BLENDING THE INGREDIENTS
As the goal is to mix a song that translates to as many playback systems as possible, it is vital that you reference different playback systems during mix down. As mentioned in previous tips, checking mono compatibility is extremely important. Your mix will usually be heard in mono, unbalanced stereo or, even worse, on one ear-bud (one side of your stereo mix). Your mixes’ high frequency and low frequency content will rarely be heard as you intended. High frequencies are directional and most listeners will be listening off axis. Most listeners will be listening on bass-challenged playback systems (iphones, laptops, small computer speakers). At its heart, a mixers job is to make perspective listeners choose to buy and play the mixed song over all the other competing songs out there. This also illustrates another bit of conventional wisdom, to choose a few reference songs to compare yours to from time to time during the mixing process.
Compress and EQ based on function. This is a straightforward bit of advice that can save you a lot of trouble. If parts of a track dip in and out of the picture, then compression may be needed. The goal is to stabilize the dynamics of the track so that you can find a place for it in your mix and trust that it will stay there and behave itself without too much babysitting (i.e. constant fader riding). EQ is the go-to tool for establishing order in the frequency domain. Cutting is usually the order of the day, but a few boosts are often necessary to get the results you want.
Work front to back, loud to quiet. That is to say, louder tracks feel like they are at the front or just behind the glass of our imaginary display case. The quieter the track, the closer it is to the back of the display case. The objects up front are ‘seen’ in much finer detail than those in the back and thus must hold up to closer scrutiny. Thinking in this way can help you survive the ever-growing time crunch that most mix engineers work under. Save your ‘HD make-up’ (your full bag of audio tricks) for the tracks that hover at the front part of the display case and get progressively less and less detailed as you work your way back. Choose the 3-4 elements that make or break the song in a given section, and make them the stuff of legends, then add the supporting tracks one by one in order of importance, tweaking each so that the song improves with each element added.
Solving problems is one of the main tasks of mixing and sometimes a problem arises that only exists when the tracks are played simultaneously. When this happens, mute the tracks one by one until the problem disappears. You can then solo that track and add the other tracks until the problem returns. Using this method, you can reliably find conflicts between tracks and address them appropriately.