Whether you’re mixing a song that you've recorded yourself or tracks recorded by someone else, one of the most important steps you can take is to make sure you have a plan in place before you start doing any mixing at all. Instead of opening up all your tracks on your DAW of choice and diving right in, be sure to get a decent idea of what you want the end result to sound like, and decide how you can get there.
You could draw comparisons to making a plan in mixing to producing an album – in fact, it should be an extension of the production. Producing is the art of not only getting the “best” sounds, but also getting the “right” sounds for the given project. This extends into the mastering.
So you’ll want to make sure that you have a good idea of the overall sound you want to produce with the final product. The main goal of this is to get you started thinking about how you will choose to mix individual tracks to achieve that end result.
All of this will be for naught if you don’t remember what you set out to do. Taking the time to write down your ideas of how you want to treat individual tracks during the mix is far better than hearing the final master of the song and thinking how much better a track could sound if you had made that one change you thought about but then forgot.
All of this is not to say that your plan shouldn’t change as you go. Any person who has worked on recordings for any amount of time knows that often the best things that happen throughout the recording and mixing processes come from accidents, or someone deciding to change things up on the fly.
This is important to remember in your mix, and sometimes you’ll find something that works much better than your original plan. Again, it’s the end goal that you are looking to establish, and sometimes you’ll need to change your path a bit to make sure you get to that goal.
While you do want to hit that overall goal, there also are a few things you can do as you approach each individual track to make sure you get there. One is to think about how the effects you use will transform the track before you actually apply them.
This is particularly true for tools like EQ and Compression. Both of these are so widely used that they are often applied without really thinking about why they are being used on a track. While you’ll still likely use both tools on many tracks, take the time to think about what you want each to do to improve the track you are working on.
Doing all of these things is a great way to ensure you’ll end up with a great mix every time.