August 4, 2020

The difference between mixing and mastering

mixing and mastering
Image Credit: www.theseusmusicgroup.com

Making music is a daunting task and the process is the same irrespective of the genre and style – song writing – recording – mixing and mastering. There’s no way around it.

If you are new to music production and home studio recording, you might not be completely clued up with the terms “mixing and mastering” and might want to get some clarity.  And that’s okay because the following blog post will explain the difference so you can have a better insight.

What is mixing?

Let me start right at the beginning so you can have a better understanding. Before you can even produce or record your music you need to acquire a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

A digital audio workstation is another word for music production software. You can either purchase the software of your choice or download the free version on the internet.

Some popular music production software programs include but not limited to the following:

  • FL Studio by Image Line
  • Cubase by Steinberg
  • Garageband by Apple
  • Pro Tools

And so forth

But I think you get my point now and you probably have one of these programs. Anyway, once you have recorded and programmed all your tracks on your DAW they have to be mixed.

On each channel you record separate tracks such as a kick drum, snare, hit hat, strings, chords, bass, vocals etc.

mixing with cubase
Example of mixing using Cubase (music production software)

Now you have to take all those tracks and blend them together into one. This will involve adjusting volumes on each channel, adding effects, panning, eliminating noise, etc.

Everything (All your recorded tracks) has to sound good and easy on the ears. If the song sounds goods on your headphones, car stereo, hi-fi speakers you’re almost there.       

What is mastering?

When your final mix is completed and you’re happy with your work, then you are ready to master your recording.

Mastering also known as audio post-production is the final step before the song is commercially released to the public.

During the mastering process, the engineer will take your final mix and improve the overall sound quality by making some adjustments using technical effects and equipment such as Equalizers, compression, Limiters just to name a few.

Take note of the following:

During the mixing the phase, the engineer works on multiple recorded tracks in order to have one final mix recording. On the other hand, mastering involves improving the quality of the final stereo audio WAV or AIFF file.

mastering on wavelab
Example of mastering using Wavelab

Should I mix and master my own music?

Mixing and Mastering requires a different skillset and this is usually done the trained sound engineers. Some music producers prefer to mix their own recordings and this is quite common.

But you have to have a good ear because a badly mixed song cannot be fixed during the mastering phase.

You should only mix your music if you know what you’re doing. A good understanding of effects is a prerequisite. For example knowing when to pan, adding reverb is something you will come across during mixing.

I wouldn’t recommend mastering your own music though because it is a specialised field.

Say you produce, record and mix your songs, chances are this will take you hours if not weeks to do.

By the time you are done, your ears will tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. It will be hard for you to be objective and honest at this point because this is your art and creation.

Mastering engineers also have the correct tools of trade that you might not know and have access to.

It’s better to leave mastering to a trained professional.

Conclusion

If you didn’t know the difference between mixing and mastering prior to reading this article I hope you have a better understanding now.

It’s good to know and understand the process involved in making music but don’t try to do everything on your own. Even if it means you have to pay top dollar for great engineering then do so.

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