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AB to CD
So, your tracks are ready to mix and you are ready to push up that first fader. But what should it sound like? When you start your mix, what direction should you go in?
To "A/B" means to compare what you are working on with something that is already finished. While there are certain songs that people may use to better understand the sound of a room or pair of speakers (see Monitors), those same songs may not help with your mixing. Just because something sounds GOOD does not mean it sounds RIGHT for what you want from a particular song. It is usually a good idea to find something that sounds good and is close to the FEELING you are trying to get out of the song you are working on (warm, solid, trashy, etc).
The hardest part of this process can be understanding WHAT to A/B to. Hard rock and hardcore are both aggressive forms of music, but they sound quite different from each other. I have entire CDs for every style of music I work on that contain up to 2 minutes of a variety of songs within that genre. You do not need to try to copy all of the aspects of the mix you A/B to. There are some songs that have transients that I like but no midrange, and others that have great bottom but nothing else. Sometimes I listen to many things and try to make sure my mix copies different aspects from each "model".
The time to A/B is at the start of your mix, after you feel you have a good foundation, after taking a break, and especially if you feel you have lost your perspective.
New mixers should try to copy the sound of what they A/B against. This is a great way to experiment and learn. Experienced mixers can still benefit from the same process. Although I have been mixing for a long time, I still A/B during every mix.
One thing to keep in mind is to change the speakers you are listening to while you A/B, and make sure that your mix CHANGES in the same way that the "model" does when you switch speakers.