An engineer will do an initial balance and panning during the first mixing phase. This will create a sense of space and dimension by placing band members or audio elements (in my music, vocals, drum machines, keys and synthesisers) front to back, left to right, and of course, centre in the stereo field. Usually, no effects or EQ are applied at this stage, and a good balance lays the foundations of the entire mix.
Sometimes, the initial balance will be created in mono. And the best engineers will always check periodically for mono compatibility while working in stereo throughout the process, so nothing disappears on single speaker systems. Some engineers surprisingly overlook this step!
Once a good overall balance has been achieved, corrective EQ and masking issues can be taken care of. Sometimes there are uneven dynamics, and gentle compression may be applied during the initial balance. Again, an experienced engineer will know what to do at the right moment. Some elements, such as synthesisers or parts already compressed during recording, may need no compression.
The processes will be repeated, tweaking where necessary until nothing more is being enhanced. This is where the experienced ear comes in and is one of the key benefits of hiring a professional. They will take regular breaks to stay objective and not fight the track and will instinctively know when to move on.
Also, during mixing, colouring and harmonics may be added in the form of saturation, distortion or similar using outboard analogue equipment or emulations in the form of plugins. And let’s not forget other techniques, such as automation of effects and levels of parts to create a dynamic and contrasting soundscape from one section to the next. Finally, further leveraging effects to emphasise transitions, add punch, or place elements further back in the mix, for example.
The final phase, in most cases, will be placing the audio project as a whole to give a sense of location to the listener and helping to gel the mix together, generally achieved with a convolution reverb in small amounts. The careful smaller incremental steps during mixing rather than large EQ curves and broad strokes or use of effects will fuse into a solid, emotional and engaging mix with clarity for your fans.
Once correctly mixed, you will have in your possession a well-prepared project that meets the professional requirements for the last stage of mastering!