What is the difference between mixing and mastering? You’ve just finished recording the next big hit and now its time for mixing and mastering. Most artists understand the concept of mixing and how it works. Most artists do NOT understand the concept of mastering or even what it is. But don’t feel bad, many recording or mixing engineers don’t even fully understand it.
Mixing and Mastering are often associated with each other, many times in the same sentence. It’s important to understand however that they are two totally different processes with very different goals and methods. Both processes need to be done for every song, however,
Mixing is the process of taking a fully produced and recorded song and making all of the sounds their appropriate volume and timbre quality. This includes processing the vocals to take out the muddy parts or mouth noises, as well as adding effects such as reverb or delay, as well as making them sit on top of the instrumental at the right volume. This does not apply only to vocal recordings though, of course. Jazz, Orchestral, and Electronic music still needs to be mixed to achieve tonal balances.
The mixing engineer typically does not change anything dealing with the song structure such as lyrics, chord structure, chorus length, drum parts or anything else like that. The mix engineer takes what she has and reveals its best possible qualities.
Mastering is the process of taking a fully mixed song and adjusting the OVERALL loudness and tonal qualities. While this process can do done by the same person who mixed the song, this is always a separate step.
The mastering engineer will take the mixed song and raise it to standard loudness for radio/cd/streaming platforms. In addition to this, she will make the tonal qualities in the verses and chorus more consistent, eg. making the bass frequencies hit with the same or greater intensity to make the song have dynamics.
In terms of a full project such as an album, mastering is taking each individual song and lining them up against each other to make sure that they flow together dynamically in a way that makes sense and sounds pleasing. Making sure volumes are consistent across the board.
The main goal of mastering is to ensure that your song sounds as good as it possibly can no matter what type of speakers it is being played through. If your song sounds loud in the studio but then seems really quiet in the car, you might have a mastering issue. Alternatively, if there’s a good amount of bass in your headphones, but way too much bass in the car, mastering may be to blame (though there are other reasons as well). Overall, mastering is about achieving consistency.
As I mentioned earlier, the process of mixing and recording and the process of mastering a mix can be done by the same person, but often these two processes are handled by two different engineers. Two pairs of ears are better than one!
Armed with this information, now you can be confident that you know what you’re asking for when you say “mixing and mastering”.
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