For those with a technical background in music production, the terms mixing and mastering are likely already familiar. For those less acquainted, these are two processes used in the audio production industry to manipulate the sound of a song.
As a brief overview, mixing refers to the stage after recording, where individual tracks are combined to create a specific sound. It is the process of blending each element to produce a cohesive mix.
Mastering, on the other hand, is the final step in the audio production process. It is where the mix is fine-tuned and polished to sound great and be suitable for release and distribution. Mastering is essential in ensuring that the final product is of high quality and has a consistent sound across all platforms.
In this guide, we will delve deeper into the technical aspects of mixing and mastering, breaking down the individual components that make up each process and outlining how to use them to produce a flawless mix.
What Is Mixing?
Mixing is crucial in music production, combining individual tracks to create a balanced and cohesive song. A skilled mix engineer is responsible for manipulating various elements of the tracks to achieve a professional and polished sound. This process involves a deep understanding of music composition, Balancing individual instruments, and the use of various effects.
During the sound mixing process, engineers use various tools to enhance the entire mix. They can use EQ to adjust the tonality of individual tracks, add compression to control the mix's dynamic range, and use reverb and delay to create space and depth. They also use panning to place instruments in the stereo field and achieve a fuller sound. They normalize audio as well for good consistent volume.
Mixing professionals also work to reduce conflicts between the various elements in the mix. During the mixing stage, they can use pitch correction to fix tuning issues, adjust levels to bring out essential elements and use effects to create a sense of movement and energy. Mix engineers also work on the song's overall structure, arranging the tracks in the desired order and manipulating faders and other effects to control the song's emotion.
Given the speed of today's connections and hardware, collaborative online mixing is now possible. Seperate elements and seperate tracks can be sent out to audio engineers, who can then work on each part assigned to them. Once finished, the mixing engineer takes all the collaborative work and combines them into a single project.
Mixing is a complex and demanding process requiring technical and creative skills. It is a critical step in creating a professional-sounding and impactful final product.
What Is Mastering?
In music production, mastering is refining a final mix to make it sound its best across all playback systems. The mastering engineer listens to the stereo track playback and works on the already mixed song to ensure that it meets the artist's vision and is of high quality.
Unlike the mixing engineer, who works with multiple tracks, the mastering engineer focuses on the single stereo file and adds finishing touches such as stereo enhancement and quality control. They also ensure that the all the tracks are consistent and cohesive with the artist's overall style and competes well with similar tracks.
Mastering takes a keen eye and attention to detail, as the mastering engineer must ensure that the final mix works well with various playback systems, including streaming platforms, CDs, and vinyls.
They may need to alter the final mix to ensure it fits each format. Mastering is the last line of defense against any mistakes and can significantly impact the final product. If necessary, mastering engineers will send a bad mix back to the mixing engineer.
What Is A Mixing Engineer?
The role of a mix engineer involves organizing individual tracks and using gain plug-ins, faders, and other tools to mix them. Their primary objective is to have your music mixed. They balance the mix by altering levels and ensuring all tracks blend seamlessly.
Unlike a sound engineer who focuses on recording sounds, a mix engineer blends the recording with others to create a final mix. This requires the skills to combine various tracks and make them into a cohesive piece of music.
A mix engineer's average salary is $68,141 annually, with top earners making up to $113,500 annually.
What Is A Mastering Engineer?
A mastering engineer is a skilled professional who specializes in processing completed mixes to achieve the final form of the recording. Their work involves sequencing and transitioning the entire song to ensure it meets the highest technical standards and is ready for distribution across different platforms.
Mastering is a separate process from mixing, and mastering engineers work in a specialized mastering studio equipped with the latest technology and tools. They apply their expertise in equalization, dynamics processing, stereo enhancement, and other advanced techniques to optimize the sound quality of the recording.
In terms of compensation, mastering engineers earn an average annual income between $41,500 and $100,000, depending on their experience level and the complexity of their projects.
The Mixing Process
Once all the tracks are recorded, they will be mixed by the mixing engineers. The first step is to organize and name the tracks for easy identification.
