The one thing that I have noticed in the music industry is that when many self-claimed music producers talk about mixing, they have no idea that they have been going on about mastering and vice versa. If you read any decent book on mixing or you work with a mastering engineer, you will soon realise that the difference is huge. I am going to try and explain the difference in the simplest terms possible - imagine you are cooking pasta, you collect all the ingredients and one by one add everything into a pan and cook it, now that my friends is a "mix". Once you have cooked your pasta - you will pour it into a plate, garnish it with cheese, make it look presentable - that is a "master". In other words, mixing is getting all the ingredients together and cooking them to perfection and mastering is the final packaging and presentation.
A mix is not judged by its volume or loudness: If your track does not sound as loud as Justin Bieber's next hit single then worry not, this is something that is addressed at the mastering stage. The most common practice is for a mix to peak between -6 and -3, this way you leave enough headroom for the mastering engineer to push the volume on your mix.
The mix does not always sound good on all platforms and mediums: Every day headphones and speakers are conditioned to compression and boosts, a mix is basically making the track sound good on absolutely flat monitors or headphones. Once your mix sounds good on flat, unconditioned monitors that is when you start worrying about the next stage - mastering. A master is basically a track that sounds good across all platforms and mediums and is comparable to anything that pops up on the radio before and after. Mastering is carefully done in a treated studio room by someone with trained ears for the process and then it is eventually compared to other tracks to decipher how good it will sound against a reference track.
Mixing is the process of clearing and
cleaning- A mix is the equivalent of how much salt would you put in your food, too little can make it bland and too much can make it distasteful. A mixing engineers job is to find the "sweet spot" of each and every instrument and to clean out all unwanted frequency. Traditionally, mastering was the process of making all the tracks on one record sound levelled, just so that if a ballad comes up after an uptempo track on the CD or cassette the listener does not have to adjust the volume. The process is pretty much the same in today's day and age, except, you have no control over what or whose track will pop up after yours - This is why mastering engineers have had to up their game and make tracks sound the best they can within their genre. Another thing a mastering engineer would do is pass your digital track through their analog gear to add a crisp sparkle to it.
While mixing you basically edit, EQ, pan and put effects on individual tracks; in mastering you take the stereo or interleaved high quality track of the mix and make it sound more together or gelled. So to sum it all up,mixing is prepping a track for mastering, it is the process of picking up the best takes and cleaning up unwanted sounds and frequencies. Mastering is the packaging and pre-distribution stage, it is done to make a track loud, clear and radio-ready.
Until next time!
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