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Mixing and Mastering
Mixing and mastering are two of the most important parts of audio production. The two are essentially distinct steps of audio output, both equally crucial and both very different from each other.
In this piece, we’ll tell you all about what the two are exactly, how they work, and the differences between them. More importantly, we’ll explain how you can learn both and give you the resources and tools you’ll need for learning and excelling at mixing and mastering. Let’s begin!
What Is Mixing and Mastering?
If you’ve been writing music for a while now and you feel inspired enough to start producing it as well, you need to learn the basics. Audio production is an incredibly complicated process that involves a wide range of steps. It all usually seems like a lot for beginners, but taking it on a step-by-step basis can simplify it by a mile.
You likely need an entire mixing and mastering tutorial, but let’s start with the basics. You can break down the whole process of audio production into three phases, two of which are mixing and mastering:
- Tracking — The first step that’s basically the act of recording music or capturing sounds into your digital audio workstation.
- Mixing — The second step where you adjust and combine your tracks to create a stereo audio file. In other words, you’re creating the mix.
- Mastering — The final step where you do things like transitioning and sequencing, all to process your mix and turn it into its final form that will be distributed at a later date.
Tracking is pretty simple to understand, and it’s not the topic we want to cover here, but mixing and mastering are often harder to separate and understand.
However, It’s essential to understand the differences between the two, as any mixing and mastering course would tell you. We’ll cover the differences later on, but let’s first explain each one and why they are vital in audio production.
What Is Mixing?
In the simplest of terms, mixing is the process that comes right after you’ve completed recording, and it involves numerous edits to the audio file.
Usually, it’s best to start by organizing the tracks in some logical order that would make it simpler for you to go back to them later on. Then you can ensure the tracks are not too loud nor too soft and that they all have the same volume. Once you’re done, you’ll get a rough mix.
All in all, you’ll be using various processes, including adjusting pitch and time, manipulating fades, editing, tweaking track levels, and automation. The goal is for the mix to sound great everywhere, not just in your studio.
What Is Mastering?
Mastering is the final process your music needs to go through, and it should be done once the mixing part is finished.
The goal here is to polish the mix so it can be ready for distribution. Here you’ll have to do various things, including using compressors, linear-phase EQs, vibe-enhancing effects, brickwall limiters, tape saturation, stereo wideners, and metering.
If none of the things you’re doing is helping you turn the mix into something worth listening to, you have a bad mix on your hands, and it’s best to go back to mixing. That’s because mastering is about enhancing an already good mix, not fixing a bad one.
Why Is Mixing and Mastering Important?
The goal of mixing and mastering is clear — the two processes allow your music to sound the best it can on all platforms, devices, speakers, and media formats. This will enable you to stand out from the crowd, which is precisely why mixing and mastering are incredibly important, especially today when so many people are making music.
Countless ambitious people like you believe they can succeed just with their talents and desires to be the best. However, if you’re smart, you know that you have to stand out somehow, and you can’t do that without music that’s not just adequately produced but brought to perfection.
How Long Does It Take to Master a Song?
It depends on what stage in your career you are or how experienced you are with mixing and mastering. It also depends on the tracks themselves and all the processes a specific song needs to sound great.
A beginner will usually need a whole hour or more to master a song effectively. However, those who have taken a few mixing and mastering classes or have learned some of the ins and outs on their own might get it done in 20 to 30 minutes.
And in the end, a truly experienced engineer will usually be able to master a song in only 10 to 20 minutes. Naturally, you can reach this level as well, but it will take time, practice, and of course, lots of determination.
What Is the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering?
We already explained what each process is, telling you that they follow one another. You probably already understand how they differ from each other to a point. But let’s put it all in one place, so it’s easier to understand:
- Mixing lets you combine and adjust tracks into a single stereo or multichannel format, i.e. the mix, while with mastering, you are processing your mix to get it to its final form and ready for distribution and listening by a wider audience.
- In mixing, all instruments and sounds are accessed, but mastering only involves the mix itself.
- You use mixing to balance the instruments and different sounds, but you use mastering to balance the entire song.
- The goal in mixing is to create a balance and evoke emotion with the song, but with mastering, you want to finalize the mix so a wider audience can hear it across devices and media formats.
How to Learn Mixing and Mastering?
To learn mixing and mastering, you first need to be prepared to spend a lot of time on it. If you know next to nothing, it will take time, but it’s certainly possible, and more than likely if you’re already dealing with music and audio in general. The best thing here is that you can learn both mixing and mastering for free with a ton of resources you can find on the web.