Next, the gain plug-ins on each track are checked to ensure that no track is too loud, too quiet, or overpowering the others unless it is a deliberate choice. The mixing engineer then uses DAW faders to edit the levels for each track, pan them, and organize the workflow for a balanced output. This results in a first draft stereo file or rough mix that's accessible via the Digital Audio Workstation.
The tracks then go through the EQ stage, where low-pass and high-pass filters achieve a better tonal balance for the mix. Compressors are applied to adjust the range of each track, while modulation, reverb, delay, and other effects can be added to individual tracks based on the desired sound.
Mixing involves editing, adjusting, experimenting, and tweaking until a good-sounding mix is achieved.
The Mastering Process
After the mixing process, the final step is mastering, which is crucial to ensure the quality of the mix is top-notch and ready for distribution on various platforms.
Mastering engineers are responsible for using several effects, such as EQs, stereo wideners, compressors, brickwall limiters, and linear phase EQs, to enhance the mix's vibe and preparing it for radio play and mass distribution.
It is essential to understand that mastering is not about making drastic changes to the mix but refining and perfecting the details. It is not a fix for a poorly mixed track. Mastering involves minor tweaks and adjustments to ensure the mix sounds right.
When this process is applied to old tracks and released, it will result in a remastered track.
What Is the Difference Between The Mixing and Mastering Process?
Although mixing and mastering are sometimes used interchangeably, they are two distinct processes in the music production workflow. Mixing involves balancing, processing, and combining multiple tracks into a multichannel format. This includes editing, filtering, and altering tracks to avoid clashing sounds and notes and create a more emotional impact.
On the other hand, mastering is a subtle process that happens after mixing. It involves quality control and ensuring that the final mix suits the artist's music style and aesthetic. Mastering engineers work to achieve a consistent and balanced sound across all tracks in an album, adding fade-ins and fade-outs between tracks and placing them in the correct order.
Mastering also involves fine-tuning the overall sound of a track, including adjusting levels, equalization, compression, and limiting. It addresses tonal imbalances, enhances clarity, and optimizes the track for playback on different systems. Ultimately, mastering is a critical step that ensures the final product meets the highest quality standards and is ready for distribution.
What Does Mastering Do To A Mix?
Mixing engineers are intimately familiar with the tracks they are working on, but mastering engineers are not. During the mastering process they listen to the song for the first time, which allows them to identify and correct mistakes and fine-tune the mix. However, any issues that cannot be fixed in the stereo file must be addressed during the mixing stage.
It is important to note that while mastering engineers can enhance a bad mix, they cannot transform a poor mix into a great one. They primarily focus on balancing the sonic elements of the stereo track with subtle broad strokes and optimizing it for playback on different systems and media formats.
The key tools used in mastering include equalization, limiting, compression, and stereo enhancement.
How Much Time Does It Take To Mix Or Master Music?
Mixing audio recordings involves combining multiple tracks and creating a cohesive sound. As a result, it takes longer and can take anywhere from 3-4 hours for a single song or even several days, depending on the project's complexity.
On the other hand, mastering is quicker, and it typically takes around 90 minutes for a professional audio engineer to master a track. The initial recordings are already combined, focusing on enhancing the overall sound quality of the track.
Is Mixing Or Mastering Harder?
When comparing the average salaries of mixing and mastering engineers, it is evident that mixing engineers are paid more.
This is because mixing is a more intricate process that involves combining and organizing various tracks to create an evenly balanced mix, whereas the mastering stage is focused on fine-tuning a finished track.
Mixing is more challenging as it requires more technical skills, such as identifying and manipulating different aspects of production, like the frequency spectrum, pitch, and tone. It also takes longer to complete than mastering due to the complexity involved in the process.
Learning how to mix and master requires years of experience, and it is an ongoing learning process to identify and adjust minor details of a track.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Mixing And Mastering?
Achieving a skilled level in mixing and mastering can take a minimum of 5 years on average. Although mastering the fundamentals may only require a few weeks, it takes considerable practice and experience to produce professional-quality mixes and develop the ability to make subtle adjustments to them.
