When working on a project it is a good idea to set limits for the amount of real and virtual instruments you can use.
Try to think in frequency bands when choosing instruments for your project. Try to make sure if instruments occupy similar rhythmic spaces. Check they are sitting in different frequency bands so as not to interfere with each other too much. This will all help with clarity in your final mixing stages.
Try to make sure that parts are concise and add something positive to the arrangement. Always make sure the sound you are going to use is already the right sound when it's recorded.
Don’t rely too much on the ‘fix it in the mix’ rhetoric. Get it right to start with.
Limit the amount of plug in effects you are going to use and make them count.
Solo each track and listen for clicks, pops and any noises that shouldn’t be there and get rid of them if you can.
If you are going to record an electric guitar with reverb on the amplifier, have the reverb set low or off. Too much reverb on a recording will make your mix muddy. It is much better to play with reverb setting during the mixing process. During mixing you are quite likely to use compression on the guitar track, this will bring the reverb if it's recorded on the guitar track. Bear this in mind during the recording process.
Compression, compression, compression. As I mentioned before, compressors are integral to a clear succinct mix. Learn to use them properly. Don’t just use the presets. Tailor the compression to the track you are treating. Experiment and find how you can sit things in and bring things to the front of the mix without even touching the eq.
If you are going to use any mix automation leave this until the end. It will be much easier to set a general balance and sort all the eq, panning, fx levels and compression without levels flying up and down all over the place. It makes sense to record fader, pan and bus changes if you already have the mix in a balanced state and you won’t have to do as much automation either.
I know this is basic stuff but make sure there are no red peak lights flashing on any tracks or plugins. Red lights mean distortion which will undermine any clarity you are managing to achieve. You need to play your arrangement though repeatedly. Check for peak lights and reduce the relevant levels.
Hopefully, some of the tips in this series will help enable you to get more tracks finished in the future and help open the floodgates of your creativity. Happy Days.