Whenever you hear a song for the first time, you have an opportunity as a mixer. If you’re hired to mix for someone you usually have a rough mix to listen to - and these, along with reference mixes are both a blessing and a curse. Before we dig into that, however, let’s discuss the magic of the first listen - you see mix coaching and learning to mix isn’t all technical - there's some philosophy too.
During the first listen, you have an opportunity to get the truest picture of what you’re dealing with - you’re not used to or attached to anything in the mix. The arrangement and different instruments are all fresh so make the most of this and try to listen to what the song is telling you it wants to be. Before you get bogged down trying to be clever, obsessing with details which probably in the grand scheme of things don’t even matter - listen to the song. Listen to what’s right, listen to what’s wrong, and take in the big picture. After a few listens you're going to lose that perspective unless you make a conscious effort to file it in your memory NOW - so do it!
The original rough mix is usually the last way the artist has heard the track and they are often used to the way it sounds. That includes both the good things and - the bad! I learned the hard way about ignoring the rough a few times, so now make sure to listen at some point during the process. The mix might not be perfect but there may be a few elements you should take note of, a general feel, and that mystery middle section that doesn’t make sense on first listen all of a sudden becomes clear.
Sometimes I even hear a decent mix from a talented producer and on the first listen I have a sense of fear as it’s very good - how am I going to beat that?! Almost always I listen back to the rough at the end and feel better as there was nothing to worry about, the final mix is way better and I don’t have to find a new job, after all. Using the intention you noted from that first listen, your own musical taste ( this is why you got hired ) audio skills, and the signposts in the rough you’ll get to a great mix faster that’s more likely to make you and the client happy. Happy mixing, everyone and don't forget to reach out if you'd like some mix coaching.
Want another article? How about a dive into learning about mixing vs mastering