Get Ready to Mix
Set your mix engineer up for success with proper recording & session practices.
RECORD all tracks at 24 or 32-bit bit depth. Plan ahead: Set your sample rate to 48k or 96k for theatrical release, or 44.1k or 88.2k for CD release. Digital masters (streaming or downloads) can use either.
LEVELS. Aim for AVERAGE recording levels of -22dBFS to -18dBFS. That may look low, but it's plenty of resolution for digital. Be sure no track peaks higher than -3dBFS at any point.
STORE all tracks as WAV or AIFF files – no MP3s or other compressed formats. Avoid sample rate conversions – don't upsample to a higher sample rate at any point.
LISTEN FOR NOISE AND DISTORTION and avoid compression unless you know what you're doing. Keep your levels MODEST with tons of headroom so there's room to move later on in the mix.
MIXING IS NOT PRODUCTION. Your recordings should be clean and tight, with drum sounds, guitar tones, etc. dialed in, before sending it to mixing.
TIDY UP THE SESSION. Take some time to make it super easy to get around. Label all tracks with SHORT SIMPLE NAMES. Remove unneeded tracks. Remove unneeded audio segments. Strip silence in audio segments. Name alternate takes as such. Simplify routings, etc. Resave as a new 'redux' session.
BOUNCE/PRINT/FREEZE ALL VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS. Bounce and archive instrument tracks and work from 100% actual audio waveforms, no MIDI tracks. Then remove any virtual instruments from the session, saving presets first.
PRINT ANY STRANGE EFFECTS. Print anything that might be hard to recreate a year (or more) from now. Consider that gear can break, plugins can de-authorize, instruments can get updated/changed, etc.
BE EXTRA CLEAR in labeling tracks and getting the session organized. YOU are familiar with your sequence, but your mix engineer may be seeing it for the first time. Missing/wrong/unclear tracks kill the vibe, and waste time and money.
ROUGH MIX. Include with your session your best rough mix of each tune. This can speak volumes about your arrangement and sonic choices. Tell him/her what you like (and don't like) about it.
REFERENCES. Pick 2-3 commercial songs that show various elements of your vision and identify what you like about each. This really helps a mix engineer get closer to your vision!
ZIP UP ALL FILES. Be sure all (only) required files are included. Be sure ALL used tracks in the session are included.
EXAMPLE OF A PERFECT SESSION ARCHIVE: A Dropbox folder with a ZIP file made up of 1. your sequencer's project folder, and 2. your rough mix(es). You've triple-checked that all tracks are present and none are missing. All guitar, drum, etc. tones are dialed in and it's easy to understand your session organization.
WATCH FOR ADDITIONAL CHARGES which you may incur for "PRODUCTION" tasks, things like session organization, excessive tuning or time stretching, musical arranging, etc. Try to handle these yourself ahead of time if you can.
YOU CAN ALSO MIX FROM STEMS. You (or your engineer) may want to get the instrument balances first, then mix those groups into a finished product. You can make stems (group track exports) instead of individual tracks. It should be the same fee for mixing from stems, and it allows you to retain control over your balances. Just know that mixing from stems gives the engineer less control over the finished mix. Typically artists make 10-20 stem files. Each should have the SAME FORMAT: 32-bit STEREO tracks. Examples:
SUB (urban/EDM only)
REST OF ACOUSTIC DRUMS
CYMBALS / OVERHEADS / ROOM
PERCUSSION LOW FREQ
PERCUSSION HIGH FREQ
ELECTRONIC DRUMS LOW FREQ
ELECTRONIC DRUMS MID FREQ
ELECTRONIC DRUMS HIGH FREQ
GUITAR TRACKS DRY