Mixing and mastering music are two separate aspects of the audio production process. However, the two elements are equally essential in ensuring your audio production process is highly effective.
The difference between mixing and mastering is, however, difficult to differentiate.
Many people find themselves stuck between differentiating the two aspects, but at the end of this article, you will have a clear distinction between the two.
It is as simple as this; mixing basically is the step before mastering. Mixing involves adjusting and combining separate tracks that will end up forming a stereo audio file after the mixdown is complete.
The resultant stereo file is then mastered.
This action of mastering ensures that the numerous songs are excellently polished, resulting in a whole coherent album.
This is the simplest way you can differentiate these two aspects of mixing and mastering in the audio production process.
What Is Mixing?
The process of mixing occurs after all the separate tracks of an individual song have been recorded. At this level, a mixing expert comes in and does the job. To start with, they label and organize the tracks into groups that bear their similarities.
They also normalize the songs to ensure that all the tracks are at similar volume levels and no single track is above the others in volume levels.
The mixing expert or the engineer will go ahead and equalize every single track to get the best tone of each individual track out of the instruments.
Basically, the mixing experts use low and high filters to get rid of any unwanted frequencies. The main goal of carrying out the Equalizing is to ensure that each track will occupy their natural frequency areas.
This will make the song to be clear and at the same time, ensure that all the instruments are distinguishable when the song is played.
The same idea of equalizing is also used in panning the tracks to get a cohesive full sound.
Delay, reverb, compression, and other necessary processors can be applied to each track to ensure that you get the most exquisite tones for the instruments used in the process as well.
The mixing engineer can use the automatic manipulating fades and effects throughout the songs, and this will help the mixing engineer to take control of the emotions in the song through a sonic approach.
You will find that most mixing engineers will switch between studio reference monitors and headphones to get an excellent, consistent sound for their mixing on separate sources.
Remember, one of the essential things you have in mind here as the mixing expert is to achieve excellence in the sounds you are producing.
Therefore ensure that you do not overcompress the tracks you are working on.
Your focus should be to aim at for a ratio that is low, somewhere from 2:1 to 3:1 dB of gain reduction. This will work out well for any of the tracks.
Still, on the same idea of the best way to work on the tracks, the mixing engineer can go ahead and give a minimal additional boost to certain words or word if the tail ends of particular vocals are not in the required level or are getting lost.
At this stage, the audio mixing engineer will have worked for several hours of twisting and pulling of knobs and faders, and you can be sure that the resulting song will be excellent.
And now he/she can move the tracks from mono to stereo on each track that was comprised in the mixing process. At this level, panning will get you and make the mix yours.
Now you can do all you want with the album, depending on your target audience. Some of the additional you can have might include; adding some plugins and other minor effects, you might think of adding to your album.
Remember, when requesting the mixing expert to make any additional feature to your album you need to know what you want to achieve with the album and more importantly know your target audience.
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What Is Mastering?
As we defined mixing in the first paragraph of this article, mastering ensures that the numerous songs are excellently polished, resulting in a whole coherent album.
At this level, the mastering engineer will receive the stereo tracks accompanied with some notes and some reference songs from the mixing engineer and at times from the artist.
The mastering engineer is handed all this information to ensure that he/she gains a proper understanding of the sound that is to be worked on.
This ensures that the mastering expert does not alter areas that are intended to sound in a particular way.
Then at this level, some final touches are made where some slight adjustments are made to the sound in the song.
Some of the adjustment that might be made might be to the compression, EQ, limiting and stereo enhancement.
It is at this level that all the songs mastered on the given album are adjusted to similar levels to ensure that the album is cohesive throughout.
Usually, the mastering engineer will make use of spacing and fades at the beginning and the end of every song in the album that is being worked on.
A point to note is a red book standard that is usually of 2 seconds is added at the spacing between songs and this will always occur unless there is a specification.
In most cases, you will find that audio mastering engineers will offer sequencing services for the albums they are working on and this is to purposely put the songs in order, the encoding of the tracks with ISRC and label track names.
The primary purpose of having a mastering engineer working on your album is to ensure that they provide high clarity, high fidelity and an excellent professional sound that listeners of the songs will enjoy regardless of the source of the music.
Apart from making the apparent corrections for the differences in volume for each song, you will realize that mastering is a fantastic process that is subjective.
Most of the musicians are very keen on this process of mastering as they have a belief that it is either you get it right or wrong.
There is no question of getting the process slightly right or slightly wrong.
If you have an expert or mastering engineer who will do the mastering process right, you can be sure that your target audience will love the quality of your songs.
I believe that, the sole objective every artist has is to deliver the best quality of sound to whoever that will get a chance to play or listen to your songs.
The Takeaway: Mixing Vs Mastering
The difference in mixing vs mastering sometimes seems so small, and some people even think of combining these two steps into one.
That will be a risky affair and trust me you might be unable to produce a professional sound that can compete in today’s music world.
Basically, the line between the two steps should not be ignored. The better these two steps are handled, the more likely it will help you achieve your goals. For the most excellent results, invest your time and money in both.