While creating high-quality demos within 6-12 months is possible, attaining a professional standard and entering the music industry requires several years of dedicated effort.
How Do You Know If A Mix Is Ready For Mastering?
Knowing when to stop mixing a track for mastering can challenge audio engineers. Overmixing can lead to a loss of song integrity and sound quality. Since mixing is subjective, the engineer can lose interest in the project after working on it for a long time. Therefore, fresh ears can be useful in evaluating the sound quality objectively.
The mix is approaching the final stage when the engineer is comfortable with the production and has completed most of the work. This is also evident when the engineer changes MIDI tracks to audio tracks.
A well-mixed track should have proper gain staging and avoid unwanted digital clipping. The mastering engineer may send the track back for correction if these issues still need to be addressed.
Finally, the mixer should test the mix in different settings, such as in a car, on other monitors, through headphones, and at various volumes, to ensure that it sounds good across all platforms. A successful mix will be ready for mastering after passing these tests.
How Long Does It Take To Create A Professional Mix?
The time required for mixing a musical project depends on various factors, including the level of experience of the mixer and the complexity of the project. Generally, a skilled audio engineer can mix a song within a day or two, whereas a novice may require several days or even weeks to achieve the desired sound. The process involves technical details and requires a thorough understanding of the tools and techniques used in audio engineering.
Mixing And Mastering: Key Differences & Similarities
Both Mastering and Mixing Can Take Up Endless Amounts of Time
Achieving a perfect mix and mastering a track is a complex process requiring significant practice and technical knowledge. While the two are distinct processes, both need a keen ear for detail and a thorough understanding of the equipment and software used. A professional mix and master can take considerable time as every element of the track needs to be carefully balanced and refined to produce an optimal final product.
Mixing Focuses On Each Recording
Mixing in audio production combines individual elements, requiring precision and attention to detail. The more elements combined, the more complex the process becomes, making it a critical aspect of audio production.
Mastering Takes Into Account the Full Song
Mastering music involves taking a high-level view of the entire song, while mixing is a more detailed process that involves analyzing and adjusting individual tracks. In mixing, each track is analyzed and adjusted to achieve optimal balance, while in mastering, the goal is to refine and polish the overall sound of the entire song.
Mastering Is Focused On Subtle Changes
Mastering aims to fine-tune the track, improving its overall quality for optimal playback. This process involves subtle adjustments to the track's dynamic range, stereo width, EQ, and compression to achieve a balanced and consistent sound.
On the other hand, mixing is a more complex and creative process that involves adjusting the levels, panning, and tone of individual elements within the track to achieve a particular sonic aesthetic. This can include adding effects, EQ, compression, and other processing techniques to shape the sound and create a cohesive mix that enhances the emotional impact of the music.
Mastering Is Slightly More Technical
Mastering and mixing are two distinct processes in audio production. While mixing is the stage where creativity and artistry come into play, mastering is a highly technical process that requires a deep understanding of the technicalities of delivering a high-quality sound.
Mastering engineers must be skilled in manipulating the audio frequency, dynamics, and stereo image to ensure the final mix sounds good on different playback systems. In contrast, mixing engineers primarily focus on adjusting the levels, panning, and effects to create a balanced and cohesive mix that captures the intended emotions and mood of the track.
Both Are Essential In Creating Music and Producing Professional Tracks
Achieving a professional sound for a track requires both mastering and mixing. Mixing is a crucial step in optimizing individual tracks' balance and tone while maintaining musicality and coherence.
On the other hand, mastering is responsible for preparing the final mix for distribution across various platforms. This involves ensuring that the track meets the technical standards the target audience requires and sounds consistent and well-balanced on all playback systems.
Mixing and mastering are crucial processes in music production that enhance the final output of a song. Regardless of the genre, all tracks undergo these processes before distribution. Music producers must have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of mixing and mastering to achieve optimal results.
These techniques involve manipulating the frequency spectrum, setting up dynamic range control, and applying equalization to the audio signal. By mastering these techniques, producers can take their music to the next level and produce high-quality tracks that stand out.
- Jerry Borillo - Illustrator