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Mixing and mastering are essential pieces of the music creation process. While some musicians can employ professional sound engineers, many small bands and independent musicians lack the resources to do this.
That means that in many cases, the duties of mixing and mastering fall on us musicians.
Like playing our instruments, mixing and mastering are skills that take lots of practice to become good at. While the basics can often be learned in a few days to weeks, becoming an expert may take several months or years.
In order to become an expert at anything, it takes practice, and usually lots of it. So, the obvious question is how can we practice mixing and mastering to become better skilled and ultimately have our recorded music sound better?
Reading books, blogs, and watching YouTube videos while following along step by step is a great place to start. Working independently with downloaded multi-tracks or using your own musical creations is another excellent way to gain lots of practice experience. It’s a good idea to incorporate different genres during this process to diversify your skills.
Below I will explore each of these four methods in more detail and outline some of the pros and cons of each method.
How to Practice Mixing and Mastering
Thankfully, there are a lot of high-quality and free resources available across the internet (like Range of Sounds) that can provide you with enough material to get started mixing and mastering today.
Mixing and mastering have quickly become one of my favorite aspects of the music creation process. Not only does it add an additional layer of creativity, but it also brings a deeper connection to the music I have created.
While mixing and mastering might not be as exciting and satisfying for everyone as it is for me, I do think every musician can benefit from practicing these skills. If nothing else, it helps train your ear for audio production and music creation nuances.
However, if you plan to practice mixing and mastering, it is essential that you have some sort of Digital Audio Workstation (DAW); otherwise, you can’t practice very well. I utilize Ableton, but there are many other options out there, including decent free software such as Audacity.
Now let us dive deeper into some of the different methods that can be utilized to practice mixing and mastering.
Method #1: Read Books and Blogs
The first method to practice mixing and mastering is to read books, blogs, and website articles regarding how to mix and master, such as this one.
This method is often a great first step, especially if you don’t have much background in music production.
Music Production by Tommy Swindali is a good book to start with. It helped me early on, and I occasionally refer back to it. Home recording for dummies is another good resource as well.
There are also several online music production forums that can be very helpful for beginners and beyond.
One site that I have found very useful is homerecording.com. The site is broken down into several categories, and you can usually find the answers to whatever questions you may have regarding music production.
A quick google search will provide you with many other music-related forums to check out.
Pro #1: Easy Access
The biggest pro to this method is that the content is easy to access. If you have a smartphone or a computer, a quick search will give you access to multiple music forums where you can start diving into the different techniques others on the sites are talking about.
Many book options will also have Kindle options, which are great for instant access and space considerations. I have a mix of physical and Kindle books on music production, but I prefer physical copies as I keep them stored in my home music studio.
Further, your local library might have some music production books on its shelves, but you run the risk of them being outdated.
Pro #2: Cost
Most music production forums are completely free of charge, which is great for those of us on a tight budget.
Most music production books will also be relatively cheap, usually less than $25 USD. Further, Kindle options tend to be cheaper than physical copy options, so you can save money by opting for those.
The good part about Kindle is that you don’t necessarily need a Kindle to gain access to them. I have the app on my iPhone, and all of the books I buy on amazon through the Kindle option get downloaded into my library there.
Con #1: Information Quality
Not all information is of the same quality. While most forums are of high integrity, there may be situations where the information you are reading could be more accurate. Of course, that can be the case for any information medium.
However, I have found music production forums to be an excellent source of reliable information. The good part of forums is that if there is incorrect information, others will often comment on a given thread to help correct the information.
As more and more books are being self-published by authors, there is a chance that the information contained within the books might not be of the highest quality.
However, paying attention to rating systems and reading the book’s reviews on sites like Amazon can give the buyer peace of mind that the contents are high-quality.
Con #2: Learning Method
Music production, like learning an instrument, is a process that must be actively engaged with to reap the benefits and grasp the concepts thoroughly.
Reading books, blogs, and websites about music production is great, but only if you are actively following along and putting into practice what you are reading about. Otherwise, you should not waste your time.
I am not saying you won’t gain some benefit from just reading about the concepts. Still, until you physically put into practice what you are reading about and can actually hear the differences, you won’t have gained the full benefits of this method of practicing mixing and mastering.
Method #2: Watch Videos and Follow Along
Another practice method that I use all of the time is watching videos of various mixing and mastering techniques in action and following along as the video explains and demonstrates various techniques.
