Great mix and great song! I love how tight the musicians are playing on this, it really gives a nice “pro” touch to this tune. The mix lives up to the level of the song, but that isn’t really a surprise coming from you.
The transition from the “lo-fi” style intro into the normal arrangement is really huge, nice wow factor here. I see that this is your doing, you nailed it. Surely a big plus in a mix competition.
First thing I’m hearing that might need an improvement is that the lead vocals isn’t standing out as much as I would like during the intro (and, to a lesser extent, during the rest of the song in some places). I know for a fact how hard it can be to deal with this because my first song had the same arrangement: the intro vocal part was an octave lower than the rest, and I struggled to get that right. In your mix, as soon as the vocals rise up to their “normal” range they’re great, it’s really just during the intro. The lower mid range is busy with this highly processed bass drum and the left hand smashing octaves on the piano, so I would guess that the only viable solution is to cut these frequencies out drastically from the vocal, even though it’s a shame to remove some of the warmth here. Maybe experiment some light sidechain compression on the bass drum and maybe the piano, with the vocal as the input?
Also the acoustic guitar brings a nice touch of air in the highs but it’s so filtered it doesn’t really sound like a guitar anymore, isn’t there a way to bring back more of the audible harmonic content?
Another small thing: the saturation on the vocals isn’t consistent. Of course it shouldn’t be perfectly consistent but to my ear it’s not pleasant when the changes are too abrupt so I would try to tame that. I noticed in “Lean” that you were using that quite liberally. I like to use it more subtly but that’s definitely a matter of taste. In the context of a competition, I would tend to say that it might be safer to go with a more conventional level of saturation on the lead vocals in this particular genre.
Around the 2 minute mark I started to lose the lead vocals a bit, probably due to the denser arrangement, but I assume this is part of what you already planned to adjust.
During the bridge I don’t like the hi-hat sound, it’s almost as if it had been compressed in mp3, but it might just be a matter of taste. Oh wait, I’m actually listening to an mp3 right now so maybe it’s just that.
I like the effect on the vocals after the guitar solo, but I’m not a fan of the point in time you chose to revert to the normal vocal sound, I would have made the switch a bar later maybe, I’m not sure what would work but I just feel there’s something that doesn’t quite work here.
Also, I like the small portion when the backing vocals go “pap-pap-pap-pap” better on the original mix. There is a nice disruption here that I miss in your mix.
Overall though, provided the last balance touch-ups are done, I can safely say that I like your mix better than the original.
edit: just read @danmanisa and it’s funny that we had quite a contradictory comment on the intro vocals.
So I listened again and I will clarify my point: I think that despite the fact that the vocals are loud in volume, there is some conflicting frequencies with the instruments, some of the low-mids (I think) in the vocals are masked by the bass drum and possibly the piano. Also, the saturation on the vocals brings out the sibilance a lot so it is a bit misleading because it makes the vocals seem loud, but at the same time in the lower range they’re a bit buried in the arrangement. At least that’s what I’m hearing. It’s subtle, not a big issue.