One of the biggest mistakes new engineers make when mixing an ensemble is not understanding the differences between volume and balance. All too often, our first solution to a problem is to "make things louder". By understanding the differences between these two words, you can begin running an efficient and successful mix.
Using volume as your guiding philosophy is short-sighted and will only get you short-sighted results. By only thinking in terms of volume, we fail to take into account the other elements of a mix that could cause something to need to be too loud or soft. For example, if there is a drum feature that is too soft...there are several solutions that could be a better fix than "play louder!" Perhaps the front ensemble is playing too loud, perhaps the drums aren't staged correctly, or maybe they need to play with different implements. All of these options could product the desired effect.
That same concept applies to electronics. If you're attempting to get a particular element to speak better (let's say the marimbas), there are several other solutions besides reaching for the fader. Often times, the best fixes are the acoustic ones, such as: mic selection/placement, mallet choice, register of the part, and velocity of the stroke. Electronic fixes include: EQ, compression settings, gain staging, wet/dry mix of the effects, and the volume of other elements in the mix. A third fix is understanding the concept of frequency masking, which is when something in a mix is in the same frequency range as other elements, causing other elements to be obscured .
By this point, it should be clear that mixing is much more than volume. By only turning things up and down, you end up running in circles, continually compensating for previous adjustments. By thinking in terms of balance, you make educated decisions about one element based on what you know of the other elements. If you find that your marimbas need to be more present in the mix, try checking to see if there is a synth sound in the same register, or perhaps the vibes need to be on a different mallet. At the end of the day, volume is a powerful tool to get elements to fit where they need to in the mix, so long as it's to get things better in balance, not to get them louder or softer.
With this information, go on and build a great mix. As always, check our blog for more bits of information, or email us with questions.