Mixing is the process of combining multiple layers of audio to create one track. The key goal of the mixing process is to ensure that all elements of a song mesh and sound good together. The mixing process can involve:
- Balancing levels
- Panning instrument positions in the stereo field
- Enhancing harmonics
- Fixing problematic frequencies
- Adding effects such as reverb and delay
- Editing sounds in creative ways
Mastering is usually the final step in the production process. After a song has been recorded and mixed, the mastering engineer balances the sonic elements and optimizes the track for playback on a variety of systems and formats. This final version of the track is known as the “master recording.” The master recording can then be uploaded to streaming services and/or used to create physical media such as CDs or vinyl.
What are the differences between mixing and mastering?
- Mastering focuses on subtle changes, while mixing defines the track.
- Mixing is generally a more time-intensive process than mastering, although both processes require a great degree of skill and technical knowledge.
- Mastering is a more technical process, while mixing involves more intuition and subjective judgement on the part of the engineer.
- Even great mastering cannot fix a poor quality mix.
- Mastering spans across the full musical project, while mixing focuses on optimizing and combining individual elements.
- Mastering and mixing engineers utilize different audio workflows and playback environments.
- Not every audio engineer is qualified for both processes.