Production – Future-proof Your Mix
|Fig. 1. A screenshot of your DAW’s track list serves as an archival log of your project’s I/O routing. Entries in the comments field help speed a future remix.
IMAGINE THE following scenario: A music
supervisor calls you out of the blue to request
a new mix of a song you wrapped years ago,
for use in a TV series airing the next day. She
wants a couple changes made to your original
mix but everything else kept exactly the
same. If you can’t deliver the goods by mid-afternoon,
the deal will be retracted.
You locate the project’s folder on an
archival hard drive, but there are five different
file versions containing mixes. Which one was
for the final mix? You take a guess and open
the file. Your new I/O boxes, DAW upgrade,
and system reconfiguration arbitrarily
reroute the outputs for each track. You see
automation enabled for several tracks, but
you can’t immediately tell which parameters
were automated or if the dynamic changes
are appropriate for the requested revision.
Some of those same tracks are muted; are they outtakes? One of the five guitar tracks
was bounced while rendering an effect that’s
no longer desirable; which track was the dry
source (so you can use it instead)? Several
inserted legacy plug-ins are incompatible
with your current operating system and won’t
load. Glancing nervously at your watch as you
fumble about, you see golden opportunity
slipping through your fader-fidgeting fingers
like water through a sieve.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By using
several common-sense strategies ahead of time,
you’ll be able to precisely resurrect your old mix
in a heartbeat later, when you’re under the gun.
Use the following tips to future-proof your mix.
Give Each Track a Distinct Name Name your tracks according to their source
(“lead guitar,” “bass,” “low BV,” and so on)
before you record them. Default names
like “Audio-1” will only spawn a Memento
moment when searching for specific tracks
or regions years later. Likewise, tracks you’ll
bounce to render plug-ins should be named
(for example, “tuned vocal”) before you
Color Your World Mac users can apply color
labels to their DAW project files using the File
menu in the Finder. The files—both audio and
DAW documents—comprising the final mix
should be labeled gold, for “golden.” If I master
my final mix, I save the mastered version as a
separate file and label it gold, too. Name each
respective file with the title of the song followed
by “final mix” or “master” for instant and
positive identification at a later date.
Make Notes Use your DAW’s comments
field (typically located in the tracks list) to note anything important that you might later
forget. For example, if a lead vocal has been
bounced with AutoTune rendered, type “tuned
with AutoTune” in the comments field for the
bounced track and “source for tuned lead vocal”
for the untuned track’s comments. Save the
plug-in’s settings you used as a custom preset
with the song and track’s names in its title.
Tracks containing multiple takes should
have their keeper takes designated as such.
Any track that’s an outtake should have “do not
use” (or “dnu”) noted in its comments field and
should be moved to the bottom of the tracks
list (assuming you want to keep it). I place the
click track below the last keeper track in the
list and all other unused tracks below that; the
click track becomes my marker that tells me
at a glance that all tracks listed below it are
garbage or sources for bounced tracks that
took their place in the mix.
In the comments field, note any synth patches
or multisamples used on rendered tracks for
virtual instruments and on the associated
MIDI source tracks. And if automation is used
on a track, note the purpose (for example, “to
ride fader”). Such a reminder will save you
invaluable time when remixing at a later date.
Make a printed template for all your
outboard gear. After each mix, document the
knob settings and patchbay routings for each
piece of hardware you used. If you use an
external mixer, save the scribble strip for each
mix. If no strip is provided, you can tape some
adding-machine paper to the mixer’s armrest
and use it to write down which track was routed
to each channel. Write the song’s title, artist’s
name, and date of the mix on the strip, and save
it. Take a screenshot of your DAW’s track list
that shows the I/O routing for each track, label
the image file gold, and save it in your project
folder (see Figure 1).
Print Everything Every plug-in is at risk for
becoming obsolete at some point. Be sure to
render its effect by bouncing to a new track, so
you can get that sound back when you remix
later. Save this rendered version of your project
as “(song title) final mix FX print” and label it
gold. Because the baked-in sounds will restrict
your future options, you’ll only want to use this
version if some of your plug-ins won’t load.
If you used an external digital mixer for
your final mix, make sure you record SysEx
data for all mixer scenes, dynamic automation
and other automation assets to a new MIDI
track for your project. Save and name that
file version “[song title—mixer model]
automation” and label it gold.
All project data should be backed up to two
other places, including an external hard drive or
disc stored off your premises, if possible. If you
do everything I’ve detailed in this article, you
won’t even break a sweat when someone asks
you to recall a mix made several years ago.
Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael
Cooper Recording in Sisters, Oregon
and a contributing editor for Mix magazine.