Reading a mixing booking this morning, I was presented with this idea; instead of asking "does it sound right," I should be asking "does it sound the way I want it to?"
Oh, the many times I've been spinning the EQ knobs asking myself that first question.
"Does this sound right? How about now? Now? Maybe now?"
The times I've really nailed a live mix have been the times I had a sound in mind when I was mixing the song. I was no longer trying to shape clay randomly until it looked like a vase. I walked in, threw the clay on the wheel and spun it into the vase I pictured in my head.
Mixing a song starts with mixing each instrument and each vocal. I nail a guitar EQ when I know the sound I want. I want a bright sound with a touch of room reverb. Leave out the low end for the bass and the other guitar that will sit in a different sonic space.
Once I'm done with all my channels, I can see what I need to do in the overall mix to accomplish the sound I want. Asking "does this sound right" is so far from "does it sound the way I want it to." If you ask the wrong question, you make your work a lot harder than it has to be.
It helps a lot to know what the song should sound like so there are a few things that can be done;
1. Listen to a commercial copy.
2. Listen to similar music.
3. Listen to the worship leader. Make sure the sound they want is the same that you desire.
4. Go to concerts. Live music is different than studio-produced music. Listen to where the instruments sit, what stands out, what works, and what doesn't. Focus on a particular instrument that has a great tone and see if you can get that tone in your mix.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should imitate the mix exactly like another song or the original. I'm saying use that as a starting point so it's easier to ask the question "Does it sound the way I want it to." Eventually, you can give a mix your own personal touches.
Don't ask, "does this sound right?"
Ask the question "does it sound the way I want" and know exactly the sound you want.
[update: giving myself the redundancy award for the last 4 sentences after re-reading what I wrote]