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What is the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering?

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

You might be curious how the two techniques differ if you're not a mixing or mastering engineer. Except for the engineers themselves, very few people truly understand what happens during these final phases because of the technical language used and the understanding of gear that even the most seasoned musicians find confusing.

studio mixing and mastering

This confusion also gives rise to a great deal of disinformation, as some individuals mistakenly believe that the two procedures are identical or disregard them altogether if the music composition is solid, to begin with. There is a relationship between mixing and mastering.

We'll understand the two phases by examining five crucial distinctions between them and explaining why each is significant for the music you create and consume.

We'll begin by giving a broad and straightforward review of both fields. Then, we'll go into specific variations in workflow, viewpoints, and tools...

Table Of Contents

What’s the difference between mixing and mastering?

mixing and mastering before and after

Mixing: In order to make all of the channels inside a DAW sound good together, mixing involves modifying each track using different audio plug-ins. The stereo image, necessary loudness balance, and desired effects are all given to all the instruments and vocals through mixing. Mixing creates a piece of completed, cogent music from a multitrack.

Mastering: Before a record is ready for distribution the last step of mastering takes place. Mastering would be the final polishing touches added to the song as a whole. According to the desired final result, we require for the release, the overall loudness, dynamics, and frequency curve of the whole song are adjusted.

What is mixing?

You created a record by laying down rhythmic elements, and creating some music by playing chords, melodies, and basslines, while also maybe singing a few selected lyrics. Now it's time to make the arrangement feel like a full-fledged song rather than just a selection of loosely related sections and tracks.

The mixing engineer steps in at this point. It's their responsibility to balance each track and take whatever steps are necessary to make the music seem complete and well-rounded. Mix engineers may eliminate instrument conflicts, tighten grooves, and highlight crucial song parts by using techniques like EQ, compression, panning, and reverb. In certain instances, they could even mute unnecessary instrument sections or overlay drum strikes with samples from outside the session.

Instruments are EQ'd by mixing engineers to stand out or fit in the correct situation. To create differences in dynamic range between individual tracks, they compress them. When required, they apply all kinds of bizarre effects including reverb, delay, modulation, pitch effects, and more. Mixing is a playground.

This leads to the second job of a mix engineer, which is to enhance the song's emotional effect and liveliness. They can work with anything, even if you provide them with 4 or 300+ tracks of material they will produce a coherent record.

What is mastering?

You probably heard your song sounding amazing in your room or studio only to test it on a phone or in your car and the shine or balance is gone. That's where the mastering engineer comes in.

Mastering engineers are the final step before your song, single, EP, album, or mixtape hits the world. They are the quality control, and the responsibilities that make up their process are much different from mix engineers.

A mixing engineer creates a single song that sounds fantastic in their studio by balancing 5, 20, or even more channels. Mastering engineers mostly deal with a single stereo track, and they make every effort to make this audio file sound great on all playback systems.

While mastering experts do employ EQs, compressors, and limiters to increase the volume of stereo tracks, this doesn't indicate that this is all they do.

They will make each song work with every other song in the production be it an album an EP or your best work that you've already released. Additionally, they want your records to compete with similar work by well-known artists in the genre and, ideally, outperform it.

They will do their very best to make the final product ageless (a song that will withstand the test of time in tone), both in terms of sonics and file distribution, in order to maintain this competitive advantage on every playback medium known to man (arming you with everything you'll require in the future to re-release your project when the media environment evolves).

Besides EQ, compression, and limiting, one of the most crucial instruments for mastering is unquestionably the room itself, which enables the mastering engineer to see any possible issues and address them right away.

The speakers are also essential; a mixing engineer frequently gets by with a pair of KRKs. A mastering engineer will probably use a full-range, flawlessly adjusted monitor setup in a flawless environment. This enables them to fully perceive and experience your music.

A mastering engineer also "tops" and "tails" the tunes if you have a collection of songs that are designed to be played in order. To ensure that an album flows properly, it is important to properly place the start and stop places. The mastering engineer is responsible for carrying out these actions, whether your work flawlessly transitions from one song to another or calls for precise pacing to change your mood and introduce a new atmosphere they will take care of it.

Remember that there are several other distribution methods available. While broadcast media still prefer 48 kHz/24-bit files, CDs still need 44.1 kHz/16-bit files, and streaming services occasionally favor high-resolution sample rates and 24-bit resolution. Premade mp3s are required by some distributors, and the way they are encoded makes a significant impact as well.

All of these formats are taken into account by your mastering engineer, together with the rules underlying modern delivery. The specialized files that mastering engineers deliver to you depend on how you're distributing your product. Each batch of files is quality-checked to make sure there are no errors, glitches, or artifacts.

How does a mixed & mastered song sound compared to before these processes?

Here are a few samples of recordings before mixing and mastering were applied by us and you can listen to how they turned out with a simple A/B comparison.

In the first example, you can listen to how big the difference in the dynamics and balance is, the drums, in the beginning, overshadowed the vocals and musical elements while in the mixed and mastered audio you can hear how everything has come together, the record is shining and the loudness has risen to the industry standard.

In the second example now you can tell again how essential these processes are in elevating the song to a professional standard. The record now sounds full and has a breath of air in the high end while maintaining the punch and power in the low end.

Everything has come together while before the sharpness of the drums overshadowed everything else

Is mastering and mixing difficult?

Both mixing and mastering are distinct procedures that need for both theoretical study and the acquisition of practical abilities, such as using DAWs, software, and hardware, while also developing your musical ear. In addition, the audio engineer picks up numerous helpful music editing ideas and tactics via practice. It takes a lot of effort and time to master this complex collection of abilities.

Sure, mixing and mastering can be challenging, but only if you attempt to do it yourself or, even worse, if you hire a non-expert to do it for you. The musicians who submit their songs to us are aware that it is actually rather easy to release excellent music when you work with experts. We can immediately take your music to the level of the industry thanks to our extensive expertise in dealing with huge labels and artists.

We have a tonne of knowledge in this field, and we keep an eye on the music business, applying all the most recent guidelines and trends to our work. Each engineer of the Audio Mixing Mastering crew has years of expertise in mixing and mastering top-tier productions for the industry. To get in touch with us, write to our live chat. We'll be pleased to assist.

Is mixing and mastering essential?

A song's instrumentation and vocals must be perfectly balanced and positioned in the stereo field through careful mixing. The song or the album needs to have the ability to blend seamlessly with other music on streaming services. and that is made possible by mastering. Nowadays, you can be certain every piece of music that is popular has been professionally mixed and mastered.

Even if someone can use their iPhone to capture their performance and get some fame on sites like YouTube or TikTok, they can never advance in the professional music industry if their mixing and mastering are of poor quality.

For more than ten years, Audio Mixing Mastering has worked on the mixing and mastering for some of the highest caliber artists and popular musical projects gathering praising reviews in the process. We've made it our job to support musicians, and we can advance your career by making your records flawless!

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