Mixing Engineer

How to Deliver Stems to a Mixing Engineer

            Working with a professional mixing engineer for the first time is a big step in your journey as an artist. It’s a reflection on how passionate you are about your music and how much you care about getting it right. But the first time around, just figuring out how to get the song to the engineer can be a confusing challenge. And oftentimes, engineers relay little to no information about their preferences, only to specify what they need after you’ve already done it incorrectly, wasting time and energy all around. 

             In this guide, I’ll walk through everything you need to know about how to correctly deliver your tracks to an engineer the first time, from the basic technical terms all the way through to each individual DAW’s exporting process. 

Let's dive in!

 

Part 1

Prepping Your Session

And Best Practices


            When opening up your session to get ready to export your song, you might find a totally disorganized mess. Which is okay! The creative process is messy. But you’ll need to get organized before sending it off to your engineer. Here are the steps to prepping your project:

          Commit! - Removing Redundant Tracks

          First, it’s important that you review your session and remove any excessive or unnecessary tracks. Sending only what the engineer needs and not excess “options” will ensure a smooth process and a strong final product. 

          For example, it’s not uncommon for rock bands to track layer upon layer of guitar tracks, sometimes recording the same guitar amp multiple times with multiple microphones and effect-pedals. The idea being that if you provide the engineer with plenty of options, they can create their own blend and decide for you what the perfect tone should be. Unfortunately, this almost always backfires - the mixing engineer now has to waste time making decisions that you should have made (you, afterall, being the producer and recording engineer) and, on top of that, there’s a strong chance that they’ll get it wrong - how should they know what guitar tone you were going for? The mixing engineer’s job is not to choose your guitar tone for you, but take the guitar tone that you’ve chosen and make it work with every other element in the song. (This, of course, applies to any instrument)

          Vocal layers are another common mistake area. When recording your own vocals, you might have been tempted to record layer upon layer hoping to achieve a “fuller” sound (I’ve received a song featuring 12 individual vocal tracks singing the exact same part before!). But before you deliver all of those vocal tracks for mixing, take some time and remove any unnecessary layers and make sure everything is serving a specific purpose.

            Editing - Tightening Performances and Cleaning Up

            Now that you’ve removed any unnecessary layers from the session, spend some time editing your tracks. Is there excess noise in your vocal tracks between lyrics? The sounds of you shuffling around? Are there any drum hits that are obviously rushed or dragged that you could adjust? Is there amp buzz for ten seconds before the guitar solo comes in?

            Most mixing engineers won’t edit files they’ve received for mixing unless it’s been explicitly discussed beforehand. How are they supposed to know that that late kick drum hit wasn’t left in because it “felt” right? If possible, handle all of your own editing yourself - that way you know you’ll get your tracks hitting exactly how you want them to. If you’d prefer for your engineer to do it, make sure to reach out and discuss that with them before you deliver the files.

            Consolidate - Minimizing Track Count

            Some mixing engineers put limits on the amount of tracks they’ll accept for a project, and will charge more if you exceed that amount. If you’re still over the target amount, check to see if it’s possible to consolidate any tracks. Some usual suspects are, again, guitar layers and vocal layers. Other common offenders are percussion tracks - sometimes you might have six miscellaneous and isolated percussion elements that could be consolidated down to two tracks, labeled “Perc Misc 1” and” Perc Misc 2”.

            Effects - Should You Leave Them On?

            Finally, consider what effects or processing you’ve put onto your tracks while you were recording. You might have applied some reverb and delay, or maybe some compression and EQ. Typically, you should plan to leave everything off when you’re exporting your files - it’s best to give your mixing engineer the rawest version of your tracks so they can have the most flexibility. Vocals, in particular, should be delivered dry.

             The exception, of course, is when the effect you’ve applied is integral to that track's tone or function. For example, if you’ve applied a “telephone” effect to an isolated guitar riff and you like how it’s sounding and you know you’d like that element featured in the final product, go ahead and leave it on. Same idea could apply to a spacey reverb on a synth part, or maybe an intense chorus effect on an electric piano. 

            When in doubt, you could always send your engineer a “dry” and a “wet” option of the same track. Include a note that reads something like, “I’ve included a version of the guitar riff track featuring my rough effect to use as a reference. Feel free to use that version in the final mix if you think it's working, or create your own version if you think you can do it better!”

Part 2  

Hitting Export:

What you need to know


            Before we get into the specifics of each DAW, it’s worth quickly clarifying some essential music producer jargon:

            Multitrack(sometimes called the “Track-Out”) - Each individual audio track, when exported and organized into a single folder, is referred to as the “Multitrack”. This is the preferred method of delivery and organization when sending your song off to a mixing engineer, as it will allow them the most control and flexibility when mixing.

            StemsStereo recordings sourced from multiple individual tracks, typically from the same instrument group. For example, you could create a drum “stem” by mixing all of your individual drum tracks together down into a single stereo audio file. This would rarely be appropriate in a mixing situation, but it could be the way to go if you’re sending your mixed song to a mastering engineer - providing mixed stems to the mastering engineer would give them more control when mastering.

            “Stems” and “Multitrack” are often used interchangeably online and between the collaborators, but understanding the difference is essential to avoiding mix-ups. If your mixing engineer says, “Sure, email me the stems!”, they almost definitely mean multitrack. Clarify with them exactly what they need before moving forward.

            (This article should really be titled 'How to Deliver a Multitrack...' but that doesn't perform as well in search rankings.)

            Sample Rate and Bit Depth - These refer to the two formatting prompts you’re presented with when exporting audio from your DAW. Your options for bit depth are 16, 24, and 32. Your options for sample rate is 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96. In almost all circumstances, regardless of musical genre, DAW, or anything else, you should select 24bit and 44.1hz. This format is the most commonly used for professional audio, it’s widely accepted as the industry standard, and your tracks will sound great across all systems. Bam, easy as that, no need to overthink it.

