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Most activities in life take serious time, effort, and dedication to learn. Mixing and mastering are no different.
Mixing and mastering are essential components of the music creation process. This is why musicians will spend a lot of money hiring the very best music producers in the world to work on their songs and albums.
Many music producers (but not all) are formally trained with college degrees in music production, audio production, or other closely related disciplines.
While the formal education route is a great way to become fully immersed in audio production, it is not required, especially if you just want to focus on mixing and mastering your own music projects.
For this article, I will focus on the non-formal educational route of learning to mixing and mastering, which brings us to the central question of this article; how long does it take to become good at mixing and mastering?
It is possible to learn the basics of mixing and mastering within a few days or weeks of dedicated practice. However, to become well versed in all the nuances and intricate details of mixing and mastering needed to create professional-grade songs, it is common to spend several months to years learning the craft.
Below we will take a closer look at some of the factors that determine how long it might take to learn how to become good at mixing and mastering as well as the difficulty of mixing versus mastering and ways to get better at each.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Mixing and Mastering?
First things first. Likely, you are here reading this article to figure out exactly how long it will take you to learn how to do this.
Unfortunately, it is a bit more complicated than just giving a defined amount of time as an answer. Answering a question like this can be difficult, as you can’t really put a specific timeframe on learning and skill acquisition.
However, based on personal experience and numerous online forums, videos, and from speaking with fellow musicians and music producers, the time it takes to learn mixing and mastering can be linked to how long it takes to learn a specific audio production software like Ableton.
In a few days to weeks of dedicated practice, you should be able to learn the basics, but it may take several months to years to become an expert in mixing and mastering.
However, you can stack learning mixing and mastering with a DAW like Ableton and learn both as you go, which can reduce the overall length of time it takes to learn.
The duration it might take each person to learn mixing and mastering will vary tremendously and hinges on all sorts of variables, such as previous experience with audio production, experience with digital audio workstations (DAWs), and knowledge of music and effects.
Let’s take a closer look at some of those factors that might influence how long it will take to learn how to do this. This is not an exhaustive list of potential factors, but these three areas will significantly influence learning duration.
Previous Experience With Audio Production
Previous experience with any type of audio production will likely serve as an advantage as you begin to learn mixing and mastering. Further, if you had mixing and mastering experience but took a long time off, it will still likely aid in the learning process.
For example, I took two radio production classes in high school, which was the first time I was exposed to audio production, and I immediately fell in love with the whole process. I learned how sound waves look on a screen and how to perform basic edits and blend volume levels.
Fast forward almost fifteen years to when I became more serious about music production, those foundational learning experiences gave me a head start on the mixing and mastering process.
While the two don’t perfectly mesh, many foundational concepts are similar.
Further, suppose you have a podcast or video-making experience on YouTube or other platforms that use audio. In that case, you will have a solid foundation for knowing how sound dynamics and other factors work together.
However, if you don’t have any audio production experience, don’t let it scare you away. There are tons of great resources (Like Range of Sounds), books, and numerous tutorial videos that can help you get started and accelerate the learning process.
Previous Experience With DAWs
Previous experience with DAWs in any capacity will also help speed up the learning process. If you have any prior experience with audio production, you might have had some DAW experience as well.
For example, when I was working in the radio production class making short pre-recorded radio segments, we used a very early version of GarageBand as our primary software.
While this experience was relatively short-lived and with different software than I use now, the experiences I gained while doing that still helped me when I started mixing and mastering.
The level of detail was much lower in my previous experience, with very little mixing and almost no mastering being done. Still, those experiences gave me a decent foundation to begin music production.
So even though your previous audio production and DAW experience may have been in vastly different areas than music production, they are still valuable experiences that can aid in the learning process.
Just like with previous audio experience, don’t be discouraged if you have no experience with DAWs. There are plenty of fantastic tutorial videos to help ease the learning curve.
Music and Effects Knowledge
Knowledge of music theory and other essential music concepts, such as dynamics, pitch, frequencies, reverb, sustain, etc., are beneficial but not mandatory to begin to learn how to get good at mixing and mastering.
With that being said, those concepts are something that you will need to learn as you progress. However, all of those can be learned as you go; they are not required to know before you begin.
If you do not have any knowledge of these concepts, the learning process will likely take more time than if you have a basic understanding, but again don’t let that stop you from starting.
