We use Cubase 7.5 to mix. Call us crazy but we really dig this DAW lol. We are working on incorporating Protools, Studio One and Reaper set-ups as well but those systems are not ready at this time. If you are using Cubase, in any version or format, you can simply send us your session and we will be able to load it without further changes. For your Cubase project you should include both the Cubase song file and all its associated audio files for every song. These files should all be located in the same folder or subfolders of that main folder, labeled with the song name.
If you are using another DAW, such as Protools, Logic, Nuendo, Reaper, Tracktion, Studio One, Garageband, etc. then you will need to bounce out your individual tracks as .wav or .aiff files. We prefer 24-bit/48kHz .wav files, but if you are already using .aiff, that’s fine, we will suffer through this lol. Consult the user documentation for your DAW if necessary for explicit instructions for bouncing tracks.
Here are some fun tips to help create acceptable bounced tracks:
When you bounce your tracks, please bring both the track strip faders and the master fader to unity gain (0). If your faders are too low, the resulting bounced files will have a very low volume. If they are above "0" you risk clipping the track during bouncing and will end up with distorted un-usable bounced tracks;
Make sure to center the panning on each track;
Remove or disable any added EQ , Compression or effects such as Reverbs or Delays. The tracks should be exactly as they were when recorded, with nothing added. The only exception to this is if it is an effect that is an integral part of the sound (for example a sweeping filter on a synth). When in question, just bounce two copies of the sound, one with the effect and one without;
Regardless of which DAW you use, make sure each track strip is labeled correctly so that we know what instrument it is without having to preview it. For instance, if there are lead and backing vocals you could label them V1, V2, etc., and BV1, BV2, BV3, etc. For instrumental parts just be as clear as possible. (ie. - Kick Drum, Snare, Lead Guitar 1, Synth Pad, Bass Guitar, etc.).
We run our sessions at 24-bit/48kHz resolution. This provides us with better than baseline resolution (above 16-bit/44.1khz) but without the issues of dealing with the mammoth file sizes 96khz files can create. Please supply us with 24-bit/48kHz resolution bounced tracks if possible. We will accept lower resolution tracks if that is all you can send, no worries, we may pull some hair out but we will make the best of it :)
Most importantly, make sure each audio file is bounced from the beginning of the track, even if that means there is blank space. This way, everything will line up correctly when it is imported into Cubase. Every track should be the entire length of the song from beginning to end . . meaning do not clip the tracks at a point in the song and send in only the actual lead guitar solo clip or a clip of the 12 string played in the chorus, etc.
Be sure to include the tempo for the song as well so we can set it up properly for any possible editing that may be necessary. Just add the tempo after the song name on your main folder (ie. - I'm Too Sexy - Tempo 130).
Watch for volume level clipping. During recording AND mixing take the extra time to set proper gain without overdriving your recording system's maximum levels.
Consider using noise gates and/or noise filtering if you can't resolve noise issues on various tracks. We've seen other studios telling people to put noise gates on every single track and personally we would like to respectfully disagree with that mentality. Doing so introduces a whole new set of issues to deal with such as chopped fades on instrumental tracks at the end of songs, guitar solos, etc., diminished sonic impact of the drums or missing drum hits if the gates are not adjusted properly on the kit; or an annoying choppy effect may occur if used on muted staccato style guitar riffs as are used in a lot of aggressive metal music. A lot of these issues can be resolved with careful editing and by using fade ins and outs as opposed to gating the hell out of everything. Use gates where necessary but be careful it's not causing more problems than it's worth.
Do some housekeeping. Get rid of all noise not meant to be in the tracks. The less hiss/hum/background noise we have to reduce or eliminate the cleaner, fuller, and brighter your songs will be. Watch open mics during recording, they can pick up plenty of other sounds besides your vocals and instruments. Are fans running in the background? Are there fluorescent lights on creating hum? Can you hear computer fans running? Are the guitar and bass amps grounded properly or are they humming like crazy? Are there dimmer controls for your room lighting causing extra noise? Turn off all unnecessary electronic devices, fans, and other sources of noise when possible while recording. Light dimmers are either best left off or turned completely on, as mid-point settings will frequently add more audible hum.
Are there planes, trains, cars, trucks and motorcycles passing by outside? Are you using proper cables and correct gain settings with your amps, control console or in your DAW? Can you hear the vocalist making all sorts of noises as they stand around waiting to sing their vocal parts? Is there massive white noise in your high gain guitar tracks? Try and remove unnecessary noise from guitar tracks played through high gain amps or noises from vocalists and other instruments that may be present in between the actual performed parts (just use the clip and cut features in the DAW to remove the sections where it is just noise). Take your time and be careful not to clip the beginning or end areas of the actual performance or to mess up the groove of the song by cutting it in the wrong spots.
