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The Difference Between Mixing and Mastering Music (Answered)

If you’re a musician, you probably know that mixing and mastering are two important steps in producing effective music. But what’s the difference between mixing and mastering?

Unfortunately, not knowing their differences can lead to an unattractive sound.

Image of a dj in front of a laptop, while mixing music. Source: pixabay
Image of a dj in front of a laptop, while mixing music. Source: Pixabay

This article covers the differences between mixing and mastering music. We’ll also offer tips on how to mix and master music effectively so that your songs sound their best. So if you’re serious about your music career or are just curious about mixing and mastering, this post is for you!

What is the difference between mixing and mastering music? During mixing, an engineer edits and adjusts the volume levels of each track so that the finished product sounds excellent when all of the tracks are played together. “Mastering” is the process of putting the finishing touches on an album or single. It involves improving the sound quality, making sure the tracks sound the same, and getting the product ready to be sold.

What is mixing?

Mixing means putting together all the sounds from the different tracks and adjusting their volumes to make a single sound. A mixing engineer will also strike a balance between them in terms of panning or where in the stereo field they sit (left, center, right, or elsewhere). 

They will also use depth to create a sense of space by making it seem like sounds are close together or far apart.

What is mastering?

In music production, “mastering” means the last step before release. By the time you get to mastering, you’ve already had extensive work done on the music after it’s been mixed, and you need to make a few more tweaks before releasing it or sending it back to the client. There are three main objectives in the process of mastery:

  • Turn up the volume.
  • Boost the audio file’s quality.
  • Make sure the song is playable on any device.

The difference between mixing and mastering

When you combine different things, you make them more harmonious. Together, they become stronger as a result of this change. Finally, mastering is the finishing touch on the entire thing. So, it is possible to mix without mastering, but it is not possible to master without mixing.

With proper mixing, you can hear every instrument in a song. Additional lead singers are required. Not. Only the final mix is available during mastering. This makes it considerably harder to adjust the relative weights of the various components.

Equalization is a goal of both the mixing and mastering processes. When mixing, you’re responsible for adjusting the volume of individual instruments. Mastering involves striking a balance between the whole song and the spectral material. Mastering improves a song by ensuring that all parts sound great together.

Massive mixing sessions are possible. For example, even a basic rock or pop arrangement may include 32 or more tracks, and the track count for more complicated productions may go into the hundreds. On the other hand, mastering sessions may have several stems for each song in addition to a stereo or multitrack file.

While mixing, you make many, sometimes drastic, changes to each track. Your modifications will not affect anything other than the target of your attention. On the other hand, mastering works on the whole song with wide, nuanced strokes.

The goal of the mixing process is to better show how the artist wanted to make people feel in the first place. On the other side, mastering is all about sound quality. It makes the music sound as excellent as (or better than) any other version.

Tips on how to mix a song

Step 1

Once a consumer sends you a song, you should double-check the file names and extensions to ensure everything is in order.

Step 2 

After that, you usually start the “gain staging” process, which involves changing each track’s levels to prepare for post-production.

Step 3

When I’ve gotten the song to this point—where it sounds good and balanced without any processing—I usually begin by trimming the frequencies of the elements in order.

There are two viable options here, and both of them are excellent. It is a matter of taste. Finish processing one track before moving on to the next, or Equalize and compress every track, then modify it with other effects. Both approaches were tried and found to be successful. Nonetheless, let’s stick with the first illustration for the sake of this post.

Step 4

After removing the “poor” frequencies, I generally adjust any shaky dynamics. The element’s frequency balance can’t be finished until some of the “good” frequencies are louder.

Step 5

The artistic blending and space added by effects come after the more technical aspects of the mixing process are complete. If you can test your final blend using several methods, you should take advantage of it.

Test your mix in mono on multiple sound systems, mobile devices (phones, laptops, etc.), and so on. Once we’re happy with the mix, we may go on to mastering, where we can put the final touches on the song. Thanks to the careful gain staging we implemented at the outset and the fact that we’ve kept it intact throughout the processing, the mastering engineer will have plenty of wiggle room to do their thing.

