An awful lot of training, time and effort goes into being a good audio engineer. You certainly don't become an expert over night. However there are some basic tips that can improve anyone's mixing experience- and here they are:
1.Listen with a fresh ear
Do you often find yourself sitting up late trying to finish a mix- after already being up for mad hours mixing? If you do, then chances are, you are cheating yourself out of a great mix. Think of your ear like a muscle. You can't use your muscles for extensive time periods without experiencing fatigue. You've got to take breaks. Your ear is the same way. It gets tired. The auditory cortex -which is like your ear's computer, also gets tired. Once your ears wear out, then stuff all starts to sound the same. Next thing you know - your mix is turning a crappy corner.
Do yourself a favor and mix with a fresh ear wherever possible. Take breaks. Drink water, tea or coffee (if you must). Go for a brisk walk. Mix after a good nights sleep. Your ear will thank you for it.
2.Eat Good Food
Don't sleep on this tip. It's simple, but still incredibly effective. Audio engineers often forget to eat. Deadlines and the pressures of the music business often demand quick turn-arounds. Or maybe the music you are mixing is so awesome that you lose track of time. As a result, sometimes nutrition can take a back burner.
Once again, your auditory system needs fuel. Not just energy, but nutrients. Eating revitalizing foods like salad, or drinking a smoothie can work wonders for your ability to make good decisions. Think about how grumpy a person can sometimes get when they haven't eaten. Sometimes its not that they are mean person- they are just hungry. Believe it or not, being in a bad mood also effects the mix. So unless you are fasting, mixing on an empty stomach is not recommended.
3.Don't over compress
Compression is dope. It levels out the sound signal so that the low sounds are higher, and the high sounds are lower. Its especially useful on vocals, drums, or anything that produces a dynamic decibel range. However great that may be, there is no need to squash the hell out of a sound, until the waveform looks like a block of cheese. Even though compression primarily deals with volume, the way something is compressed still has a noticeable effect on the overall presence of a sound. Sounds are best expressed whenever they are allowed to retain their natural peaks and valleys. You never wanna squeeze all the high and low points out of a sound. Let it breathe by not over compressing it.
4.Live with the mix
Unless you have time constraints, you should always try to mix and remix a song over a period of multiple days. This will greatly widen your chances of coming up with a good final mix. Your ear is different from day to day. Sometimes, what sounded good Monday, won't sound as good Tuesday. Truly living with the mix means having multiple mix sessions for one song. Not every song will require a lot of different sessions, but most good songs will. Try to give yourself time to hear things that you didn't hear at first.
5.Mix in mono
This tip makes a world of difference. Stereo output makes things sound a bit better and a bit brighter than they actually sound. Sometimes songs that are mixed in stereo can fall apart in mono situations. Like for instance in a car where all the speakers don't work. A good professional mix will still hold up in the absence of stereo speakers. Mixing in mono helps prevent the mix from fooling you. Think of it this way: if you can make the mix shine in mono- then it will be that much more dazzling once you flip it to stereo.
6.Turn it down some
Don't blast it. Again, decibel level effects the sound of things. Professional engineers usually say that its better to mix with a moderate volume.
No need to distort it. Make it sound good at a decent mid-range loudness, then start to turn it up to see if it sounds nice loud. Its like a painting. You wanna look at it close up, and from far away. Likewise- you want your mix to sound good -both quiet and loud.
7.Don't be lazy
We've all done it. You hear something small in the mix. You know it needs to be changed, but you then think "it sounds ok, I'll leave it like that". However, every time someone plays the song, you hear that little nagging mistake- yet you still don't fix it. You my friend, are being lazy-and you know it.
There is a reason why James Brown- one of the most influential musicians of our time, was called "the hardest working man in show business". Its because he was far from lazy and it showed. The music that he and his band produced sounded that way because they put in countless hours to make it so- fixing every little mistake they encountered along the way.
With audio engineering the same rules apply. You can only skate by for so long off of minimal efforts. Always remember that the music industry is competitive. There is always somebody out there who wants it just as bad as you. So always grind hard and don't ever be lazy or get complacent.
8.Do what the music tells you
The wonderful thing about music is that it communicates to the engineer what it needs. At times, mixing a song can be challenging, especially when you encounter a problem that you don't know how to solve. But usually, if you just quiet your mind, close your eyes and listen, the song will direct you. Then all you have to do is follow it's commands. For instance- if the drums are too low- turn them up some. If the vocal has too much bass - reduce it, or add some treble. If the adlib doesn't quite match the main vocal- slide it over until it does.
Sounds easy enough, but its surprising how hard it can be to keep it that simple. It's tempting to add reverb where none is needed, or to put some kind of spacey effect on a vocal. But just because it sounds cool does not mean it fits in your mix. Avoid a cookie cutter mentality. Each song lives in its own little universe, and has its own rules. Don't just throw stuff in for no reason. Also- don't over-mix it. You can permanently ruin a mix by doing too much to it. Usually less is more. Learn to nurture the pre-existing natural nuances of a song.
9.Organize your workflow
It helps to develop good organizational skills as an audio engineer. Have you ever looked at your monitor and felt exhausted at the thought of having to mix 40-50 tracks of music? It can be truly overwhelming to say the least- but if you are unorganized its a nightmare!
That's why you should get into the habit of labeling and arranging all your tracks before you begin mixing. Group similar elements together. Color code your audio clips and tracks. Learn how buses work. It may seem that all this takes a lot of time, but it actually saves time in the long run. Being really organized helps prevent stupid mistakes. Remember- Don't be lazy.
10.Compare your mix to a similar song
All mixes are unique- but it can't hurt to learn from how someone else approaches mixing. If you are mixing a song, that reminds you of Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" album, then you might wanna listen to "Off The Wall" to get some ideas on how to approach your mix.
Listening to different mixes will broaden your scope of possible solutions and keep you from being rigid. Also- it develops your sensibilities and makes you a better overall engineer.
After all - isn't the goal of a true master - to become a better student?