My first steps when starting a mixing project.
It is common for a musician / band to ask from their mixing engineer to deliver a bigger than life mix of their track(s). Well, that it is more than fair as today it is important to have a loud and clear sound to be able to take a seat among the vast number of songs that are being released every day.
But are there any rules that lead to that?
Well yes and no. When saying no I mean that a big factor of the sound is the composition itself and the artistic perception of the musician . Music is much more than following rules. It is a creative process aiming to translate the message of its composer (and of course the message of the lyrics if there are any) through this fine and intricate expression of art and deliver it to the audience.
So when I start a mixing project I keep that in mind. The first thing I need is to have an extended chat with the musician or the band about their musical taste, the atmosphere of their tracks, the instrumentation, which parts they want to emphasize, what is the message of music and lyrics etc. Well how funny? The part of the mixing procedure that does not need to follow rules is leading to my first one.
My 1st rule is to get as much info as I can for the track and understand it's feeling. This is not a technical rule but it is the essential rule on which I build the whole mixing process. The mix has to keep pace with the music itself. Knowing e.g. what is the instrument that the musician wants to highlight will help me construct the mix on that and get a fuller targeted sound.
Afterwards I give a lot of attention to organize the project as better as I can. Finding the BPM, time signature and tonality, identifying the different parts of the song, colorize the different tracks etc and make notes on paper. Well all these may take some time but they make my life easier and help me concentrate only on actual mixing related issues during working on it.
Finally in the early stages of mixing I take care of the gain staging for all individual tracks. Adjusting the volume levels of all different channels accordingly is very helpful for the whole process, giving me more headroom for each track to use it while mixing.
When having an EP or full Album to mix I follow those 3 steps for all songs before start mixing.