I suggest mixing at lower levels to prevent ear fatigue, but turn the volume up now and then, too. Humans hear different frequencies better at different levels (see this response chart), and checking your mix at different levels will give you a better idea of the overall truth. Mixes generally sound more pleasing at louder levels, so it’s important not to be fooled by your ears.
This is über-important! Think about where your audience will be hearing your music; it almost certainly won’t be in a perfect studio environment. It’ll more likely be from their headphones, car stereo, or (God forbid) even directly from their smartphone speaker! This is why it’s important to listen to your mix on different systems. Just bounce it down and play it from your smartphone or listen to it in the car and make mental notes of what to tweak.
Leave the master fader on 0dB, but pull all the other faders to the bottom before starting your mix. Bring what will be the loudest track (usually the kick drum in EDM) up so it’s peaking at about -11dB*. By doing this, you are mixing at lower levels, so as you bring the rest of the tracks up in the mix, the master fader should be peaking at around -6dB (important for mastering later on). You’ll probably need to turn up your audio interface to hear properly. *Remember, this number isn’t definitive…it will depend on the project.
By adding some slight distortion to the upper frequencies of a sound, you can help it cut through the mix a bit more without boosting the EQ. Used sparingly it can work wonders. A tried and tested technique used by Calvin Harris.
As a general rule, it’s better to cut frequencies with an equaliser rather than boost. This helps prevent a build up of frequencies that can make your mix clip. E.g. If you want a piano to sound brighter, try taking out some of the bass and mid frequencies and increasing the channel volume, or, try the tip below... (Here are 5 of the best EQ plugins available).
The overall mix should sound spot on BEFORE automating, but then you can use it to help really accentuate certain parts of the track, for example, when a DJ slowly filters out the bass during a build-up, then brings it back in on the drop. You could also take the whole track's volume down a little in a break, and bring it back to 0dB on the drop.
Almost every drum sound has a predominant “note”. If you can tweak the pitch of each of your drums sounds to match the key of your track (particularly the kick drum), it will help avoid a muddy, dissonant mix. Try it...you might be surprised at the difference it makes!
Before even touching the mixer controls, the most important stage of the mix is choosing samples and sounds that work well together and hit many of the right frequencies. Remember, the only thing that matters is how good it sounds together - not as individual parts. You might have a killer synth lead that melts your brain when played on its own, but in the mix it might muddy your drums. Spend time getting your sounds right BEFORE the mix down.
Even in the planning stage of your project, you should develop an idea of which elements will be needed, and which frequencies you’ll need to include. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds! For instance, if you’re creating a Trance track, you’ll know that you want a kick drum, a clap or snare, some hi hats, a bass line, chords and a synth or vocal top-line. If you have an idea of what you want to achieve, it will make achieving it much easier.
Further to number 10, treat the two processes as separate. Eric Prydz says his mastering engineer basically makes his tracks sound a little bit louder, but all the “fatness” is there in the mix beforehand.