Naturally, it would be much easier to enroll yourself in courses, go through tutorials, spend money on books, software, and other tools that will help you. However, the one thing you will definitely have to spend money on, no matter which road you decide to take, is gear. Every pro will tell you that quality gear is a must, especially headphones.
What’s more, you will have to first focus on mixing. Most pros will advise you to leave mastering to a professional or a team of professionals, at least for the first couple of months. You should also know that software can do this job for you, but every song is still unique, so leaving everything up to software may not be enough.
Now, if you want to learn some basics, the best place to start are easy tutorials and lessons you can find on YouTube and other sites. Just google mixing and mastering tutorials and start learning. However, this is just to get yourself familiar with the matter, but for more, it will be much better to invest in some lessons and books.
Once you begin learning, know that you’ll have to start doing it yourself because the best way to learn is by doing it. Experience is necessary here, which is precisely why you need to invest in gear at some point.
In the end, remember that mixing is practically a set of decisions you’ll have to make and how well you make them depends entirely on your ability to listen. That’s why it’s good to learn Ear Training, for example. It will help you develop a better and more intuitive understanding of what you’re hearing. Your overall music ability will improve as well.
Best Books for Mixing and Mastering
If you genuinely want to learn mixing and mastering, you’ll need some help. The best way to get it is to read up on countless mixing and mastering tips other professionals have accumulated.
The best way the knowledge needed is by reading books. Unlike videos and many online mixing and mastering courses, books can offer the most bang for the buck. Plus, they contain practically all the knowledge you’ll need. Here are some of the best ones you should consider:
- Dance Music Manual: Tools, Toys, and Techniques by Rick Snoman — if electronic music is your thing, this book is perfect for you, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or veteran.
- The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski — an old-school book for those looking to start slowly and from the beginning.
- Mixing and Mastering in the Box: The Guide to Making Great Mixes and Final Masters on Your Computer by Steve Savage — perfect for intermediate and advanced mix engineers.
- Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science by Bob Katz — covers practically everything you need to know about mixing and mastering.
- Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior — an excellent handbook for learning the fundamentals.
- 56 Mix Tips for the Small Recording Studio: Practical Techniques to Take Your Mixes to the Next Level by Amos Clarke — great collection of tips for beginners.
- Step By Step Mixing: How to Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins by Bjorgvin Benediktsson — a great book to learn all about compression, EQ, saturation, reverb, and delay or the five most-used effects in mixing.
Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering
As we’ve stated in the section on how to learn mixing & mastering, headphones are the most important piece of equipment you’ll have to invest in if you are serious about mixing and mastering. We wanted to help you here, so we’ve prepared a list of the very best headphones for mixing and mastering. Check it out:
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Monitor Headphones — Incredibly cheap headphones for the quality you’re getting. They offer an outstanding balance of sound isolation and faithful reproduction.
- ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5 — Great and high-quality headphones for mixing at a reasonable price.
- Grado Labs PS2000e — Professional headphones perfect for mixing any genre of music.
- Focal Utopia Headphones — Made for the demanding needs of professionals, but only if the price is irrelevant to you and you are simply looking for the best headphones overall.
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO — Great for both casual listening and studio work.
- Sennheiser HD280 PRO — The below $100 industry-standard headphones designed to reproduce sounds faithfully across all devices.
- AKG K701 — Incredible headphones for true audiophiles. They are as accurate as headphones can be.
- Shure SRH1540 Headphones — One of the best headphones with a closed-back design. They offer true professional accuracy.
Best Plugins for Mixing and Mastering
There are numerous mixing and mastering software and plugins on the web you can download, but only a handful are genuinely the best in the business.
Here is some of the top mixing software you should consider:
- iZotope Neutron 3 mixing suite
- Solid State Logic Native Essentials plugin bundle
- FabFilter Pro-Q 3 EQ and Filter plugin
- Waves Renaissance Maxx plugin bundle
And here is some of the leading mastering software you should use:
- iZotope Ozone 9 mastering software suite
- Steinberg WaveLab Elements 10 mastering software
- FabFilter Pro-L 2 brickwall limiter plugin
Mixing and Mastering Prices
If you want to hire a mixing and mastering professional or a company, you’ll be looking at quite varied prices. They typically start at $150 for a song but can go upwards to $700 and even $1,000 if you want to work with the top producers in the business.
As always, the more you’re willing to pay, the better quality you’ll receive. However, it’s best to go somewhere in between, where you can get the best price to quality ratio.
House Music Mastering Services
If you want professional help with your tracks because you believe you need it or want to get some assistance with specific things, you can always turn to us. We offer professional mixing and mastering services primarily to musicians and DJs working with house music, EDM, and countless other genres.
We can help you get that top-quality sound you are looking for in your audio. Feel free to reach out whenever it suits you!