Mixing vs Mastering: What Are They And Why Are They Important?

audio engineer mixing a track

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You’ve just finished in the studio, you’ve perfected your song as much as you can, and now it’s time to hand it over to the mixing and mastering engineers.

But what exactly are they going to do with it, and are they even necessary?

Mixing and Mastering are two different and distinct editing tools that work together to make your song go from moderate to amazing. It’s all part of the complete and sometimes time-consuming process of creating a song.

You cannot have one without the other; working together different parts of the song to make it as perfect as it can be. We’re going to break down what exactly mixing and mastering is, and how the two parts work to form a clear and professional song. Keep in mind, some this process will be different genres, for example mixing and master trap beats has a slightly different approach.

First Comes…

Mixing is completed before mastering. The engineer’s goal is to focus on each individual instrument in the song, adding effects and adjusting volume levels.

Effects involve altering things that have to do with the overall tonality of each distinct instrument. That includes reverb, compression, delay, and EQ. The engineer will EQ the track to get the best tones out of the instruments and drop any unneeded frequencies. Engineers use EQ in mixing to make adjustments that allow the track to have its own frequency areas compared to other tracks.

Another way to describe this is what we call panning, which is the placement of instruments within the stereo field to give the recording a sense of “space” in a mix. Making sure the instruments have their own defined voice in the track is a big part of mixing. This also allows the engineer to control the emotion the song and the artist desires.

Part of mixing a song is controlling the overall volume of it; in other words, “normalizing” the track to make sure each song is at similar volume levels and no tracks peak. That ensures that each instrument sounds proportionate to one another.

Then Comes…

After the track is perfected by the mixing engineer he (or she) hands it over to the mastering engineer. Instead of affecting each instrument individually, the engineer will add effects to enhance the sound of the overall recording. In other words, mastering is applying effects to everything in the mix at the same time.

A mastering engineer’s main goal is to match the primary loudness and frequency balance to all the tracks on the album. They will fix any muddy or harsh sounding frequencies. Volume fades are added to the beginning and end of each track so the songs will flow effortlessly from one to the next.

Usually, the artist or mixing engineer will send notes to the mastering engineer to give him an understanding of the sound or emotion they are going for. With that knowledge, he knows which areas not to alter according to the intended sound the artist is looking for.

Mastering is the final touch or “glue” that brings your entire mix together to what you want it to be. After the mastering engineer is finished, he will provide you with a high clarity, consistent, and professional sound that can be enjoyed by anyone on any source.

Now It’s Your Turn

Get out there and perfect your mix! Mixing and mastering can take some time but once you get the hang of it you’ll enjoy it!