mix.
Pitch and Time correction
Pitch and time correction are mostly related to vocals. Unless you aren’t sure about your skills in these fields, prepare your vocals so the mixing engineer doesn’t have to deal with it, mainly because that’s more of a production service than a mixing one.
Check Panning Decisions
Panning is a key component to the feel of a track and there isn’t a fixed rule for it. You might want a narrow mix with a couple of sounds very wide or you might want the whole stereo field being filled homogeneously. That’s up to you!
If you don’t have any preference or you don’t even know where to start, then turn all the sounds to the center so the mixing engineer will have full control.
If you have any sound with panning automation (that’s meaningful to the track) going on then leave it as it is.
Turn off sidechain compression
Sidechain compression can always be applied later, but it’s very hard to deal with already ducked stems, especially if they’re ducked in a bad way. Unless it’s for creative purposes, turn off any sidechain compressor in the session.
Make sure each track isn’t clipping, especially if you’re going to export your stems at any bit depth lower than 32.
Turn off mixing chains
Unless you made some tweaks to a sound to shape it in a particular way, like transforming a kick from a long to a short one, automated filters, tuning tools, or else, take everything out of every track. If you believe some tracks might have some processing that can be better replicated by the mixing engineer, then make a copy of the track and rename it as the original one plus “Wet”, so it’s clear that it’s a reference.
If you have a hi-pass mania, unless it’s for sound design purposes, don’t send out hi-passed stems. It’s easier to thin out a rumbly stem rather than recovering an already filtered out.
Don’t turn any sound down to mono.
Turn off master channel processing
Just do it. Don’t ever send a mixing engineer stems that might be affected by further processing that’s not meant to be there.
Labeling tracks will take a little time for you and will save a lot of time for the mixing engineer. The engineer should know what a stem is about even before than listening to it.
Also, labeling tracks properly will help you indicate the mixing engineer eventual relationships among instruments, for example when you have multiple layers of a sound.
Creating some subfolders with all the drums, all the synths, all the vocals, etc grouped together is great for allowing the engineer to load each group with ease and avoid them to lose time sorting by their own.
Start and End Points
Highlight the entire track, from the start to the end. This allows the mixing engineer to import stems so they’re already aligned. Nobody wants to have a track starting at the wrong time.
Even if a track consists of a single sound playing once in the whole arrangement, do it.
Exporting the Stems
Exporting single tracks and groups
Select all the individual tracks and export them.
If you have groups that you don’t want the engineer to work with individual elements, then export only the group. An example of this might sounds achieved through layering.
If you made some groups only to sort out and streamline your session, then export only the individual tracks.
Exporting send effects
If you’ve set some send effects, whether it is reverb, delay, or else, export them separately.
They can be a great addition for the mixing engineer to understand the ambiance of the track and also leaves them enough control to work on both the dry and wet signals.
It’s time to get everything out of your daw!
Use a lossless file format, generally, WAV is preferred. The bit depth shouldn’t be any lower than 24. 32 is perfect, however, it will lead to stems having a larger file size, so it’s up to how you can manage to deliver all the necessary files.
The sample rate should be at least 44.1kHz. The higher you go, the heavier the stems will be, but, most of the time, that doesn’t lead to a higher quality.
Do NOT change the sampling rate from the original mix session!
Don’t apply any dithering.
Don’t normalize track.
Write down the session info
Don’t let the engineer figure out things such as the BPM, key, meter, and also bit depth.
Including info such as the track name and the artist name are recommended for storing and file search purposes. Create a text file for them and include it in the file folder.
If you already have some mixing skills and have a vision you want the engineer to respect, while still adding its touch to it, then feel free to send out a rough mix to reference to. This will prevent the engineer to go overboard with arbitrary decisions.
If there’s a track similar to yours that you particularly enjoy the sound and would like yours to sound similar, then send it out.
Zip everything together
This is not mandatory, but it will help a lot when sending out the files and also downloading them. A simple zip file is enough. Don’t opt for heavy compression methods if you don’t know if they somehow hurt the content. Also, avoid compressed folders protected with passwords for whatever reason, if you don’t send the stems to anyone else, they will be safe in the engineer’s hands.
Obviously, make sure to include all of the files prepared.
The best way to send your song to mix is by mailing a download link to the stems package. For this, you will need to upload the files to a third-party hosting service like Dropbox or WeTransfer.
You can sign up free to the basic Dropbox plan and immediately start uploading and creating share links that don’t expire. The file recipient doesn’t need to create an account. The basic account allows for up to 2GB to be uploaded.
Google Drive works the same way and you should already have it if you have a Gmail address. Google Drive allows for up to 15GB to be uploaded.
WeTransfer does not require you to create an account for free links but they expire in 7 days and have a 2GB limit. No need to sign up to download free.
There are many other options like Rapidshare, Zippyshare, etc. Whatever you use it’s fine, just make sure the link is open/public and working.
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