Moving audio between facilities and software platforms is really quite simple if some basic guidelines are followed. The one constant that will keep files lined up in any audio workstation is the start time of the file. Keeping an identical start time for all the files assures that regardless of what software package, studio, or computer, the files can always be placed into any session and line up perfectly.
For example, if I provide you a mix file to take home and work with on your system, all the files you return to me must start at the exact point of the mix file I gave you. All I have to do is line them up at the start time of my session and Bingo! We’re in time.
After you’ve recorded all of your parts, it’s important to make each track into one continuous piece of audio from the start time of the mix file. Some systems call this “bounce”, some call it “merge”, in ProTools this function this is called “consolidation.” It’s important to remember that end times of the files are not important, only start times. So, if you play a guitar part that starts in the first chorus and goes through the bridge, as long as you consolidate the file from the start time of the reference mix to the end of the bridge, all will be fine.
PARTICULARS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN PREPARING YOUR FILES
Sessions with a click track:
If the session was done with a click track the easiest way to keep files consistent is to simply use bar 1 beat/1 as the start time. In this situation it’s not necessary for you to return the reference mix to me with your files because we’ve established the start as 1/1 already. When providing you with the reference mix I will include the tempo in the file name… i.e; Mary had a Little Lamb_125bpm, (beats per minute) so we know the tempo will be consistent between sessions.
Sessions without a click track:
Not having a click track in the session is definitely not a deal breaker when sharing files. In this situation, I always prefer that you give me back the reference mix along with the new files — all consolidated with the same start time as the mix I gave you. I can then align the new files and the reference to my mix and put them in time.
Bit depth and sample rate:
It’s also very important to keep the bit depth (24 bit or 16 bit) and the sample rate (48khz, 44.1khz, etc.) consistent. Let’s refer to this as the base bit depth and sample rate. Even if I send you an Mp3, when you import the file into the session you create on your computer you’ll need to make use the same bits and khz as the root session from the studio. Convert the Mp3 I send you to that base. Upon returning files to me they should NEVER be down-converted to mp3 or a lower bit depth to make them smaller in size(MB/GB) … they must stay at the base bit depth and sample rate to insure the highest quality.
MIDI files are very simple. All audio workstation software such as ProTools have an “Export MIDI” function. As long as we keep start times consistent, everything will line right up as we trade files back and forth. MIDI will export as one file that will contain all the MIDI information in the session. We should however make certain the sounds (ie, keyboard, dog barking, guitar, breaking glass … whatever) the MIDI is driving are available on both systems. If not, audio files must be created and shared. The MIDI should always accompany the processed audio just in case a decision is made to change the sounds at a later date.
A common misconception when setting input levels to a digital system is that you must use up all of the available meter space … not so at all. Unity gain in digital (the level that is actually zero on the meters for all devices) is -18dbm. In ProTools, lighting up the meters just above yellow is about 0vu, which is a perfect level. Digital clipping is an awful sound… all the extra headroom in digital is there to assure that Digital clipping does not occur. Analog distortion at times is a beautiful sound (think guitar distortion). The saturation of tape can be quite pleasing on some instruments and at times on vocals. On the contrary, digital distortion is very harsh and obviously wrong (like nails on a caulk board). So, when setting your levels, don’t be afraid of under-shooting a bit.
Keeping files organized is a must for an easy transition between you and the studio. Songs should be organized into their own separate folders. Track naming is key. Always name the tracks. Audio 1, Audio 2, etc., does not work. We need to have specific names like Rhythm Guitar 1, Tambourine, Lead Vocal 1, Lead Vocal 2, etc. Confusing or ambiguous track names equals more time spent integrating files back into my session, and time is money. As long as things are organized, named, consolidated, the transition between you and the studio will be smooth and effortless.
Definite Do Not’s
1 – Compression:
Compression is a wonderful process that when used correctly can sound absolutely glorious. When done wrong it can make audio virtually useless. If you have a high quality compressor but are unsure how to use it right, talk to your engineer for advice on how to use it on the specific track you are applying it to. You certainly don’t want to have to redo things because of improper compression.
2 – Crossfades:
Earlier, we talked about consolidating your audio. Before you do that, you will want to make sure that any punch-ins and edits you’ve made have crossfades applied. Crossfades smooth the edit points so there are no pops or clicks at the edit/punch point. Again, talk to your engineer if you are unsure on how to do this. It’s really very easy.
3 – Normalizing:
Normalizing or level-enhancing of files is complete and utter evil. Do not normalize or level-enhance your files. The key here is to get your levels set properly when tracking. In the event that some of your tracks need leveled or evened out, that can be done post recording or in the mixing phase. The concept here is to always have an undo — a way back to the original source audio. If you follow the core steps in recording your tracks there should be no reason to normalize or level enhance your files.
4 – Reverb and Other Effects:
Sometimes in the course of tracking, you will stumble on a sound that just “works.” By all means, if this happens to you, record it and keep it. Re-creating these magic moments is nearly impossible. If there is however doubt or it’s questionable, record the file with and without so we have the option in mixing. We will always inherently trust your judgment when it comes to your music. So if you find something while recording your parts, keep it. If you need advised on how to keep an effected version as well as a clean version, pick up the phone and call or email your engineer, we’ll be happy to walk you through the process.