Illustration: Michael Haddad
Exporting (also called bouncing) is usually the final step in getting music out of your digital audio workstation and into people’s ears.
How you set up this part of the process can make all the difference. Do you just want to get a quick draft over to your friends for feedback, or are you totally finished with a song and looking to get it professionally mastered? Does someone want to remix your track? These are important considerations to make when exporting a project to your hard drive as its own rendered audio file (or files). Let’s dive right into some of the most common settings you’ll find in your DAW.
Selecting your track
The first step to bouncing is choosing exactly what to render to audio. It’s important to make sure that your exported track is starting and ending at the right time. Otherwise, you might find that parts of your song are missing, or end up with a bunch of silence at the end. In Ableton Live, you can control the start and end of your track either directly in the export options or by using the loop markers in your Arrangement View to select only the part of the arrangement you actually want to render. When exporting just a single stereo file, all you need to do is select your Master Track as the source. However, most DAWs will also have an option to render multiple tracks from your project as separate audio files. This is super useful if someone wants to remix your track, since they’ll have way more control over each individual element if they’re isolated. Some mastering engineers may also request that you export your song as separate stems rather than a single file.
Two of the most important factors affecting digital audio quality are sample rate and bit depth, so you generally don’t want to set these any lower than the audio you’ve been working with in your project if you’re getting a track mastered or sending it out for distribution. Sample rate determines the range of sound frequencies stored in an audio file, and you can’t really go wrong with the industry standard of 44.1 kHz. Bit depth determines the dynamic range of your audio, so you’ll want to go with a higher value that matches the audio you’ve been working with (like 16, 24, or 32-bit).
When audio leaves your DAW, you’ll pretty much always need to apply something called dithering which helps clean up any errors during the rendering process. Check out our dithering breakdown for more on how it works and why it’s used. There are situations in which you may not need to apply dithering when getting a track ready for mastering, but definitely check with your engineer first!
Normalization basically brings up the level of your track so that it’s as loud as possible. Definitely keep this checked if you’re completely done with your track or want to send it out for feedback, but avoid normalizing if you want to get it mastered. Engineers prefer files with lower gain levels because it gives them more ‘headroom’ to apply effects and processing without hitting the limit at which digital audio starts clipping and distorting.
Here you’ll choose which file type your track will be rendered to. Uncompressed formats like WAV and AIFF are pretty interchangeable and are absolutely vital for when mastering or bringing into another DAW because they keep the audio as high-quality as possible. However, compressed formats like MP3 will work in a pinch if you just want to quickly send a song to your friends.
These are by no means the only settings you’ll find on a DAW export screen, but keeping them in mind will ensure your bounces deliver. Did we miss any important features relevant to exporting? Let us know in the comments!
October 13, 2020