Preparing stems for mixing

If you have recorded some tracks in your home studio and would like them mixed by a professional sound engineer, here are a few tips for preparing the files. It will save the engineer valuable time (and money for you) if they can simply import them in to their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) ready for mixing.

  • All files should be the same format, sample rate and bit depth. WAV files with a sample rate of at least 48khz and a bit depth of 24bits are ideal. 44khz and 16 bit are acceptable if that is how they were recorded. MP3’s are not at all acceptable, the quality is too low to do your recording justice. Converting MP3 files to 48Khz 24bit does not increase their quality, the audio needs to have been recorded at the higher rate in the first place.
  • Avoid ‘clipping’ audio during recording. Make sure you do not record your instruments too loud in to your audio card, this will create digital distortion, which doesn’t sound nice. You can identify ‘clipping’ by zooming in to the waveform. If it is squaring off, then you are recording too loud. Turn the gain down on your interface, or turn your instrument down.
  • Do not add any processing to your files such as normalising, compression etc. This maintains the dynamics of the performance and leaves all options open to the engineer during mixing.
  • Make sure all files (stems) start at the same point even if the instrument doesn’t actually play from the start. This makes it quick and easy to line up all the tracks when they are imported, meaning everything plays in time from the offset.
  • Give your files meaningful names. ‘Kick Drum’ rather than ‘Audio1’, ‘OD Guitar’ rather than ‘Dave’ etc. It means the engineer doesn’t have to waste time checking what each track contains (once again, saving you money).