Artists new to Online Mixing and Mastering tend to be overwhelmed with all the information to take in. One of the areas I see artists struggle with most consistently is in communicating their ideal vision of the project to the mastering engineer in an effective way.
Here are a few tips to helping ensure that both you and your engineer are on the same page as far as where you would like your project to head sonically.
1. Send your engineer a list of bands, albums, or songs that you feel have a similar sound to what you would like to hear from your project.
Take some time to listen to the references you send and determine what qualities you want in your own final masters. For example, saying “I want to sound like Santana.” is far less effective than “I really like the warm lead guitar sound in Song X.”
Knowing what specifically about the reference you like will help your mastering engineer understand exactly what it is you are looking for in your final mix.
2. Send a rough mix of your own.
Uploading tracks is one of the slowest and least exciting parts of the online mixing and mastering process. That’s why so many artists cut corners by not separating stems and by compressing audio to MP3 format (more on that in another article). One of the most important things you should always include while uploading tracks for online mixing is a reference track.
Your online mixing engineer (if he or she is worth their weight in salt) will desire you to send every track of your mix completely dry (this isn’t an issue if sendingProtools Sessions or .OMF files, as all the dry recording information is still contained in those file formats).
If you want a repeating echo on a certain word, or want specific ad libs pitch shifted up or down, it’s absolutely impossible for your engineer to know that without being specifically told with exact words and time placement in the track.
Sending a reference track with those effects already rendered shows the engineer where you’d like to head, without handcuffing him with wet (effects ridden) recordings.
3. Make and send notes–The more detailed the better!
Once I received in the mail a package from a client with 8 pages of typed notes regarding his album all written in 10pt font. Single spaced. The package also contained 3CDs full of reference tracks and his own rough demo mixes of each track.
While you may think, “Wow this guy is going to think I’m crazy if I am this specific about my notes.” You would be absolutely mistaken!
As engineers, we understand this is your ART! You know exactly how you’d like it to sound. If we don’t know, we have to guess, and while we can usually make educated assumptions, being aware of exactly what you’re looking for saves us the worry of straying from your vision and saves us the time of massive remixing when you don’t like it!
When you receive the mix for the first time, most online mixing and mastering studios will solicit your input and ask what changes you’d like made, and then make them for you. In our case at MixLogics Studios, we provide up to three rounds of changes for free. If your online mixing engineer doesn’t offer adjustments as part of their price plan, run the other way! Which brings us to-
4. When making notes about the track, TAKE YOUR TIME!
This can’t be stressed enough. As engineers, we are in no hurry to get your project off the to do list. If you’d like a week to listen to the project and let it digest, by all means do so. When making notes be as specific as possible. (Make sure to give yourself plenty of time before your deadline for post production. A rushed job is far less likely to be sonically perfect than one given careful thought and listening).
Including track names and times is essential. For instance, instead of, “Take the Background Vocals off the end of the last chorus,” you might instead say, “Drop out the Background Vocals from the word xxx at 0:45 until 1:15.” Trying to guess whether both verses before the first chorus comes in count as one verse one two will just lead to headaches on both sides.
Make sure to give the track many listens and a decent amount of time so that you can be as thorough in your notes as possible. Any online mixing and mastering engineer will tell you that they’d much rather get one round of changes with 100 notes than 4 rounds of changes with 10 notes each.
Why? Because to make any changes, we must reload the project, make the necessary adjustments, then rerender the file, remaster it (at MixLogics we master each round of mixing but not all online mixing and mastering services do), and reupload it to the server. If your online mixing and mastering engineer works with uncompressed audio (see above notes about running the other direction if they don’t!) the average song is about 40MB, all of which takes a great deal of time.
Also, this process involves listening to the track probably at least 10 times each round of adjustments, and as we hear the tracks over and over, the fresh ears that originally lent objectivity to the mix begin to miss things.
5. Solicit input from your engineer.
Most of the time, your engineer will try their best to make your track sound how YOU want it to sound. And by all rights, as it is YOUR music it should! But if you are at a loss or not sure about some aspects of the track, most engineers will be glad to give you their personal opinion, whether it be something as broad as overall direction and sound, or something as small as a particular trick of the trade they’ve picked up over the years of mixing down tracks–your engineer really is a valuable resource and in my experience most are glad to lend a bit of advice when it comes to the technical side of sound. (Now having us rewrite your lyrics for you might be a bad idea!)
Overall, the main key to getting the sound you want from your online mixing and mastering session is communication. Try to ensure that what you’re looking for is always as crystal clear as possible, and try to be specific with your notes, and you’ll be sure to get the sound you want!