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When I first considered making music with friends who were unable to physically come into my studio, I figured we could just email files back and forth and make it work. While that was certainly true, most email clients would only allow me to send files up to 10mb (megabytes) or less in size. This would have worked if we only needed to send small files like MP3s.
MP3 files are compressed audio files (as little as a few megabytes) that contain less-than-full information in order to save space. I could compress my files enough to send them through email since my buddies just needed to hear the structure to write their parts. The problem came when it was time to record those parts. You see, to maintain file integrity until the final master, we would need higher quality files than MP3s. Most all DAWs (digital audio workstations) allow you to record in high bit rates and sample sizes using formats like WAV and AIFF files. These are audio data files that when used in recording, contain full audio data (like harmonic range and dynamics) and can be up to several hundred megabytes! AIFF files just contain additional album and tag data as well as full audio information.
So, what I do is have my friends record in high quality and use Dropbox (or a service like it) to send the full WAV or AIFF files or ‘stems’. As long as I keep all of the full audio files on my end, they can record separate tracks and send them to me so I can continue mixing just like I recorded the parts in-studio or visa versa.
However, there are a few other things to consider. We want to make sure that we have correctly synced up some critical session data. For example, we want to be recording in the same bit rate and sample size to keep the quality from degrading during bounce down. I generally record in 24 bit 44.1 kHz sample size and have my friends do the same. During bounce down, I would not dither (add noise while reducing bit rate) while sending files. I would wait until all the session files are together and finished before I consider compressing the file at all.
Another thing to consider is how to sync timing up correctly. My suggestion is not using the eyeball or ear test. Best practice is to record from the beginning of the track so all files can easily be synced right from the outset. If you need to only punch in a few parts, add and merge a dead audio track from the beginning of the punch to the beginning of the track and in between parts as some DAWs may not necessarily play nice.
Example, if I am using Pro Tools 11 and my friend is using Pro Tools 11, we could send the entire sessions to one another and be able to hear everything the same right off the bat. But, say I am using Pro Tools and my friend is using Apple Logic it would be like sending a Microsoft Word file to somebody working in Notepad; not all the formatting is going to translate. Some examples would be automation information, effects, or even levels – not to mention if you have plug-ins that your friends do not have. Unless rendered, which again I advise against until the final mix down, you won’t be able to hear what the plug-ins are doing. It’s a best practice to keep audio files dry while transferring between sessions and do all mixing from one studio.
Use a service like Dropbox to transfer these large files over the internet!
Hope that helps!
For more information on this topic, check out Episode 2 of our podcast Using Dropbox To Transfer WAV Files Over The Internet | Rollz and Dice Continue To Discuss Plans For The Album.