            For readers curious for a more technical explanation: When converting physical soundwaves into digital audio, your computer takes a series of snapshot measurements, or samples, to be converted into readable binary data. The audio interface takes thousands of samples per second and, with enough samples, the computer can faithfully recreate the complexity of the original analog soundwave. Bit depth, on the other hand, refers to the number of amplitude values the computer could potentially assign to those recorded samples.

            Labeling - Make it Obvious

            Once you have all of your tracks exported and in a single folder, make sure to label all of the files correctly and clearly. It’s irrelevant what microphone you used or who sang the part - stick to form and function, and include the song title in each file's name. See the image below for an example of what it might look like.

            In some DAWs, like Cubase and Reaper, you’ll have an opportunity to organize your naming scheming during the exporting process.

            Finally, once you zip up the folder containing the multitrack, label the zipped file as “artist name_song name_multitrack delivery_x bpm”

zipping the song

Part 3  

Your Daw and You:

A Step by Step Walkthrough


            Finally, let’s go over exactly how to export your song’s tracks. In addition to these written steps, I’ve linked in the titles what I think is the clearest and most straight-forward YouTube tutorial on how to export from each DAW if you’d like a visual aid. 

            Remember - always make sure that all of the exported files are the same length and start from the same point in the session. The mixing engineer should be able to just drag and drop everything into their session and it all should line up perfectly.

  1. Solo the track you’d like to export

  2. Go to “Share” ---> “Export Song To Disc”

  3. Unclick the “Compress” box

  4. Name the file your exporting, and direct it to land in the correct folder

  5. Unsolo the track you’ve exported, and solo the next track you’d like to export

  6. Rinse and repeat

  1. Highlight all tracks you’d like to export by clicking and holding Shift

  2. Press Shift-Cmd-E

  3. Create a New Folder and label it

  4. Select “Trim Silence at File End”

  5. Select “Bypass Effect Plug-ins”

  6. Select “Normalize: Off”

  7. Hit Export

  1. Make sure every track is labelled correctly

  2. Make sure every track is being routed to a mixer channel

  3. Highlight all tracks

  4. Go to File → Export → Wave

  5. Create and name a new folder

  6. Select 24 Bit Depth and Re sampling 512 Point

  7. Select “Split Mixer Tracks”

  8. Disable “Insert Effects”

  9. Hit “Start”

  10. Repeat process and Enable “Insert Effects” if you wish to create “wet” versions of your tracks

  1. Highlight all tracks

  2. Shift+Cmd+R

  3. Under Rendered Track, Select “All Individual Tracks”

  4. Select “Wave” and “24 bit”

  5. Create and label and new folder 

  6. Hit Export

  1. Make sure all of your editing moves are clean, all fades and crossfades are smooth, etc.

  2. “Save As” your session and label a new version of the session “..._multitrack export”

  3. Identify the point on the grid that will be the beginning of your tracks, usually 1-2 measures before the song begins

  4. Consolidate (Option+Shift+3) each track and it’s audio regions. Make sure you highlight up to the point on the grid you previously selected to be the beginning when you consolidate.

  5. Highlight and Select all of your tracks

  6. Export clips as files (Cmd+Shift+K)

  7. Select Wav/Interleaved/24bit/44.1hz

  8. “Choose” in the Destination Directory section a new folder for your tracks to go to.

  9. Hit Export

  10. To export a track “Wet” or with effects, solo the desired track, make sure the plugins/effects are engaged on the track, and hit Option+Cmd+B to “Bounce” that track.

  1. Make sure all of your editing moves are clean, all fades and crossfades are smooth, etc.

  2. “Save As” your session and label a new version of the session “..._multitrack export”

  3. Go to your “Mix” window and click the small downward pointing arrow button in the top right.

  4. Select “Reset MixConsole Channels” → “Reset All”

  5. Select all tracks (Cmd+A) and then the letter “P”

  6. File → Export → Audio Mixdown

  7. In the “Channel Selection” window on the left side, click “Channel Batch Export”

  8. Scroll down in the window and select “Audio Channels”

  9. Uncheck any Audio Channels that are Stereo - only choose Mono track for this first time around

  10. Click on “Naming Scheme…” and in that window, drag “Name”, “Channel Name”, and “Channel Number” in the “Result” section and hit “Okay”

  11. Under “Path” select your destination folder for your files.

  12. Select 24bit and 44.1hz

  13. Select “Mono Downmix” 

  14. Click Export

  15. Return to Step 9 - now select all of your Stereo Audio Channels and select “L/R Channels” in Step 13.

  1. “Save As” your session and label a new version of the session “..._multitrack export”

  2. Highlight the section on the grid that will be the beginning and end of your tracks, usually 1-2 measures before and after the song.

  3. While holding “Cmd”, click on each track that you’d like to export

  4. File → Render

  5. Select “Render: Stems (Selected Tracks)

  6. Under “File Name”, delete what was already there, and click “Wildcards”. Choose “tracknumber”, “track”, and “project”

  7. Under “Directory”, select that folder the tracks should be routed to.

  8. Choose 44.1hz and 24bit. 

  9. Check the box for “Use project sample rate for mixing and fx/synth processing” 

  10. Check the box for “Tracks with only mono media to mono files”

  11. Select WAV

  12. In bottom right, click “Render # Files…”

 

            Woo! We did it!

            Thanks for reading my guide on how to export your stems (multitrack!) for delivery! 

            Was anything unclear? Questions or concerns? Email me directly at [email protected] and let me know!

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