Mixing vs Mastering
You are a musician and you have always wondered or probably still are wondering the difference between mixing and mastering. This pair sure goes hand-in-hand but they are not the same thing.
They are both a part of the post-production process of recording an album. Both involve using equipment to tweak the sound of your recording for a professional final product. Mixing and mastering are two different steps of making an record.
Mixing always comes first. Once your tracks are recorded they go to the mix engineer, who applies effects and changes levels to each instrument, separately. Whereas a mastering engineer can only apply effects to the completed mix.
Mixing process can include:
• First, as mentioned balancing the levels of the tracks that have been recorded
• Using equalization (EQ) to fine-tune the sound of each instrument or voice
• Adding reverb, compression, and other effects to enhance the original recording
• “Panning” the tracks between speakers to create a stereo image
Mixing also includes a fair share of editing-choosing the best bits of every take of a song and sometimes even building musical elements from the start.
Mastering serves as glue to your mix by making overall changes. The main purpose of mastering is to match the overall loudness and frequency balance to your favorite professional recordings, the other songs on your album, EP, etc.
Mastering may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of making a recording, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Mastering is the final step of the process; it gets the finished product to sound sonically full and balanced, and also it brings the volume up to compete with other professionally made albums.
When you master your album, you’re making sure that song one doesn’t blow out the speakers while song two is barely audible. You want the levels of the songs to be similar, and you want a general sense of cohesiveness to your recording.
This explanation on mastering sounds vague, because it is. With correcting obvious differences in volume, mastering is an incredible subjective process. When it comes to mastering, you either have the golden touch, or you don’t.
The mastering process includes:
• Controlling the dynamic range-how loud and quiet each section is for the right musical balance of variety
• Balancing the level and tonal balance (EQ) of songs. Balancing, not matching
• Editing the beginning and end of each song, and the gaps to create a compelling sequence
• Creating a secure, reliable manufacturing master including PQ information
• Fixing any outstanding problems from the mix
Not all mastering is created equal. Different mastering engineers will use different methods and equipment. A good mastering engineer must have extremely advanced and fine-tune ears to hear very subtle sonic textures. Experience is the key here. Best mastering engineers have been working at their craft for decades.
Top-quality audio gear is essential and most mastering studios will have digital and analog gear. A good mastering engineer will be able to take all the different songs on your album and make them sound like a cohesive, radio-ready whole.
Although there are programs that will help you master your recording, paying to have it done by a professional is a good investment. Yet, paying to have it done by a celebrity engineer with the clientele and experience Mr Mix and Master is priceless.
Both mixing and mastering are essential. If your song is mixed and not mastered, it’s not finished! A mixed record without mastering is like having peanut butter without the jelly!