Once you’ve chosen a mix engineer, you might be wondering what’s next. Do you just drop off your finished project? Do you submit a written list of what you want it to sound like? Well, not quite. There are a few things you can do, however, to ensure that your relationship with your mix engineer is everything you need it to be.
1. Understand that mixing and mastering are not a catch-all solution.
A mix engineer will work with your existing recordings, and can work some pretty amazing magic, but they aren’t miracle workers, either. If you hand your engineer a scratchy, noise-filled recording that was done in your garage, you’re not going to get back a polished, professional-sounding track. What’s more, if you go into the mixing process with those expectations, both you and the engineer will end up frustrated.
2. Make sure the recording has what it needs.
The best time to start thinking about mixing is before you start recording; take the time to set up your recording sessions so that you can present your engineer with some solid material to work with. You’ll need a head and tail on your recording; about 250 ms of noise-free dead air at the beginning, and a full ring-out at the end are both important.
3. Double check that your paperwork is done – ask questions.
Don’t hand your engineer a CD of tracks with no accompanying metadata information. You’ll need the CD title, songs titles in order, UPC and ISRC codes, and anything else that your recording needs to be ‘done.’ Keep in mind that if you misspell something, so will the engineer; he’s not your grammar checker, and a lot of artists misspell things or stylize words on purpose. Make sure your backend work is done, so your engineer can focus on mixing.
Don’t be afraid to ask your engineer what he needs from you in terms of recording quality and metadata information. Asking how to make their job easier will make a good impression and set things off on the right foot.
4. Give the engineer the highest resolution file possible.
If there is any way you can get around it, don’t ever submit an MP3 file for mastering. That format is very low quality compared to WAV or other formats. Giving your engineer a low-quality file and expecting big results comes under point #1. Remember – the engineer isn’t a miracle worker. If an MP3 is all you have, so be it, but it’s always best to offer your highest resolution possible.
5. Agree on a delivery format.
How will you get the finished files back? It’s a detail that needs to be agreed upon up front. There are four common formats used for masters: Pre-master CD (PMCD), disk description protocol (DDP), WAV file, and an iTunes master. Your engineer can go over the technical concerns for each, but it’s important that you understand how you’ll get your files back, and that you can do something with them when you do. Don’t be tempted to ask that he email you the finished files right away when they’re finished, or dump them into a cloud backup like Dropbox. Get a physical media that you can copy, while keeping the originals in a safe place.
6. Give your engineer time to work!
The time between when you hand your project over and when you get back the finished product can be a nail-biting, stressful phase. Keep in mind that you’re not their only client – and mixing engineers can be pretty busy. Making your recording sound its absolute best takes not only painstaking work, but it takes time as well. Calling after 48 hours and asking if it’s done yet won’t make the process go any faster – and it certainly won’t endear you to your engineer.
Get a general timeframe when you submit the project, but don’t lose your mind if it goes over the projected timeline. If you’ve gone a day or two over, call and respectfully inquire as to if there have been some unexpected problems or if there’s anything else you can provide to help. Don’t call and rudely demand your product; that’s a sure-fire way to make sure an engineer never wants to work with you again – and since the mix engineer community talks to each other, it can cause you problems trying to find another engineer too.
7. Do what you say you will, be on time, and be professional.
It should go without saying, but it’s critical that you be prompt, trustworthy, and transparent. If you promise to bring your recording on Tuesday at 3 pm, be there on time. Engineers have other clients, schedules to keep, and lots of work to do. Respect their time in the same way you’d like them to respect your recording.
The mixing process doesn’t have to be stressful or worrisome. If you’ve taken the time to create a recording that an engineer can work with, and you put forth the effort to be professional, you’ll have a productive, profitable relationship. Best of all, you’ll end up with a solid master that truly brings out the best of your artistry.