YouTube is, of course, going to be the primary medium for videos. YouTube is great because it allows the videos to go into a lot of detail on very specific questions that you might be trying to find answers to.
Other mediums like Instagram and other social media platforms can also be good sources for video content. However, these mediums are usually limited by the shorter length of videos that can be used, but they can provide very streamlined answers to your questions.
While I read quite a bit about music production, I think videos are often a step away from just reading the information.
Pro #1: Learning Method
By following along to videos, you can see and/or hear in real time what the various mixing and mastering techniques and effects are doing.
Videos are great because if you cannot listen to what is happening, you can see what is happening on the screen. For example, if the video adds compression to an audio track, you can see what the soundwaves do once compression is enabled.
On the flip side, you don’t have to see what is taking place on the screen but rather listen to what the techniques and effects are doing to the audio track.
Videos provide many options you wouldn’t be able to have just by reading about mixing and mastering.
Pro #2: Easy Access
Just like with reading materials, videos are very easy to access as long as you have a phone or computer, especially with YouTube, as you do not even need an account or membership. Some methods, like Instagram, require an account, but that is still not generally a large bar of entry.
Searching videos on YouTube regarding mixing and mastering is one of the easiest and best ways to gain access to very good audio producers.
Con #1: Difficulty Level
While searching for and finding videos is relatively easy, finding exactly what you are looking for can sometimes be challenging, especially regarding ability and difficulty levels.
In other words, controlling which videos you find can sometimes be difficult. You may find videos that are either too basic or well beyond your current ability level.
However, more often than not, the video’s title will give you a clue as to the ability level it is intended for. If nothing else, after a couple of minutes of watching the video, you can decide for yourself if the video is right for you.
Con #2: Quality Control
Much like music forums and other resources, some videos will be of higher content than others. Still, like those other mediums, it will be easy to decide whether you want to utilize the advice given.
Further, if you are following along with the video and what they tell you simply doesn’t work, you will know it is time to move on to a different resource.
Method #3: Work With Downloadable Multitracks
Many websites give access to multitracks that you can download and practice mixing and mastering.
I have never used this method, but I have read about many positive experiences on numerous music forums. Since I have not personally used this method, check out the video below that provides several suggestions for visiting sites.
Pro #1: Diverse Genre Exposure
The biggest pro with this method is that you will be exposed to numerous genres you might not have otherwise tried to mix and master.
Listening to a diverse array of genres and how mixing and mastering techniques work with different instruments is excellent for ear training and learning what sounds good and why certain things sound good.
Pro #2: Multiple Attempts at Mixing and Mastering
Another big plus for this method is downloading the same tracks multiple times and experimenting with different mixing and mastering techniques. This would allow you to hear the same multitracks with different effects and mixing techniques, which again would help train your ear.
Con: Download Reliability
The only time I tried to download multitracks, the website kept freezing and crashing, so I had to restart my computer continuously.
While this was likely an isolated incident, it has made me wary of this method. However, as I stated earlier, I have read about many positive experiences utilizing this method.
Method #4: Create, Mix, and Mastering Your Own Music
This is my preferred method. I am, first and foremost, a musician, so the entire music creation process is critical to me. I think there is much value in taking an idea and moving through the entire music process.
However, if you do not enjoy the creative part of music, this certainly isn’t the best option for you.
Whether you use real instruments, MIDI, or a combination of the two, using your own music to practice mixing and mastering is a very rewarding process.
Pro: You Control the Process
The big pro of using your own music is that it is likely in the genre and style that you enjoy listening to. Mixing and mastering a genre of music you do not enjoy can be tedious.
Using your own music allows you to control every aspect of the mixing and mastering process, and you can have unlimited attempts to mix and master the music.
Con: Too Attached to Your Music
The big con with using your own music is that you might be too attached to what you have created. Sometimes the ego can get in the way, and you might need help objectively assessing your music’s quality or the mixed and mastered version.
This is easily remedied by letting people you trust to listen to your creation and provide honest and constructive feedback.
There are many options and ways to practice mixing and mastering, and utilizing more than one method is a good idea. There is no perfect method, and by combining multiple methods, you will become a more well-rounded music producer.
I hope you have found this article worthwhile, and best of luck with your mixing and mastering practice!
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.