Mixing refers to the beginning of post-production. An engineer balances and carves each track in a session so that they sound good together. Mastering is the final stage in audio production. It involves putting the final touches to a song, enhancing its overall sound and creating consistency throughout the album. Another way to put it is that the artist is the author. The editor is the mixing engineer, who helps the author present their project in the best possible light. The copyeditor is the mastering engineer, who handles the Qs and Ps. What do they do in a musical context? Let’s take each one apart.
What is mixing?
Let’s begin at the beginning. You’ve laid down the rhythm, created some music, and then you can start to sing a few words. Now it’s time for you or your band to make this arrangement sound like a song and not just a collection of tracks and parts. The professional mixing and mastering engineer is here to help. Their job is to balance the tracks and make sure they sound cohesive. Mix engineers have tools such as EQ, compression and panning that allow them to reduce clashes among instruments, create tight grooves and highlight important song elements. Mix engineers might layer drum hits with sampled sounds from other sources or muffle redundant parts of instruments. Mix engineers use EQ to make instruments shine above other instruments or to fit in the right context. Mix engineers compress tracks to give them a boost or to keep them under control. Mix engineers can add any number of effects to the tracks, including delay, modulation and pitch fx. This is the second function of a mix engineer: to enhance the song’s emotional impact and bring it to life. They will give you three to 200 tracks.
What is mastering?
Mastering engineers are your last line of defense when your song, single EP, album or mixtape goes out to the world. They are responsible for quality control, and their work is best described in comparison to mix engineers. Mixing engineers combine ten, twenty or more tracks to create a song that sounds great in their studio. Mastering engineers work with one stereo track, before sequencing and metadata tagging. They do everything they can to make that track shine on any playback system. Mastering engineers don’t just use EQ, compressor, and limiter to make a stereo track sound louder. They want each song to fit in with the other songs in the project. This is often a translational and relational goal. They want to see your project be able to compete with and hopefully surpass similar material from established artists. They want to ensure that this competitive edge is maintained on all playback media. Additionally, they try to keep the file delivery as timeless as possible, so your project can be re-released as and when the media landscape changes. This requires more than EQ, compression, or limiting. The mastering engineer’s room is undoubtedly one of the most important tools in a mastering environment. This allows them to spot potential issues and correct them immediately. A room and the speakers are equally important. For example, a mixing engineer can often do fine with a pair NS10s. Mastering engineers will often use a fully-tuned monitor setup in a well-tuned room. This allows them to hear and feel all aspects of the music.