Why is Mixing and Mastering So Hard?

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I’m an old fart! I’ve been a professional audio engineer for 10 years so brace with me as I remember what it was like when I first started making music…which is now 20 years ago!

[sidebar: I recorded my first song when I was 12 years old using Sound Recorder and a computer mic]

My first DAW!

It wasn’t until I got signed (about 10 years later) that I learned what mixing and mastering is.

As a teenager, I had felt my songs were good but they didn’t sound right but I wasn’t aware of what the issue was.

You see when your ear isn’t trained, all you hear is your intention.

You don’t hear what other people hear when you play your music for them.

This is the main reason why mixing and mastering is so difficult.

Anyway, back to the story…

When I got signed and had to release music for public consumption, I started to A/B test my music against “real artists”.

Now if you’re not sure what A/B testing is, it’s just playing your song and then playing your favorite song after and realizing, “wow this sounds like sh*t”.

This is when you realize your intention is not enough and you become insecure about your music and either start to learn how to mix and master yourself or hire an audio engineer.

Now since I was the do-it-yourself/know-it-all/I don’t need anyone’s help type-person, I dived into the world of audio engineering.

And…

It was a disaster. It was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done.

This is because real people are going to be hearing your music and judging it accordingly…so it has to sound good.

But at the same time, my ear wasn’t trained to know what good is.

I should also clarify here because a lot of artists, particularly new rappers, will think they know what “good” sounds like.

When I say “good” I’m not talking about the content of the song, I’m talking about the quality of the song.

I’ve heard thousands of good songs that sounded like sh*t.

And I’ve heard thousands of bad songs that sounded perfect.

I know if you’re new to all of this, your head probably just exploded so I’ll give you a second to gather your gray matter.

So what should you do? Should you mix and master your stuff or should you hire it out?

I can only tell you what I did.

When I got signed I hired someone to mix and master a song but they did such a bad job on it, I said “f*ck it, I’ll do it myself!”.

But now in retrospect, some 15 years later, I realize my ear wasn’t trained enough to tell what good mixing and mastering is.

I could only hear my intention, I couldn’t hear what other people hear.

I wasted so much time and energy trying to learn to mix and master that I could have spent that same energy on making music and building a music career!

But I don’t regret it one bit because through this website I’ve been able to help millions of people on their artistic journey as well as financially support my family.

So how long does it take to learn mixing and mastering?

I alluded to this earlier when I talked about people not hearing your intention.

Let’s go back to that line…

“When your ear isn’t trained, all you hear is your intention.”

Your intention is focused on making a great song but you don’t know how to hear it correctly.

You are probably saying…

I know how to play piano…

I know how to sing…

I know how to rap…

I know how to play guitar…

I know how to make great music Andre, god damn it, who are you to tell me otherwise?!?!

Knowing how to do any of those things has very little to do with knowing how to make a song that sounds sonically good.

Just because you know how to write, doesn’t mean you know how to write well.

And by writing well, I mean writing something that humans want to read.

It’s a similar thing with music: just because you can make a good song, doesn’t mean it will sound good.

This is a long-winded way of saying, mixing and mastering is a skill in itself.

So sure you know how to sing, but do you know how to mix and master?

Aha!

So the same time it took you to become great at playing the guitar will be the same time it’ll take you to become great at audio engineering.

Like I’ve said, I’ve been doing this for 10 years professionally and am still getting better.

The difference for me vs when I started is that mixing isn’t stressful anymore.

It’s very easy for me because my ear has been trained by working on thousands of songs.

Imagine how good you’d be if you played your guitar every day for 10 years and got paid to do it?

You’d be a lot better than someone who just plays on the weekend right?

So how does any of this help you?

The question you have to ask yourself is this, do you want to be an artist or do you want to be an audio engineer?

I don’t think anyone sets out to be an audio engineer, except people like me who have been tinkering with the eq dial on their parent’s radio since we were kids.

If you’re this kind of person, you’ll get over the hump and eventually learn to mix and master your stuff, just be warned it will be difficult and you will lose hair.

Now if you’re the other kind of person that knows your time is valuable and that you can be more productive doing something else, then you’ll farm out your mixing and mastering to guys like me.

 

 

Andre is the head audio engineer at ADG Mastering, which he helped found in 2012. For the last 10 years, he has made it his mission to empower aspiring artists and musicians from around the world. You can see more of Andre's writings on our Blog.

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