Good read, jester.
You definately need to do some sort of mastering to the final recording after you mix it down, twohands. I mean, the mixing process is pretty crucial, too, and when you're dealing with performances with widely varying dynamics, a little compression can sometimes be a godsend, but mastering is where it's at.
Actually, let's break this down into two spots, recording/mixing tips, and mastering tips.
1.) SPACE. Think of the audio spectrum as a physical area. You want instruments to fit around each other and work together, like peices in a puzzle, to give you a musical picture. You don't want to try to shove everything into the same frequency range or same space in the stereo field. If you're careful about making sure your guitars aren't overpoweringly bass-y and compliment the bass tone, you'll get a bigger, heavier sound than you would with a dual recto super-death-metal chunk tone fighting for low end representation with your bass guitar. A properly mixed relationbship here will sound clearer and "bigger" than it's unbalanced counterpart, and will be able to be savely mixed louder without clipping.
2.) Compression is fiendishly difficult to really get the hang of when you're starting to learn how to mix. The thing is, everything else in your "effects" selection on your computer, when you put one onto a sound, you expect to hear a change. Nine times out of ten, with compression, used correctly you shouldn't hear a difference. You should only be seeing a couple decible change in the peaks. sure, there's a time and a place where a heavily, unnaturally compressed signal can sound more "right" than one that's only subtly compressed, so don't be afraid to experiment.
1.) Don't mix down to 0dB. When you're opening a file in an audio editor, -3 to -6 is probably ideal,a nd will leave you a bit of room before clipping if you're going to be doing light EQ tweaks to the mix. You're going to normalize it anyway, so you might as well leave yourself a little room for safty now.
2.) when I'm in a hurry and need to get a rough master together (i-e- sending someone a rough mix or posting something over at www.guitarwar.com
), i usually just use the sonic foundry wave hammer plugin. It combines a compressor with a volume maximizor, and can give you perfectly serviceable results on short notice. I usually use this as the last step anyway, but when i'm using it in conjunction with a number of other applications, i use it a bit more subtly.
3.) This is as much a "clarity" tip as a volume tip, but try running a high-pass filter at around 20-40 hz to throw out everything below that point. Most mic's don't record that low, your ear doesn't really register anything that low, yet especially if you've been using a lot of synths or reverbs or something, these frequencies can still make their way into your mix. cut them out and you'll have a clearer low end, and a slightly quieter actual volume, with little change to the percieved volume. normalize from there, and...
4.) you should be checking for this while you're tracking, but the DC offset function is your friend. Make sure your "zero" amplitude really IS zero. when I'm recording with a mic, for some reason there always seems to be a slight offset- the "zero" point on my waveis always slightly above the "zero" line in sound forge. If it's, say, a half-decibel too high, that's a half-decibel you can't use later on in the recording.
idunno... i'm hungry. breakfast time. Hope some of this is helpful...