Andrew over at Gourmet Grooves wrote this excellent guide to preparing and sending audio projects online. I recommend these instructions to anyone sending me tracks for mixing or mastering. He writes:
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 99.9% of us make music with computers today. With the internet coming of age in terms of upload/download speeds, transferring projects between producers, artists, and engineers has become part of our daily routines. Cloud storage services like DropTrack, DropBox, Google Drive, and WeTransfer have made sending and receiving those projects very simple. But what happens when the project arrives at the other end? Unless you both are using the same program and sometimes the same version (cough cough ProTools), your beautifully crafted piece of art gets jumbled up like a Monopoly board on a rainy afternoon. There are things we can do to prevent this. After working tirelessly for hours rebuilding sessions for clients, we’re sharing # things you can do to make sending your projects over the web easy for everyone involved.
Turn Down Clipping
Most recording programs have plenty of headroom so that if your plug-ins cause a track to clip (overload), it really doesn’t affect the audio. This headroom goes away when you bounce a track and what you thought sounded good in the box actually is distorted and harsh when it arrives on the other end. Bring down that track fader until that red light goes away and you’ll thank yourself later.
Lose the Extra Stuff
Blank tracks might seem harmless, but they can be a problem in 2 ways. The first is that they can be confusing – did the sender mess up with this track, and if so, what is missing? The second is that despite being empty with audio, they still take up space. A track full of zeros is still full of zeros and will add to the time it takes to upload and download.
Most people are recording from the beginning to the end of their song in one shot. There are punch-ins, breaks, pauses etc. For example, most artists are sitting in silence between hooks waiting to record the next one. We record the first one, stop, then record the second one. These clips need to be joined together because when they get transferred their position information does not go with them. There are different ways to do this in each program (Alt+Shift+3 for ProTools, CMD+J for Ableton), so I won’t go into specifics here. Definitely a skill worth looking up in the manual.
Start From The Top
Jumping off that last point, it is a good practice to have every track start at 0:00 all the way at the beginning, no space before the track. This ensures that all the tracks will be in the right place. You might be saying “you told me to get rid of the extra stuff!,” but this is worth it. If your vocal track doesn’t start at the top (even if it is silence), you are leaving the job of placing your vocal to the engineer. As an engineer, I’m telling you we don’t want to do this. Moving your flow even a few milliseconds forward or back can change the entire attitude of your track.
This might seem like common sense, but 9 times out of 10 we get tracks that are named “Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 25.” Does this Audio 1 go with Track 01 or Track 12? Although long names might seem like a hassle, “vox-verse2_StraightOutOfCompton” is a perfectly acceptable name (provided you’re NWA). It tells me what instrument, where in the song, and what song. Once they are loaded into the program at the other end, we can rename it because it will be forever attached to that session.
DO NOT send an engineer an MP3 as a track of your song. Even though you ripped the instrumental off YouTube, when you export it make sure you are 24-Bit 44.1 kHz unless the engineer tells you other wise. The absolute minimum you should be sending an engineer is 16-Bit 44.1 kHz. You worked really hard on your project, don’t you want it to sound as good as possible?
We could keep going on all the nit picky things about sending files over the web (stereo vs mono tracks, OMF files, promotion services like DropTrack, or collaborative services like Blend.io and Gobbler), but this should be enough to at least save a headache or 2 for your engineer.