If you require me or anyone to mix your prerecorded songs please be aware of the following suggestions.
When you record your material try to record at a higher sample rate and bit rate than the CD quality. I recommend 48 kHz and 24 Bit as a general compromise between performance/tracks count and sound quality. The reason for this, especially the bit rate part, is that you can record at lover levels without worrying about digital distortion and at the same time having a very low noise floor. It is suggested to record at a slightly higher sample rate in order to avoid the summing of AD conversion errors in the 20 kHz area and recording at 48 kHz pushes those errors out of the audible range. There are very technical explanations behind these concepts and I’m not in the position to explain them because first of all you can write a zillion pages about this topic and secondly Bob Katz makes you understand this and other concepts in the best possible way in his book “Mastering Audio”.
When you record straight in your audio interface and then into your DAW of choice do not record at high level. I can’t tell you how many good performances I saw ruined by digital clipping. I know, if you watch documentaries about the making of historic albums you often see engineers cranking up the preamp gain but please remember that is fully analogue clipping which is nice, warm and awesome and usually then the engineer would compensate those gain settings with the off-buss levels (the levels of the signals that go to a the tape machine or DAW). The gain of the preamp on your audio interface is also the level of the signal that goes into the AD (Analogue to Digital) converter and if you are clipping there you are losing a good part of your sound transforming it in a nasty digitally distorted noise.If you are a glitch artist fair enough, that might be what you are looking for. However if you are a rock band always check your meters and if you are recording at 24 bit stay somewhere near half way the scale the meter. If you are recording at 16 bit record somewhere near 2/3 of the scale of the meter so you still have a nice signal to noise ratio.
The next is a request that falls into the category “please be nice to the sound guy since he/she is the one that is gonna handle your songs and possibly taking them to the next level”. There is no worst way to piss off your mixing engineer than forgetting to label the tracks correctly. An experienced sound engineer can understand roughly what is what by looking at the sound form, but receiving a project which contains an endless list of tracks and regions labeled Audio_01, Audio_02 and so on means that the engineer has to spend time listening and labeling the tracks correctly in order to move freely and quickly in the project so he/she can always know where to look for the Bass Drum, Snare, etc. Remember time is money which is often yours.
If you are going to take care of the editing by yourself to save a bit of money there is nothing wrong with it. In my opinion there are 2 reasons to do editing: the first is to slightly adjust the arrangement of the song if you think that a solution works better than another after you recorded it, the second is to fix performance, timing or sound issues. I know many songs which have improved by cutting down bars from a verse too long or by looping a section but I’m an engineer and If I’m not asked clearly for my opinion as a producer and musician I’m not going to say anything about the arrangement, I’m going to respect you also as the person fully in charge of the artistic side of the production. However, if you are doing editing for the second reason, use a bit of common sense. With this I mean do not make your song lifeless and robotic. E.G. by using always the same kick and snare hits to replace and fix an inconstant performance, by looping the best take of a melody or a bass line over and over again, by quantizing every single hit and note on the grid, etc. I say this to remember you that little mistakes are what make us humans and differentiate us from a programmed MIDI track. A groovy and dynamic performance is always better, interesting and more pleasing to the listener ear than a straight on the grid, repetitive and often boring tune. Obviously everything is relative to the kind of music you are making: if you are a jazz musician probably you would leave the performance as it is, on the other hand if you do drum & bass you could decide to behave differently. How can you understand if you are doing too much editing? Quite simply use your experience as a listener: remember your favourite albums and artists, what makes them appealing to you, how they produced, composed and performed, how they succeed in making a product that reached positively many people. Edit your songs to the point that you would happily listen to them (even though it’s often difficult to avoid hating a song you’ve been working on for quite a long time).
There’s no real “fix in the mix” method to improve your recordings. Nowadays technology provides us with a great deal of tools to work with. But remember that the quality of your final product is going to depend on the quality of your root material: the recordings. There is no way to fix bad recordings and make them sound as good as the sound you hear on famous albums. What a sound engineer can do is just masking the problems with something else shifting the focus of the listener. So please bear in mind that if you have recorded your vocals with the wrong microphone placement or with a wrong performance you are not going to sound like Freddie Mercury singing Innuendo. Yes we have Melodyne, Autotune, powerful tools but they can be used to subtly fix problems; any heavy processing is going to be noticeable and unnatural. Think about Melodyne & co. as the Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars; they can be appealing and an apparently easier way to get from point A to point B, but nothing beats a great performance.
Please tell the engineer, possibly in a written form, about any reference song or album so we can understand what kind of sound you are looking for. Moreover explain what view you have for the song and which instruments have to be in the spotlight and which ones can go in the background. There are different ways to mix a song and it’s good policy to make sure that everyone is on the same page from the start so no one’s time goes wasted.
Do not normalize the audio files. Normalization kills dynamic and groove and the same reasons that I wrote about editing can be applied here.
I'm a sound engineer based in London, UK.
Music has always been my main passion and finally now after more then 14 years of studying music and then audio engineering I'm trying to make a living being a sound engineer/sound designer.