Mixing vs. Mastering Music: What You Never Knew

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Mixing and mastering music sound like the same task, but mixing engineers and music producers will tell you the terms aren’t interchangeable and apply to specific procedures in recording and releasing a song. What are they exactly? Read on as we discuss mixing and mastering music: the big difference you never knew.

Mixing It All Together

As the term implies, mixing brings all recorded components of a song together to give it initial shape and form. These include the drum tracks, guitar tracks, vocal tracks, backing vocal tracks, VFX tracks, and other recorded sounds related to the song or album.

Mixing starts off the post-recording process, where the individual tracks are then spliced together by a mixing engineer to balance the sounds or make some louder to match the band’s or producers’ vision.

They use an equalizer, compression, panning, and reverb tools to smoothen audio edges, make grooves more solid, emphasize certain sounds or lyrics, and even add effects onto existing tracks to improve their atmosphere.

They do this for the first song, the next, and the next until they successfully put together an entire album’s worth of records from hundreds of recorded tracks! They are similar to film editors who take all of the material, decide which are essential and which aren’t, use what’s necessary and improve upon them, and then tighten everything into a coherent record.

Mastering the Record

Once mixing is complete, the album or song goes through mastering, the final phase in the post-recording process. They undergo strict quality control (QC) and various audio mastering services before the song, LP, album, mixtape, or something else is greenlit.

If mixing engineers work with hundreds of tracks to create a cohesive song, a mastering engineer only works with one stereo track at a time. They ensure each song is optimized for every listening device possible (smartphone speakers, earphones, car speakers, Bluetooth speakers, and so on).

Putting a song through QC guarantees it has a distinct, audible competitive edge when published across multiple media. Mastering also ensures each song is in tonal unity. This is why you don’t hear an upbeat swing track right after a mosh pit-inducing rock song.

Like mixing engineers, mastering engineers use additional audio mastering services to polish a stereo track even further. But unlike their mixing counterparts, their tools both involve software and hardware.

First, they meticulously listen to a track or album in a room with the best acoustics, speakers, and monitors to hear and feel every sound: vocal pitch, guitar chords, cymbal sustains, drum beats, bass thumps, and so on. Mastering engineers then note which sounds in a song need further tweaking before utilizing the exact software tools mixing engineers use to perfect each song, such as:

  • Equalizing
  • Compression
  • Limiting

Then, they listen to a song for one final QC run, this time with the high-quality headphones to catch any other dissonant or incongruent sounds further. If everything is in working order, they greenlight the release. If not, they continue mastering until the song—or record—meets their qualifications.

The Closing Statement

Mixing and mastering are two different steps of the same process. The former brings together all recorded tracks to form a song and musical album. The latter fine tune these into a finished product that goes on to top the charts, receive generous airplay, and quite possibly become a timeless musical classic.

When looking for quality mixing and mastering services in Canada, get in touch with us at ADG Mastering. We’re a Toronto-based online mixing and mastering on a mission to give independent artists world class services comparable to major record labels.

Mike is the creative director for ADG. He enjoys golfing, alt-rock and tinkering in the studio.

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