Mastering and mixing a song are two different animals with the same end goal. Many artists new or seasoned may not know the difference and why both are normally approached separately. Sometimes song’s are not ready for mastering because simply the song was not mixed or mixed well. Ultimately the end goal to both mixing and mastering is the best sonic representation of your composition. A basic understanding of the two will allow artist fully execute their songs vision with clarity across all of their project. Lets look into the two elements and why they are needed.
Mixing is the process of blending your song’s stems/tracks or also known as the individual sounds that make your song. This approach to mixing allows singular access to each elements in the piece. This will put you’re individual drums, bass, synths, pianos, vocals etc on their own tracks in your mixing engineers DAW. With control of the sounds the engineer will be able to blend and pan your tracks together using things like equalizers, compressors, reverbs and delays ultimately mixing your song. This also can be a very creative situation that will help the overall feel of the song. Once a the final mix has been achieved it is then bounced or exported into a stereo file. It is this stereo file that will be sent to mastering.
Mastering is the continued process of mixing your stereo print. The practice of mastering, while shrouded in mystery is rather straight forward. A mastering engineer will usually work with stereo files of your mix on one track in their workstation. While your mastering engineers ears may vary, the end goal is polish, clarity and loudness of your creative mix. At the least a mastering engineer will help your song by eq’ing, compressing and limiting. If the high’s in your mix need a little boost or maybe your low end could just need a bit more strength, your mastering engineer will make it happen from your stereo blend. Additionally this process will add loudness to your mix and get your song to compete with other song’s out there wether they are online, streamed or played on the radio. Lastly when considering mastering if there are multiple mixing engineers on the project a mastering engineer will be able to bring all of there mixing styles into one cohesive sonic piece.
While the two are just as important as the other it is safe to assume if you are serious about your music you should be serious about mastering as well as mixing. Also keep in mind there is also stem mastering. This option will afford your mastering engineer a bit more control over your final mix. The mixing engineer will ultimately help the momentum of the song with effects and blending while the mastering engineer is simply polishing that vision to perfection. Mixing gets your song to where you want it and mastering makes it sound like that wherever it maybe played!