When you’re mixing an album or EP, or any project containing multiple pieces of music, the process will go more smoothly if you stay organized from the beginning. There are so many files, versions, and details involved; to avoid potential confusion, you will need a system to keep track of your tracks.
Fig. 1. Create a master project folder with folders inside for each song, so you'll be able to find different versions easily. The first thing you should do is to create a master project folder on your recording drive where all the DAW files, audio files, and mixes from the project will reside (see Figure 1). This concept is just as valuable when you’re in the tracking or songwriting phase.
In any case, you should place all your songs together in one folder. The last thing you’ll want to do when you’re in the middle of the project is to hunt around for the songs among numerous audio files scattered around your hard drive. If you also tracked the project, and the songs reside in different places on your drive, save a copy of each into its own folder within the master project folder. It’s crucial to copy the audio files along with it when you do this.
If you’re mixing music that wasn’t tracked in your studio, you’ll be receiving a lot of audio files for each song. After you create a folder for each song in the master folder, copy the audio files for each song into the appropriate folder. You will want to keep all the assets for each song in the same place, and it’s good to have the files in the original state that you received them, as there could be a situation later on where you need to refer to them or re-import them.
THE NAME GAME
It’s not a sexy subject, but file naming is critical for keeping track of your mixes and your progress during the project. Chances are that you’re going to bounce multiple versions of the mix on any given song as you go along. Let’s say you make some significant revisions and render a new mix. It’s key that the mixed stereo file has the same name (or version number) as the DAW file from which you bounced it. Otherwise, if you or a client wants to go back to an older version, it will be tough to remember which DAW file it came from, except possibly by trying to match the time and date stamps, but that’s not always possible.
When I’m about to bounce a mix, I make sure that I’ve saved the DAW file with a new version number that’s one higher than the previous mix. I also give the mix the same name. So I’d have, for example, “Song Name mix 4” as both the DAW file name and mixed file name. That way, if my client comes back to me and says, “I think I liked mix 3 better, but let’s bring the vocals up a little,” I will be able to find the right file easily and instantly.
In addition, I recommend using the incremental saving process, in which you Save As after every significant mix change, and add a descriptive word to the file name. For instance, “Song Title 3.1 vocals down.” If you don’t notate the changes you make along the way, it can become almost impossible to get back to a particular point if you realize later that the mix veered off the rails somewhere along the line.
Another useful organizational tip: Create a text file of some sort (it could be from a note-taking program, or a word processor, or a plain old text document) that’s saved inside the master project folder. This will be where you’ll keep your notes about the mixes. Alternatively, you could create a separate notes file within each song folder. I find it more convenient to have them all in one document.
This text file (or files) is also useful when you’re listening back to mixes and want to take notes about tweaks you need to make. If you’re working with a client, he or she will likely give you notes as well. Rather than writing all of these things down on scraps of paper or on different text files scattered around your computer, keep all notes together with the rest of the project.
DON’T TAKE CHANCES
It goes without saying that you should be backing up your project regularly. But I’m saying it anyway: If you’re backing up to a local drive, consider creating an additional backup in the cloud using a service like Dropbox or Gobbler. With all the work that goes into a project, you don’t want to take the chance of something going wrong, and with only a single backup, it can happen more easily than you think.
The suggestions in this story should help you keep your mix project organized and efficient. The rest is up to you.
Mike Levine is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and music journalist from the New York area.