There is a lot of confusion between the terms Mixing and mastering. Often they are used interchangeably, which is incorrect. Mixing and mastering are two separate process which help to enhance the sonic quality of individual songs and the entire album respectively. The two are sequential processes. Mixing is always carried out prior to mastering. Let us look at some of the differences between these two.
Mixing Various elements of a song like the vocals, instruments, drums etc are recorded separately in individual tracks. The mix process ensures that the different tracks have balanced levels, so that each track sits perfectly into the overall mix. The bass should not fight with the drums, the vocals should be clear and the electric guitars should be punchy. The online mixing engineer ensures all this while mixing your song. A lot of effects are used in mixing includingstereo panning, equalization, saturation, delays, reverbs, auto tuners etc.
Aims of Mixing The aim of mixing is to make the song sound natural, harmonious and balanced. To this end, the mix engineer will ensure that the instruments are panned out as they would be in their natural settings. While recording, if two tracks are in the same frequency, there would be a ‘muddling effect’ in the song. The Mixing studio engineers aims to equalize each track so that it occupies its specific frequency in the mix, with no overlaps.
Mastering Mastering is undertaken once the song/album is mixed. Mastering polishes and adds sparkle to your mixed song, giving it the million dollar sound. The experienced engineers in a song mastering studio balance the highs, lows and mids in each song, so that they stand out more clearly. The various techniques involved in mastering include applying equalization, limiting, stereo separation, compression etc.
Aims of Mastering Mastering Studio aims to enhance the sonic quality of the final mix. Typically a song mastering engineer works on the entire album rather than individual songs. We said that online mixing engineer ensures that the various elements occupy a specific frequency in the song. Mastering goes a step ahead and ensures that all these frequencies are at the same level in the song and for each song in the album. This conveys a general sense of cohesiveness in the album. It is due to the efforts of the song mastering engineer that one song in the album is not ultra loud, while another one is barely a whisper. A good Mastering studio also makes the audio sound consistent across various audio systems, be it a laptop or car audio system. In conclusion, while a good mix is critical for the success of a song, it has to be mastered in a good mastering studio to ensure commercial success for the album. Great online mixing and perfect mastering are both required for a top quality album. For in depth information you can read the following articles on my blog: Mastering Engineers And Their Role