What’s The Difference Between Mixing And Mastering? Mixing Vs. Mastering

What’s The Difference Between Mixing And Mastering?

Mixing versus mastering audio.

There’s a distinct difference between mixing and mastering.

One of the most frequently asked questions throughout music production communities is “what is the difference between mixing and mastering?” Many times the two words get thrown around like they’re the same thing, and as confusing as it might appear throughout music production forums and other “producer hangouts” online, I’m here to tell you there’s a distinct difference between the two and it’s very easy to understand. Before I explain the main differences between mixing and mastering I’ll give a brief explanation of each of the processes themselves.

So What is Mixing?

Mixing is a process in the production of music when an audio engineer or producer (or you in your home studio) takes all the elements in a song or musical piece and attempts to combine them into a “mix”. When you raise a volume fader to bring a noise up that’s being lost to the other instruments, or pan instruments left and right to create stereo imaging, you’re essentially mixing. Everything from automation of effects to applying the effects themselves is part of the mixing process. Mixing in simple terms is taking all the separate pieces and mixing them into a whole. Another good way to look at mixing is preparing the song for the mastering process. A finished mixed typically is combined into one stereo file, or at least has groups of similar instruments condensed into “stems”.

What is Mastering?

There’s 3 main things that a mastering engineer attempts to do:

-Bring the perceived loudness of a track up to commercial levels while maintaining the quality of sound, or if possible improving it.

-Making multiple songs or musical pieces fit cohesively together (ie; making all the tracks on an album have similar perceived loudness, transition from one track to the next smoothly, etc.)

-Prepare a project for distribution.

A mastering engineer will take a finished mix whether it’s condensed into one stereo file or a few stems files, and put the last touches on it to make it ready for distribution. These “last touches” typically involve some sound equalization and some form of dynamic range compression. It is not a mastering engineers job to fix a bad mix, but to make slight adjustments to improve the sound without altering it too much.

Main Differences between Mastering and Mixing:

One of the reasons that mixing and mastering get confused is that both processes share some common methods and tools. These include dynamic range compression and sound equalization. The main difference is not the tools themselves but the way they’re used. While a mixing engineer uses compression to effect the dynamics of individual parts of a song or musical piece, the mastering engineer is applying it to modify the dynamics of the entire mix. The same goes for equalization. A mixing engineer might apply drastic equalization changes to a individual track such as rolling off entire regions in a specific instrument or sound (highpass and lowpass filters), while an audio mastering engineer will make slight equalization adjustments to the entire mix.

So on one hand you have mixing: Taking all the seperate tracks and pieces and mixing them into a whole.
On the other hand you have mastering: Taking the “whole” and enhancing it and preparing it for distribution.

Mixing vs. Mastering Summary:

I hope this cleared up any confusion about the two processes being the same thing, and explained the main differences. There’s a lot more involved in both mixing and mastering than what I’ve discussed, but my main goal was to differentiate the two. If you have any other questions or suggestions to improving this article feel free to leave a comment.

More mixing and mastering info:

Audio Mixing | Audio Mastering | Mixing Vs. Mastering

February 26, 2013 Audio Mastering, Mixing and Effects, Music Production 5 Comments

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  1. Chloe March 7, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Your method of telling the whole thing in this article is really nice, every one be capable of without difficulty know it, Thanks a lot.

  2. Erma Butts March 12, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Thank you for sharing this great information. It’s very well explained and easily for us, readers to understand.

  3. Da Brooklyn MasterMind March 24, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Let me say that before reading this article i had an idea of how to mix my music. But i was using equalization, compression limiting and a lot of other plugins wrong. But since applying the techniques i had learned from this article i have heard a significant change in my mixes especially with my beat mixes alone. Thank you for all the help.

    • Ayron Thelen March 24, 2013 at 3:10 am

      @Da Brooklyn MasterMind
      I appreciate the feedback, definitely good to hear that the article was helpful. Mixing is just one of those things that you never stop learning. I feel like the more I mix the more I find out there is to learn, new techniques, establishing your own mixing style, etc. With the way things have been advancing as far as software it’s becoming a lot easier to access the tools that used to cost thousands of dollars for a relatively cheap investment, but that makes us as audio engineers/producers have to step our game up because it’s also easier for our competition to utilize these things. I’ve seen a lot of your posts on google plus and I can tell your dedicated to music production, I think if you keep at it you’re going to be well on your way to a successful career my dude.

  4. Cy Prian February 6, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Well organized explanation for *Link Removed* mastering engineering basics. Good job.

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