We usually return the track to the customer for final approval or send it to a mastering professional. Having another set of ears listen to the music is a good idea because it increases the likelihood that any mistakes will be noticed.

How to master a song?

Mastering is the last step in making a professionally produced song, which is a very complicated process. The finest results may be achieved with the assistance of a competent music engineer. Mastering engineers must deeply understand how stereo files are played on different devices.

Professionals in the field of mixing often deal with non-musical components, which frees them to make more daring musical decisions. Many people find that the equipment needed to create a professional-sounding master may be far more costly than that needed for mixing.

Image of mens in front of a computer and a midi while, mixing music. Source: cotton bro studio, pexels
Image of men in front of a computer and a midi while mixing music. Source: Cotton Bro Studio, Pexels

Importance of mixing and mastering music

When you mix and master your songs, you ensure they will sound their best across all playback systems, software, and hardware.

To get noticed, it’s enough to be the greatest. You need more time to hook the listener before they go on to the next piece of music. People are likelier to skip your track if they hear clipping in the vocals or if the cymbals are too loud compared to the rest of the instruments.

What you hear on the radio is your rival, so keep that in mind. When it comes to sync licensing, for instance, you’re up against your favorite artists for the same sync slots. There’s just one catch: there’s only room for one song. So make sure your music is professionally mixed and mastered so everyone is on the same page. Spend time-saving money, and then hire the best engineer to master them.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Difference between Mixing and Mastering Music” from the Major Mixing YouTube channel.

A video called “Difference between Mixing and Mastering Music” from the Major Mixing YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about mixing and mastering music.

Is mixing easier than mastering?

Mixing is more difficult than mastering since there are more moving parts. However, that fact only makes it simpler than learning to play an instrument. Mastering and mixing are difficult tasks that take years to get good at, and even then, many engineers keep working to improve their skills.

Is mixing and mastering the same as producing?

Even though music producers can hire a professional mixing engineer to do the job, most choose to do it themselves. To sum up, mixing is only one component of the larger process of creating music, whereas “producing” refers to the overall endeavor.

How much does it cost to master a song?

Submitting music to a studio is another option for mastering. You may choose a package, submit your music, and have it mastered by an engineer. Depending on the depth of the mastering package you choose, this may cost anywhere from $50 to $200.

What is the purpose of mastering?

As the last stage of post-production for audio, mastering is the process that brings everything together. Mastering is a process used to fine-tune a stereo mix to sound good on any device or format. In conventional mastering, equalization, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement are commonplace.

How do you get professional sound in a mix?

Mixing your music to sound more like a commercial release is easier with the help of reference tracks. In verse, you should give the listener a sense of the relative narrowness of the mix. Then, for dramatic effect, there will be an expansive chorus. The drop or chorus should enter with more volume than the buildup or verse to have an impact.

Conclusion

There you have it—the basics about the differences between mixing and mastering music. Don’t get confused anymore by writing down what we just shared. If you apply these tips, you will surely end up with great tracks that people will love to listen to! So remember to follow our suggestions in this article and track your success as a music producer or composer.

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great music producer by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what mixing and mastering are and the difference between mixing and mastering music. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • The mixing process involves blending all the recorded sounds from the various tracks and adjusting their volumes to create a cohesive whole.
  • In music production, “mastering” means the last step before release.
  • It is possible to mix without mastering, but it is impossible to master without mixing.
  • Extra tips:
  • Mix engineers use professional techniques like EQ, panning, reverb, and compression to make the individual sounds blend into one seamless whole.
  • To put it simply, mixing is the process of blending individual tracks after recording, while mastering is polishing the complete mix in preparation for distribution.
  • The process of recording, or “tracking,” entails importing audio files into a digital audio workstation (DAW).
  • Mastering is the final step in the production of a track. 
  • Audio mastering is a more straightforward process than mixing, but it is still an art form in and of itself.
  • Each instrument and voice is assigned its stereo image position, loudness balance, and effect in the mixing process.
  • Most mastering engineers rely on a compressor and an equalizer as their go-to plug-ins.

So, do you also mix and master your music? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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