The Song Path: Sharing Mixes for Review
Written by Andy Patterson
Once you’ve done some mixes, you’re going to want the rest of the band to listen to them.. but how do you get the mixes to them?
So, back in the old days, the only way of passing a mix around the band, or indeed listening to it away from the studio, was to create another copy of it – so through copying to another reel of quarter inch tape, or in the 80s, running it off to a DAT, (or for a very short time DCC). This of course required you to have a quarter inch machine, or DAT deck at home. Cassettes were OK but not really the high fidelity that you had spent time in the studio trying to record. Mini-disc came along and left again. CD-Rs were the answer for a while – and studios charged through the roof for a copy.
So lets fast forward (pun absolutely intended) to today’s project studios and in particular, home located, DAW based studios. predominately we will be recording in ProTools, or Logic, and the output will be a data file – a stereo ‘mix’ or balance of the multi-track audio. So, how can we share this around the band?
Well, there are a few ways – each differing in desirability.
Email is all well and good for sending messages, a few photos and the odd mp3 file, but if you’re sending across 44.1kHz 16bit wav files, then inboxes start to become full very quickly, especially when there can be multiple revisions of the files.
http://www.dropbox.com is basically online server storage space. This space is reachable through both an application that you can download to your computer to sync up individual files, and via a web browser interface, so in theory, you have access to your files anywhere. So far so good.
As part of the application, it creates a local folder on your computer (on Mac its in the User folder), and any files you put in this folder go straight to the dropbox, which is great! Except that when you mix your song, you want your mix file to live in the project folder, ideally in a folder called ‘Mixes’, so to get it in the Dropbox folder you would have to copy the file – which is duplicating it. Now, if you’re happy to have two versions of your file on your local computer then great! But if you have a lot of mixes, then this starts to fill up your system drive, and that’s not great either…
You can create things called SYM links, which are a little like aliases. Creating an alias to the mixes folder in your Dropbox would mean that the alias was copied, but not the files themselves, whereas the SYM link forms a Symbolic link between the two. I’ve found these to be a little unpractical in practice.
Also, once you have the mix uploaded to the Dropbox, you then run the risk of it not being playable on the computer that your lead singer is using. Say that he is off on a trek across Europe to find himself, and he is in an internet café in Serbia – you don’t want him to download the file to that computer, and you don’t want him to have to install any extensions to make playing the track possible.. Which is where we come to Soundcloud…
(by the way – other cloud based storage space is available – StrongSpace being one of them)
http://www.soundcloud.com has been around for 3 or 4 years. It is basically a website where you can upload your sound files and they will be available to play direct from the browser.
You can upload different types of soundfile – wav, mp3, aiff etc and the upload mechanism takes care of everything. So, once you upload the audio, you have a few choices –
a) do we want it to be downloadable or not
b) do we want it to be publicly listenable, or not
By setting the track to be downloadable, you can make sure that the members of the band can download it to burn to a CD to listen in the car or whatever.
Note: whatever file format you upload, the streaming, embeddable players all stream a 128kbps MP3 conversion of the file, however the download is always the original file that you uploaded, so perfect in the case of burning to a CD at home.
By setting the track to private, it does not show up on your soundcloud page, and can not be listened to by anyone who does not have the secret link. Giving members of your band the secret link means they can access the file and play it back (without giving them the username and password).
Avid clearly think this is the best idea, as they have built a new feature into ProTools 10, which uploads your mixes directly to a linked SoundCloud account.
They have a variety of accounts- the cheapest one being absolutely free. They come with different amount of ‘Tape’ which is digital tape, as in minutes of storage space on their system (rather than file size, so you can . Check it out at http://www.soundcloud.com for more info. Their range of embeddable players also make it incredibly easy to put music on your website.
We have used it since the beginnings of Abubilla Music, and also use Dropbox to store images and other files.