Mastering Articles, Mixing Articles

Whats the difference between audio mixing and mastering?

As a musical artist, you likely know that your tracks must go through two stages of production—mixing and mastering before they reach the ears of your listeners. Both are important processes to put your recordings through if you’re planning on sharing your masterpieces with friends, family, and the world!

By having your audio mixed and mastered, you’re ensuring that all of the fine details and sound in your recording are brought out and that the finished product sounds polished and professional.

Even if you’re not planning on mixing and mastering audio yourself, it’s good to know what sound engineers do in both of these processes when you hand your beloved audio artwork over to the pros.

What is audio mixing?

Mixing is the stage of audio production that comes first. The most basic explanation of audio mixing is essentially making sure that the separate tracks, that make up a song or recording, come together and sound balanced and blended when played at once. This can be as simple as adjusting the volume of individual elements, or as technical as adjusting the compression and reverb types in order to make the rough cut of your song sound cohesive and pleasant to listen to.

Mixing engineers also make the different parts of a song, for example, the bridge, chorus, and verses, work well with one another, and give each a distinct emphasis and role in the song as a whole. They coordinate the transitions between each of these sections for the listener, at the same time crafting the tone of the finished song. Each instrument has to be carefully focussed on so during the mixing process so that the engineer can hear the very subtle transients that make up the sound and decide how to manipulate it based on their professional ear. Mixing vocals is often the most challenging part of the mixing process due to the element often being the most important of the song. This is because a vocal communicates more than notes and is crucial to get right as it is often the loudest instrument in the mix.

What is audio mastering?

Mastering engineers take over once mixing engineers have finished with their job. Mastering engineers need to be very attentive and focused on the overall sound of the song they’re working on—once a mastering engineer has finished fine-tuning the recording and making any final adjustments, the song will be sent off to be released.

During the mastering stage of production, the sound engineer usually doesn’t work with individual tracks, as the mixing engineer might, and instead, work on a stereo recording. Because of this, the engineer must keep in mind industry standards for the music and the artist’s vision and focus on making the final track as perfect as it can be.

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How do the engineer's work differ?

The workflow of mixing engineers and mastering engineers are quite different. A mixing engineer usually receives a large volume of tracks to work with—sometimes over 100 different, individual recordings of instruments, backing vocals, and other effects are handed over. Thus, it’s especially important for a mixing engineer to stay organized. They might do this by color-coding sets of tracks, and by dividing them into instrument groups and sub-mixes to make their job easier. Once all of this is done, a mixing engineer will begin to make adjustments to groups of tracks or individual tracks. They might use processes like filtering and adding effects to create the desired sound in the track. Because mixing engineers work with such a high volume of files and have so many adjustments, mixing a single track can take several hours, or even several days.

How do mixing and mastering tools differ?

Because mixing and mastering audio requires a trained ear, sound engineers work in spaces where the audio can be heard clearly and cleanly in order to make the best decisions. They work in quiet, treated rooms, but mixing engineers especially often will move between rooms and switch between correct studio monitor placement, headphones, and other listening equipment to see how the track will sound across a variety of environments. Mastering engineers, on the other hand, usually stay in one acoustically treated studio room that they know well—this helps them to establish a sense of flow within a song and within a whole album or EP. If the mastering engineer was moving between spaces like a mixing engineer often does, it would be difficult for them to create a cohesive sound, style, or voice for a whole project or within individual tracks.

Both types of sound engineers that we’ve talked about here use similar tools to do their jobs—they use a DAW, or digital audio workstation, to make their adjustments. They usually also will use different programs and plugins to supplement the DAW. Especially in today’s music world, where people listen to audio in a variety of ways and on a wide range of platforms, it’s important to test how a track sounds in as many of these different formats as possible.

MixButton is an online mixing and mastering service that gives you, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional musician, the opportunity to have your tracks professionally mixed and mastered. We have years of experience working in all genres of music, and we’d be delighted to work with you to produce your next fantastic project! Click the button to learn more about the services we offer.