Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mixing and Mastering, What's the Difference?

This question has been posed on numerous occasions by many, and with good reason. The general consensus within my sphere of friends was that Mastering audio was some magical practice that required super powers like “golden ears” and a billion dollar studio. The truth is, when armed with enough know how, one can effectively master their own works at home. In fact they can use the very same equipment that they have been using all along. So what is the difference then between the two?

Mixing
Mixing takes the raw form of audio files (recordings, loops, etc.) and manipulates them in such a way that they merge beautifully. This is obtained by utilizing tools such as panning, volume levels, EQ, and various other methods that make all the audio tracks “play well” together.

Mastering
During the mastering process, the engineer will now be looking critically at the whole mix.  Whereas, in the mixing process, each track was critically examined, now the final mix as a whole is under the engineers examination. This means that any EQ decision made will affect the entire mix. This is why the mastering process is not only different, but a little more tricky. Mastering can also get even more tricky when an entire album is in the making. This means that ALL the final mixes have to fit into the mastering sound frame. 

Mixing is not: 
Fixing bad tracks, making a bad performance sound great, or fixing all of the problems during the recording process.

Mastering is not: 
Just making everything louder, fixing a bad final mix, or something that a machine can do. While the mastering process is intended to make the the volumes compete with the industry standards, it is not supposed to squash everything, and over compress the life out of a song. The plug-ins used for mastering are usually different than those used in the mixing stage, and are lightly touched to present 
the most subtle changes, otherwise sacrifices to quality are made. 
One engineer had said that mixing was a gift and mastering was the bow on that gift that creates the “wow” factor  when presented to a listener. 

I hope that this has helped to clear up any confusion on the matter. If you have any thoughts please reply below! Thanks!