You can start to get a handle on this by writing out a list that ranks song instruments from most to least important and adjust levels to match. Just doing this should provide you with some relief. Next, go one by one with Neutron Elements and use Learn to help you find sweet spots to boost and sour spots to cut. As you get to the second or third track, your mix will start to breathe again from the cleanup. It may even be enough to stop there.
Simple as it sounds, this troubleshooting approach is a great way to train your ears to identify and resolve sonic issues. After doing this many times, you will (ahem) learn where to place nodes just by listening and trusting your decisions.
Pro tip: you’ll need to solo tracks here and there to confirm what Learn is telling you, but make sure to bring in the rest of mix quickly afterward. When we correct signals without a reference, we tend to overprocess them and wind up with a new set of problems once the solo’d material is placed in context of the rest of the music.
4. Shape poorly recorded material
Mixing music that is well-recorded makes for a stellar session. Small moves make major improvements, the balance seems to come organically, and you finish the job in half the time. Unfortunately, for the budding mixing engineer, we take any project that comes our way, and this means there is just as much fixing as anything else.
Though “fixing it in the mix” is a rocky mantra to subscribe to, mistakes do get made in the recording process. Improper tuning, mic placement, gainstaging, sloppy playing, and the studio space itself are all variables. And without the option to re-record we have no choice but to find the remedy.
Again, Learn Mode lends a major help by drawing our attention to the out-of-whack tones in a signal. You can sit at your console for hours tweaking that boxy snare, but if time is of the essence, a more convenient option awaits.
It might be that EQ is not what’s needed to get the job done, or its only part of the solution. To get that snare to sit right, you need to adjust the attack with Neutron’s Transient Shaper or bring up the tail with compression. At least, with the direction from Learn, you know where to focus your efforts.
5. Saving yourself when all perspective is lost
Learn Mode is really a second set of ears. When you can’t hear something, either because your ears are still in training or they’ve passed their prime, it will guide you toward the light.
The examples mentioned so far should demonstrate how Learn can improve individual tracks, but nothing is stopping you from putting it on the master output or a submix as a reference tool.
At either of these points, this allows check in on mix health from a wider view. Is there too much low end in the drums? Are the backing vocal stacks muddy? Do I need more high end overall? With the same boost and cut routine, you can figure out where your attention is needed, then head over to the instruments in the associated frequency range to adjust. You can try EQing at the macro-level too.