Sharing Your Multitracks With Others

One of the HUGE advantages that Digital recording has over Analog is the ability to collaborate from across the globe. The musicians I work with on my albums have been doing this for awhile. It means that instead of coming over to my studio and trying to nail something in a few takes in one two-hour session, they get to work on it at the leisure in their own studios and then they can get me the part they recorded via dropbox or wetransfer or some other file transfer service on the web. It's much easier and is a lot less stressful.

This is possible because of the nature of digital audio. It doesn't depend on a motor that regulates the speed, so anything they do will sync perfectly with what I have on my computer - there's no "drift" in timing at all.

Let's say you're going to add a lead guitar to my song. I send you, via email, an MP3 of a current mix of the song. This mix hasn't been trimmed at the beginning at all (THIS IS IMPORTANT), so it has some studio chatter and the countoff at the beginning. You drag the MP3 into a new project in your DAW and play along with it for a bit. Then you create a new track and start recording your guitar part on it. After a few sessions over a few days, you're really happy with it, and you've edited out the stuff you don't like and maybe combined a few takes to make a composite take. You merge all the little bits and pieces so that they're one long file that starts at the very beginning of the mix (THIS IS IMPORTANT) and you send me the single file that contains your performance, but NOT the mix I sent you. This file should be 24 bits; the sampling rate really doesn't matter. It will be too large to send via email, so you need to use dropbox or something. I download the file, drag it into my song, and presto! - it's in sync with the whole song from beginning to end.

You should try this with some of your friends who record. Downloading a part for your song is like opening a present at Christmas. All of a sudden, POOF! Your song is rocking with a perfect addition. It's exhilarating.

So now we're going to do the same thing, but with your entire song which you want to send to someone else for mixing (like I do for the surround versions of our albums):

Here are a few ways to do it:

1) Easiest way, but not often possible: You both use the same version of ProTools. Or Digital Performer. Or Logic. Or Cubase. Or (fill in the blanks). If you're both using the same version of the same DAW, just zip the entire project into one file. If you're using a Mac, that's done in the Finder. Finder>File>Compress. Upload the file to dropbox and let the other person know it's there.

2) Supposedly Easy Way: There's supposed to be a standard between DAW manufacturers called OMF (I think), where the DAW creates a project that's compatible with all other DAWs. I tried it for a few days with someone, and it never works. I can see why - if a DAW manufacturer does it correctly, they're making it more convenient for studios to use the competitors' software. So good luck trying to get it to work.

3) Foolpoof Way: Turn all your multitracks into individually merged audio files that start at the very beginning of the song, gather all those audio files up in a folder, zip the folder and upload it to dropbox. The studio on the other end downloads them, starts a project with the same number of tracks as they've downloaded, and drags the tracks into the project. Presto! The whole session is laid out in sync and the studio can start mixing.

Some points about the foolproof way:

a) Make sure those audio files are named so the person at the studio knows which one is the bass gtr, which one is the lead vox, etc. There's nothing worse than opening up a folder that contains 20 audio files that are all named "audio 1, audio 2, audio 3....". It's enough to make you slit your wrists.

b) If you've put an effect on a track while you were mixing it and you want to make sure the effect is in the studio's mix, you need to create a file that has the effect recorded into it permanently. You'll need to look up how to do it in your DAW's manual (in Digital Performer it's called "Freeze Audio Tracks"). This is good for special effects, especially on guitars, but not a good idea for reverbs, EQs, and compression/limiting. Send the studio a stereo mix the way you like it, but let them do the EQing and the reverb. It's tough "undoing" bad EQ and impossible to back off on reverb that's been burned into the track.

c) To make the upload / download quicker, ask the studio if it's OK to send a stereo mix of the drums instead of all the individual drum tracks (kick, snare bottom, snare top, etc). With me, that's usually fine. It saves me the trouble of doing the drum mix, and it sounds the way you like.

d) If your track desperately needs a bit of gain riding (changing the volume of it during the course of the song), you should probably "freeze" the track with that gain ride burned into it.

e) If there are bits that you don't want anyone to hear, cut them out before you prepare to send the tracks. Now you don't have to worry about them anymore.

Hopefully this has been helpful. You can always contact me if you need some help with this process.

 

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