Are the drum tracks clean and noise free? Check the drum tracks for noise issues by soloing the kit to make sure the drummer hasn`t hit a rim or put his sticks down at the end of the song before the last cymbal crash has faded away, or is coughing or hacking or burping or farting or vomiting or making other miscellaneous unwanted noises throughout the song like drummers tend to do (unless you want to hear these things lol) . . OK . . so we like to pick on drummers :)
Watch out for other miscellaneous causes of random noise . . Is your super hot but completely obnoxious girlfriend standing around on her iPhone talking incessantly to her friends about their next shopping excursion? Is your psychotic insanely jealous steroid abusing boyfriend in the studio engineer's face uttering death threats because he gave you a compliment? Is your excruciatingly annoying soccer mom who's paying for studio time storming around in a snit bitching and moaning about every little thing like she actually knows what the fuck she's talking about? These are all potential issues that may create unnecessary noise on your recorded tracks. Just follow these simple guidelines and you should be able to provide us with stellar tracks ready for mixing ;p
*** Since we're picking on drummers anyway here's a great drummer joke: ***
Q: How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Ten. One to change the light bulb and nine to stand around discussing how Neil Peart would have done it.
In order to obtain the best possible quality from audio mastering, you need to start with a good mix. Here are some hints for preparing your recording or audio mix.
Provide a high quality audio file:
For best results bounce down (export) your mixes as stereo interleaved .wav or .aiff files. Choose a bit depth and sample rate comparable to the resolution settings you used when doing recording and mixing. So, for example, if you did your recording and mixing at 24-bit/48kHz then you should provide us with a stereo .wav or .aiff file at 24-bit/48kHz resolution. As another example, if you did your recording and mixing at 16-bit/44.1kHz then you should provide us with a stereo .wav or .aiff file at 16-bit/44.1kHz for mastering. When possible provide us with 24-bit/48kHz files for Mastering.
Don't send us .mp3, .m4a, or .wma files for mastering unless you have no other option as these file types are highly reduced in quality and won't produce the best quality results.
Please remove or at least reduce any master output compression/limiting/maximizing effects intended simply to boost the volume of your mixdowns. It seems everyone these days wants to make their sound louder and louder so they put as much compression as possible on the master output. Once you've done this, there's nothing we can do in mastering to undo the compression side effects. If you resist the urge to make it as loud as you can get it and let your mastering facility adjust your final track volumes then we can make it loud enough in a way that avoids the bad side-effects of strong master output compression and keeps more of a sense of natural dynamics and punchiness. True artists know that loud music does not necessarily equal good music. Concentrate on making a good, solid, clean mix and let us set the final track volume during mastering. Don't worry - we'll make sure your final volumes are consistent with the industry standard levels for your genre.
Use reverb sparingly when possible:
Reverb and other similar effects are nice for smoothing out some of the rough edges in your songs or adding a haunting feel to a vocal, etc., but they also can make your songs sound muddy and the mastering process cannot completely undo excessive muddiness. When in doubt, lean toward cleaner and drier sounds versus more reverb. For the master output it's better to either completely avoid effects or keep your reverb and other effects to a minimum. If you want a more reverberant overall feeling to your track you can always request it when you send in your tracks.
Fade your overdubs and clips:
Don't use mute or other sudden on/off in your mixes! If dubs or clips turn on and off suddenly within your song, there will more than likely be an audible click. It may be quiet in your version, but the mastered version is often much louder. We can certainly remove or reduce most clicks in the mastering process, but why take chances? Make it clean right from the start!
Watch out for clipping:
Once digital audio data is clipped it can't be recovered so be sure your final stereo audio mix-down isn't overdriven. If you're unsure, set the master output level to -6dB, or even lower if necessary, so that the maximum master volume level peaks are between -1dB and -3dB. The volume levels will be maximized appropriately in the mastering process, so don't worry if it comes out a little quieter doing this.
MUSIC PRODUCTION PREPARATION
Producing songs from scratch:
If you have a song idea to be produced from scratch you can send in whatever you have, even if it's just a guitar track or a vocal line.
If your track has no tempo set up (it is not played to a click), no problem, as these are just "scratch" tracks and will be used for reference only. If you have a tempo in mind let us know when the order is submitted so we can set up a Cubase file with the working tempo to begin developing and arranging your song. If not, we will listen to your scratch tracks, determine an appropriate tempo/groove for your song and check with you to make sure you're happy with it before putting the arrangement together.
Adding tracks to existing songs:
If you have an existing song that our session players will be adding various tracks to or you would like an orchestral arrangement developed to add to the mood of your song, just follow the guidelines listed above for preparing your tracks as if you were sending in a song to be mixed.