1. Reference, reference and reference some more
Always reference against as many other tracks as possible on as many systems as you can. In addition to full range nearfield monitors and club systems, check your mix on a smaller, grottier set of speakers or a laptop. NS10s are industry-revered reference monitors because of their emphasis on the mid range, making balancing individual elements much less complicated. Consider where your tracks will be played back and reference on a similar system. Remember that many listeners will play back on earbuds or headphones, so always count on these for last minute checks. In your DAW, utilities such as Magic AB make playing back multiple sound sources easy.
2. Give each element its own distinctive space in the mix
Never have multiple parts competing in the same frequency range. Clear, spacious, ‘big’ mixes almost always come from having uncluttered elements placed in distinct bands of the frequency spectrum. Keep basslines and kicks in mono and don’t overdo stereo enhancement as elements can sound sloppy when placed too far apart spatially. Tail off low and high ends of the frequency spectrum at points beyond the natural response of the human ear (20Hz for low and 20kHz for high).
3. Pay careful attention to your arrangement
Knowing where parts should start and stop is vital in creating a solid mix. Having too many elements playing in tandem will make your job increasingly difficult. Analyse the arrangement and scrutinise unnecessary tracks. Question what each part brings to the arrangement and whether that part is killer or filler. Sparser arrangements are often louder, punchier and generally much more effective.
4. Think outside the box
If your budget can stretch to it, consider the use of hardware or summing mixers. The addition of a little analogue processing can add a warmth, distortion or element of space to the mix that few digital algorithms emulate. Buss mixing has for years been considered audibly superior to a mix performed fully in the digital domain. Analogue EQ tends to be less clinical while classic mix compressors can add a ‘glue’ to the mix that both corrects and sounds musically more pleasing than plugin processing. Summing mixers involve splitting and sending individual elements of the mix digitally out into the analogue domain and sending them back into the mix. Many of the world’s great mixers swear by them.
5. Use analysis tools for a final reference
There are countless plugins that make phase referencing, spectrum analysis and comparative level checking a less than arduous process. As in point 1, referencing against commercial recordings is essential. Track and store frequency responses and use EQ matching to sculpt your final mix. Check the mix in mono and study the phase response to ensure correct spatial processing. Lastly, look at the final stereo waveform of your mix. Seek out peaks and look for saturation in the transients. These are often indicators that elements in the mix have been pushed too far to the fore.