Simply write down your initial thoughts on pen and paper upon listening for the first time, and what direction you feel you want the track to go in. Write down how you want each section to make you feel, and any specific effects you think could work with fresh ears.
This is a simple process that is often overlooked and is great at laying down your initial instincts for the track, instead of figuring out halfway through the mix.
There is only one chance for a first impression so you must capitalize on it and capture your ideas from the start.
Mono image EQ
Many of us want to get the mix sounding good early on, but mixing is a gradual process. A quick pan to the side often misleads your ear into hearing the respective instrument cleaner than it actually is. This is because the instrument is no longer competing in the frequency space.
Without disrupting your individual tracks, make sure the final output bus is in mono and start to EQ the different instruments.
As they are all on top of each other and competing for space, you will find when you treat them you will have to work harder and have to be more precise.
After making sure all instruments can be heard and are working well together, change the final output back to stereo and you will find your mix sounding a lot better.
Fine automation key for feeling
It is important to remember that music has to make people feel something, as that is the design of the artist. A big give away of many amateur mixers is that the sections do not really move to each other and so the track does not connect with the listener.
Fine automation on a DAW or via fader riding, is crucial with many instruments especially legato style sounds and notes, for example, voice or strings. Obviously, the performer has a responsibility to give the recording dynamics and movement, but it is also the responsibly of the mixer to bring that to the listener’s ear in order that they can connect to the track easily. This is vital with the main vocal.
Stereo bus cleaning
This is a tip for near the end of your mixing process to deal with any final frequency disruptions or inconsistencies.
On the stereo bus, place any linear EQ and select either a high pass or low pass filter. The idea is to isolate the low or high frequencies at once. For example, a low pass at 300hz would give you a good idea of how the bottom end of your mix is working and if there are any clashing sounds that you need to address. The same concept goes with the high-end frequencies.
1db or not db
Even Shakespeare struggled with some concepts of mixing and chose to express this through his play Hamlet.
What he learned was that a mix is rarely transformed with one action or a secret switch that suddenly makes the mix sound good. Rather many little things, each treating individual parts of the track culminating in an overall better mix.
While you may not think 1db here or 2db there makes a difference in the short-term immediate sound. We have to mix with the vision that these little changes are together affecting the overall sound.
So it is important to be patient with the precision at which you work as lots of seemingly small changes make a big difference.