Cleaning Sessions for Send-off
by Kari Estes
Having recording software readily available to everyone has changed the game of recording. You can potentially record your new single or album in the comfort of your own home.
Commonly, you’ll send off your sessions to a mix engineer to polish. Also commonly, the mix engineer will complain to their friends about how messy the session is. This guide will help you ease the pain for your mix engineer and streamline the process of getting your next hit single out.
There are many ways to go about this process, this guide is just one way to go about it.
Good to note: for the sake of this guide, we will be working with ProTools. Keyboard shortcuts will only work for Protools, though the concepts described in this article do cary over to other DAWs.
Step 1. Comping and Cleaning Edits
The first step is to make sure that all tracks have the final takes on them and they are cleanly edited. That is, make sure there are no clicks or pops in the audio.
Cleaning these can be achieved by adding fade in/outs and making sure crossfades are cleaning.
This is the time to go through and listen to each take, choosing your best and comping them together.
Be sure to check out our guide to comping sessions (also in the knowledge base) to answer any further questions about this topic.
While comping, make sure that your sections are faded correctly. This means your audio has fade ins/outs for each clip, and adjacent clips have crossfades. You can do this a few different ways:
With smart tool enabled, drag your cursor to the top left corner of the clip. Once the cursor changes to a box, you can click and drag to create a fade in. The same goes for the top right corner of the clip for a fade out. To crossfade, drag the cursor to the bottom corners where the two clips touch. A black box should show up; click and drag this to create a cross fade between the two takes. Make sure to listen to make sure the fades are smooth!
Select all the clips on the track you are editing and press ⌘ + F. This will bring up the batch fade menu, which looks like this:
Once here, you can select parameters for all types of fades and apply them to every clip.
With the select tool enabled, and the following shortcuts, you can quickly add fades.
- D: fade before cursor/fade in
- G: fade after cursor/fade out
- F: fade between selection/crossfade
Repeat this process for every track you have until you are happy with your results!
Step 2. Consolidating Audio
Once you are done with editing, the next best thing is to consolidate the audio to create one audio track, or “stems”.
To do this, select all the clips on the track and press ⇧ + ⌥ + 3. This will consolidate all the audio into one long clip, looking like you got it all done in one take. If you expertly edited the audio, you can fool people into thinking you’re actually a one take wonder. Below is a before/after comparison of consolodated audio:
Step 3. Cleaning Clips or Exporting Stems
At this point, it’s handy to know what DAW your mix engineer will be using. Let’s say that you’ve been recording in ProTools, but your mix engineer tends to use Logic. In this situation, you’d want to export your audio files as stems to send off, so your engineer can import them into their DAW of choice and get to the mixing.
To do this, select all of your consolidated audio clips. Next, go to the clip menu on the right side of the screen (if this is not showing, click on the arrow in the very bottom right corner of the screen). Next, left click on any of the highlighted clips, and select “Export Clips as Files”:
This should bring up the following menu:
Make sure you are choosing the correct sample rate, bit depth, and file type here, then click export and you’re good to go! The files are ready for send off.
However, if your mix engineer and you work in the same DAW, and you have agreed upon just sending the session to them, the best thing to do is to get rid of all those extra playlists and audio files clogging up the session.
Protools makes this very easy to do, thankfully. In the dropdown menu next to the name of the track, where you would go to switch playlists, there is an option to “Delete Unused”. Click this and a window will show up listing all the playlists currently not in use.
You can select just a few to delete, or delete all of them at once. This will get rid of ALL the other takes, so make sure you are completely done with them at this point (or save a copy of these takes in a separate session). A good thing to note is that this function does not work while you are in “playlist” track view, but any other view works fine. Below shows you a before/after view of this delete unsued function:
Now, this may delete the playlists, but the clips are still present in the clip window. During this process there are a few things you should be very careful of - you don’t want to accidentally delete any audio permanently, and this process is the easiest way to do that. In the clips window, the upper right hand corner has an arrow. Click on this to bring the drop down menu up and find “Select” and then “Unused” (or ⇧+⌘U if keyboard focus is in the clip menu).
This will highlight all clips not in use. Go back to the dropdown menu, and find “Clear” (⇧+⌘+B). Now, this is where you have to be careful, for this step is where you can go completely wrong. Once you press “Clear”, the menu that pops us has a few options.
“Remove” will remove the clips from the session. “Move to Trash” will delete the files from the disk. You will want to press “Remove” if you want to keep the files around, and luckily ProTools defaults to this. So, selecting remove will clean up your clips list, but the clips are still present in the “Audio Files” folder in your ProTools session folder, meaning that even though the session looks nice and clean compressing the folder will still be beefy (of course, if you chose to “Move to Trash” this won’t be the case, but let’s say for this guide’s sake you didn’t do this). If you go to “File” and select “Save Copy In”, there is an option to copy audio files:
This will create a new folder, saved to where you prompt, that will only include the new audio files, making the folder loads lighter than before. Below shows a clean session's audio file folder vs. an uncleaned session's:
Step 4. Compress, Send Off, and Things to Remember!
Now you have a beautiful, clean session to give to your mix engineer (and trust me, they will love you for making their lives easier). Zip that folder and send it off!
A few other tips will make them love you even more:
Try to avoid having tracks of one tiny clip. For example, if there are adlib vocals recorded throughout the song, place them on one track as opposed one adlib clip per track
Let’s say you have a filter effect you are in love with and know you want the final to have that exact filter. Printing this effect on your track or making a note to leave the effect is helpful to the mixer. Otherwise, try to avoid inserting plugins on your tracks. Odds are the mix engineer will change them completely, so this will save time for you and them.
Make sure to communicate exactly what you’re looking for with your engineer. Whether this be through reference tracks or just an explanation, a little guidance is always helpful. If you have no clear vision, let the mixer take over a little - a lot of the time, creative mixing can produce the most interesting things to listen to.
Sign-up for a Peer Training today if you’d like to learn more about these and other topics at library.berklee.edu/training