Don’t get it twisted! Mixing and mastering music may sound like the same thing, but mixing engineers and mastering engineers will tell you the terms aren’t interchangeable.
And as we’ll see, they apply to specific procedures in releasing a song. What are they exactly? Read on as we discuss mixing vs mastering music.
What is Mixing a Song?
As the term implies, mixing brings all recorded components of a song together to make it cohesive. This means bringing together all the tracks that make up the song such as the drum tracks, guitar tracks, vocal tracks, backing vocal tracks, and all other musical tracks.
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 artist’s or producers’ vision.
Audio engineers apply fx such as an equalizer, compression, panning, and reverb tools to make the mix more professional sounding as well as inline with the artist’s vision.
An analogy I like to use when describing mixing is the Photoshop analogy.
For example, in Photoshop you can edit the fine details of a picture such as removing red eyes from a person.
Mixing focuses on the details of a song.
This is why it really doesn’t matter what plugins a mixing engineer uses (though higher-quality plugins make the job easier), what matters more is how well-trained their ear is.
Not to sound cocky, but I could mix a song with Fl Studio plugins and it would sound better than whatever the artist mixed themselves, simply because my ear has put in the reps mixing everyday for the last 10 years.
What is Mastering the Record?
Once mixing is complete, the album or song goes through mastering, the final phase in the post-recording process.
If mixing engineers work with hundreds of tracks to create a cohesive song, a mastering engineer only works with one stereo track. 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 mastering 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 when you listen to a mastered album, all the songs will be around the same volume level.
Like mixing engineers, mastering engineers use audio mastering fx to polish a stereo track even further. But unlike their mixing counterparts, they focus on the entire song.
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:
Then, they listen to a song for one final quality-control run, this time with the high-quality headphones to catch any other dissonant or incongruent sounds further.
If everything is in working order, they green-light the release. If not, they continue mastering until the song—or record—meets their desired specs.
So if we go back to the picture analogy, where mixing was focusing on the details, mastering is focusing on the “big picture”.
You can imagine this as a picture in Instagram where you apply a filter and it affects the whole picture, not just a small part of the picture like when we removed the red eyes from our friend.
Mixing vs Mastering: Answered
Mixing and mastering are two different steps within the same process. The former brings together all recorded tracks to form a song. The latter fine tunes 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, 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.