Thanx for your insight. I've always struggled internally about mixing and mastering. I've always been led to mix it like a record and so I hear a very polished sound I'm trying to imitate. I'm not at all sure what a premastered mix sounds like.
With simple guide lines you have laid out , good balance kick and bass and spectral balance it would seem easier to come out with a good mix. I would like to hear a good premastered mix as a reference. I would find that a much more helpful tool than a commercial CD .
Technically "premastering" is what a mastering engineer does. The step after that where it's readied for manufacturing is "mastering" but these days the terms are kind of interchangeable.
In the old days there were very few studios that did mastering in-house. The mix engineer would do their job and record the mix to a 2-track machine. That 2-track mix would then be sent off the mastering engineer. Even though the lines are blurred between mixing and mastering these days I've always encouraged people to make them two different steps even if they are doing it themselves.
There are two benefits to this:
1) You'll have a clean, unmastered 24-bit mix that you can archive for posterity and future remastering. I've mastered many compilation albums where there was no unmastered mixes available for some of the tunes and there was little I could do to them to make them better. This is particularly troublesome when they were mastered poorly or with tools that weren't top notch.
2) You'll give yourself some perspective. If you give yourself a day or two break between the mixing and mastering you'll listen to the songs with fresh ears. If you're mastering multiple songs for the same album you will hear things that you didn't notice in mixing. When you hear those things you can go back to the mix and make adjustments.
For some genres whose aesthetics learn toward the "zero-dynamics" end of the spectrum, you will probably need to mix while utilizing heavy mixbus compression and limiting because those processes drastically change the sound of the mix. Fortunately it seems that there is a trend to leave more dynamics in music so this should be less of an issue.
As far as good reference material, it's really about finding music in the genre that's not had the life squeezed out of it. For straight-up rock 'n roll I reach for AC/DC's "Back in Black" album for reference. For a song like this I might reference something off of Lacuna Coil's album "Karmacode." It definitely got some compression and limiting going on but you've still got a about 4dB of variation in the loud parts of the song. IMO it's much more listenable than their later album "Shallow Life".
It's not a bad idea to drop a limiter on the master bus at some point just to see what's hitting it and how the mix sounds with limiting. You might find that you've got something really punching through the mix that may need some compression applied to it.