In earlier days of recording, the method for mixing down a song was painful. If you were using an 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, as I was, it could be difficult to remember every move on the board. Often times there are EQ and effects adjustments that need to happen at specific points in the mix, but you wouldn't have enough hands to do that and everything else that's needed. Mixing down was similar to playing an instrument - your performance had to be rehearsed many times to be perfected. Take after take, something wouldn't go right and you'd be stuck back at the beginning again.
Nowadays we have automation built right into the recording software. This makes things a lot easier - you can make an adjustment, then rewind and make an additional adjustment somewhere else at the same time. I've started pushing the limits of this recently, by adjusting parameters not usually messed with in real time. For example, boosting an EQ frequency at a certain moment in the song, or adding just a touch more reverb at the end of a phrase.
The next problem lies in the fact that, in order to achieve the right mix, a song will usually get played over and over for several hours. In that amount of time, you may not realize it, but your ears and brain will get fatigued. You stop hearing things right, but you don't know it. Ever get done mixing and think 'Wow! This mix is absolutely fricken amazing!' Then the next day, you pop it on and think 'Where the hell did all of that REVERB come from?' That's because your ears get used to the sound, tricking you into compensating by adding more.
Herein lies the beauty in automation! Tweek your mix unto your ears bleed! Then give it a day or two before playing it back. When you listen to again, it will be easy to spot what you stopped hearing last session. The nice thing is, you don't have to start all over. Just fix the obvious stuff and mixdown again. Then check it in a few days and refine. Presto! Perfect mix every time!
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