One of the best ways to learn something like mixing and mastering is simply to do it. Reading books and watching videos about mixing and mastering are helpful, and I do it all the time.
However, without physically doing the work and hearing what happens when you implement the different effects and techniques you learn about, you won’t ever truly learn.
Is It Hard To Be Good At Mixing and Mastering?
Yes and no. Once you get the hang of mixing and mastering, adding tools like EQ and reverb can be relatively simple, especially if you work in a very intuitive and user-friendly DAW like Ableton, where everything is clearly labeled and can be employed with one click.
However, doing it and doing it well are two different things. As the saying goes, simple but not easy. That is not to say that mixing and mastering are necessarily simple. In fact, knowing when and when not to adjust the audio and add effects can take years of dedicated practice.
Learning the process of mixing and mastering might be easy, but learning to do it very well can be quite challenging.
Many beginners will tend to over-mix a given track or song, meaning they put too many effects and change too many things about the audio that it no longer sounds good.
This is one of the main reasons mixing and mastering can be difficult, knowing when and when not to do something. The only way to get good at this is by lots of practice and lots of bad-sounding mixes.
Don’t expect to be producing radio-quality songs within a couple of weeks. As I stated in the intro, it can take years to become good at mixing and mastering. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your work with other people.
Honest, constructive feedback from an outside perspective you trust is a great way to get a different view of your tracks and see what works well and doesn’t from a listener’s perspective.
I have been consistently mixing and mastering for a few years and am still learning new things almost every time I begin working on a new song.
I am continually getting better little by little, and as a result, the quality of my mixes has improved over time.
Is Mixing or Mastering Harder?
Both mixing and mastering are hard, but for different reasons.
The mixing process is often more time-consuming, as this is where most of the editing and effect-adding takes place.
Mixing is not only concerned with the individual track volume levels, EQ, reverb, etc. but also how the individual tracks blend and mesh with everything else that is going on in a song.
Trying to balance all of the competing sounds and knowing which sounds should be more pronounced during a given section of a song (like a guitar solo) can be challenging.
Mixing can be challenging because many instruments and vocal ranges hit in the same frequency ranges, so it takes some serious practice to ensure every instrument in a given frequency is heard in the mix but not overbearing.
Mastering, on the other hand, is the final stage of the song-creation process. This stage is all about small changes and adjustments instead of the big changes that occur during the mixing process.
This doesn’t mean mastering is easier than mixing; it is just a different process.
If I had to choose, I would say that learning how to mix is more difficult, but becoming good at the mastering process can be challenging too. I am sure there are others who would say that mastering is more difficult as well.
The mixing process typically takes more time and there are a lot more components to learn and be aware of than the mastering process.
Why Is Mixing and Mastering So Hard?
Mixing and mastering are hard to learn because it is a complex process with many different factors to consider.
There are so many nuances and variables that need to be considered when mixing and mastering to ensure everything sounds good in a song.
Remember, many professional sound engineers go to college and study these concepts for years. So don’t feel too bad if you find mixing and mastering frustrating and difficult.
As you practice and hone your skills, you will get better, and that difficulty level will begin to lower, at which point you can take on more challenging and complicated projects.
How To Get Better At Mixing and Mastering
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The best way to get better at mixing and mastering is to dedicate as much time as possible to practicing.
Whether you are mixing and mastering your own music or working on someone else’s, the only way to get better is by doing it repetitively and consistently.
Another way to improve is to practice mixing and mastering as many different genres of music as possible. The more diverse sounds you hear, the better you will train your ear to hear what sounds good and works and what doesn’t.
To further that idea, listen to as much music as you can. You will begin to pick up on clues from the professionals.
When you hear something you like, begin to ask why you like the way it sounds.
You can always check for online tips on mixing and mastering like the one above, and while they can be really useful, you should also spend some time looking up the producers that work on the music you like. Spend some time trying to deconstruct why popular or catchy work. Look into the music theory behind your favorite works, and you will start to pick up on themes that make music sound good.
If I could offer one piece of advice regarding mixing and mastering, it would be not to expect that at some point, you will have finally reached the finish line and finally “made it.” Mixing and mastering is something that you will always be working to get better at, which I think is part of the fun of creating music.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and now have a better understanding of how long it might take to learn how to be good mixing and mastering and some of the factors that determine it.
Until next time, stay creative!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.