What’s the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering?


Many new artists may not know the difference between mixing and mastering, or why each is approached separately.


Sometimes, songs are not ready for mastering because the song was not mixed well – if at all.


The end goal of both mixing and mastering is to get the best sonic representation of your composition. A basic understanding of the two will allow the artist to fully execute their song’s vision with clarity.


Let’s look into what mixing and mastering really are and each one is necessary.

What is Mixing?

Mixing is the process of blending your song’s individual tracks so that they all sound good together.


So, if a song has vocals, guitar, drums, and bass, each of these is put onto an individual track in the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – the computer software used for mixing and mastering.  Next, for each track, volume levels are adjusted and normalized, each track is EQ’d so that it inhabits its own frequency area, and various effects are added. After all this is complete, the tracks should sound more like a complete song.


Mixing a very creative situation that will help the overall feel of the song. When choosing a mixing engineer, it’s important to go with someone who shares your creative vision for the song. It’s not enough for a mixing engineer to have the proper equipment – experience is also a factor, so choose carefully for your project.


Once the final mix is finished, it’s then exported into a stereo file that is then sent off for mastering.

What is Mastering?

Mastering is the continued process of mixing your stereo print. The practice of mastering – while shrouded in mystery – is rather straightforward. A mastering engineer will usually work with stereo files of your mix on one track in their workstation.


So rather than working on the individual tracks within your song, a mastering engineer works on your song as a whole.


While your mastering engineer’s ears may vary, the end goal is to have a polished song with lots clarity and controlled loudness. At the very least, a mastering engineer will improve your song making EQ adjustments and adding compression and limiting to your track. If the highs in your mix need a little boost, or your low end could use a bit more strength, your mastering engineer will make it happen from your stereo track.


Additionally, this process will add loudness to your mix and get your song to compete with other songs out there regardless of whether they are online, streamed, or played on the radio.


When considering mastering, it’s important to understand the value of experience. If there are multiple mixing engineers on the project, a good mastering engineer will be able to bring all of there mixing styles into one cohesive sonic piece.


What’s the difference between Mixing and Mastering?


A simple way to think about it is this…


Mixing is accomplished by handling the individual tracks within a song. So, a mixing engineer will work on the guitar separate from the vocals, for example, to make sure they fit together properly within the song.


Once a mixing engineer has done his job, a mastering engineer works on the song as a whole to make sure it sounds the same everywhere. Mixing gets your song to where you want it, and mastering makes it sound like that wherever it may be played.

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Hey, it’s Matty from mixandmastermysong.com. Today I’m going to go over the difference between Mixing and Mastering. I’ve had a lot of clients hit me up over the years and saying, “Hey, I just need my song mastered.” But then they’ve come to find out that it’s not even mixed yet.


So, it’s really important to understand the differences between the two processes. Now, we’ll go over it a little bit on the screen so that you can see, kind of, what’s happening in the two different processes.


Basically, mixing is taking all the different elements of your song. That’s including the kick, the snare, the hi-hat, the keyboards, or the guitar. Then, your vocals, your verse, your chorus, all those different stems, or track – people call them both the same – and blending them together to make the song sound the best it can.


That can entail eq-ing the separate elements: eq’ing the kick, eq’ing the snare, compression, reverbs and delays, and other modulation effects. And basic levels and panning, and making everything fit together in the best way you can.


Now, after that you bounce the song (or bounce the track), and you have a stereo beat which is your mix – your final mix. That goes off to mastering.


Mastering takes your mix, brings up your overall level so it can be with other levels of other songs, and puts the final touches. Whether it needs to be brighten a little bit, or the low end needs a little more strength, or you have a little too much mid-range. That gets all adjusted in the mastering process.


Also, mastering is even more important when you have a whole album together. Maybe you had one guy mix one song, and another guy mix the other six songs, and one more guy mixed three songs. They all may have different styles and sounds.


Mastering is when you put all the songs together of the album – all the different mixes. The mastering engineer will go through and EQ the different songs so that they all sound like one piece when the listener plays it back.


So that’s kind of the gist of what mixing and mastering is. I’m just gonna go through a mix with you guys so that you can see what happens, and then we’ll talk about the master too. Lets check it out right here.


This is the mix for a song I mixed already, actually. For an artist named Tim Buik, it’s called “New York Bangers”. It’s a song off his new album, and it’s pretty dope. It’s just kind of a real freestyle, hard-rap song.


You can see everything’s separated – and maybe if I make this bigger so you guys could see everything. Everything he sent me was separated. So you have the kick here by itself, then the snare. [Then] the kick and the snare and the hi-hat and everything: tambourine,  TomTom, crash.


So now, I have all my drums. By sending it that way I can go and EQ each element separately. So here’s our kick, I compressed it a bit, and then I compressed it some more. Watch, I EQ’d it a bit with a sound compressor, and maybe use a little bit of compression. Then I used another compressor here, and then the pull tech EQ.  


Now, knowing me, what I probably did here was – what you can do in Studio One is – split it. I had a parallel compression on the kick drum, and then just basic EQ on the [other] kick drum here. It takes the kick and splits it into two channels.


That makes it so that I can EQ and make every single sound the best it can. Then, as you move on, I have the keyboards here [with] different effects. It’s a pretty simple sample-type beat, so it’s just a sample: the bass line and then the vocals which I can EQ separately as well.


You can hear the — [plays sample]

So then, when you unmute the whole song — [Music]


So now you got everything there, and the whole song was blended together with the different levels. You can see how these faders [are] different levels and the panning was pretty much all set – didn’t need to do a whole lot in the panning. But all the levels are changed and it comes together as one full song.


After we were done [with] that – mixing it all together – then it gets bounced, and it becomes a stereo track. If you’re using Studio One (or whatever) like I tend to use for mastering, I started using a New Project. You can just call this… anything. Click ‘OK‘, and then it comes up as a two-track editor which is a great feature.


Now you have this two-track editor, and we’ll just take any audio file just for examples. [I’ll just] find something real quick.


So here’s the final mix, just like we finished Tim’s song and now it’s here. This looks like it’s already mastered, but your levels would usually be a bit lower.


In here, now we can do our final compression. Maybe boost the EQ a little bit if it wasn’t enough in the mix, add some of the outboard EQ which always sounds great – the outboard limiters and stuff. Bring it to a higher level and make it really punch through.


[This way] when you go and sit in your car, and you’re playing a Drake record then the next record is a ten record, it sounds the same level wise. It’s not like this huge drop or anything like that.


So, that’s basically the difference. Hopefully that can, help you guys understand maybe what your needs are. If you just need mixing, or you need mixing and mastering, or you just need mastering. [This] will help you kind of figure out what stage the process your recording is in.


So, I hope that helped. Let me know if you got any questions and hit us up on mixandmastermysong.com. Thanks!