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What Is the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering?

In terms of technical audio quality, there is pretty much nothing more important in music than how a song is mixed and mastered. A song can be incredibly composed, have amazing lyrics, and deliver incredible feelings, but if the actual mixing and mastering of a song aren’t done well, then the whole song will suffer for it. 

Both mixing and mastering are incredibly important in the world of music. These are the processes that make songs sound cohesive, professional, and palatable to the rest of the world. 

These are processes that often take a lot of time and effort to learn and master (pun intended), but when done correctly, they can truly take your music to the next level. Often, people will hire professional mixing and mastering engineers who do nothing else but mix and master music to work on their songs. That’s how important it is to get that stage of a song’s creation right. 

While these are both incredibly important processes, they often get mistaken for being effectively the same. This is definitely not the case, and it’s critical to understand the differences between these two processes. 

Here is how mixing and mastering differ from each other, and why it matters. 

What Is Mixing?

When thinking about mixing, think about how a mixing bowl works in terms of food. The whole goal of mixing is to make sure that all of the ingredients blend well together so that there isn’t a perceived abundance or lack of one ingredient in the end product. Mixing puts all of the different ingredients together and makes it so everything feels consistent and in correct proportion relative to the other elements in the mix. 

That’s basically the purpose of mixing; to pull all of the elements of a song together, and make something that feels smooth and consistent. Mixers will use many different processes and effects to make sure that every element feels perfect, and so that nothing feels out of place. Great mixers can even take songs that have been produced in a way that is less than ideal, and make them sound virtually perfect. In the end, a well-mixed song should feel like every element is well put together, and the whole song sounds consistent within itself. 

What Is Mastering?

When it comes to mastering, the best way to relate that process is to baking and adding the frosting to a cake. Everything should be already mixed and highly consistent inside of itself, but it still won’t feel finished. 

The point of baking is to get the mix into its complete form and to get it to feel perfect like it should be. It’s all about getting the mix across the finish line and making it fit well into the context of other similar products. 

Mastering is very important because it takes a mix and makes it truly sound complete. It brings the volume up and makes very subtle but important tweaks to the sound at large. Often, good mastering will make the song as loud as it can be without distorting, and will still leave the final mix sounding rich, dynamic, and full of life. 

This can often be difficult, and will typically require a lot of tweaking the parameters of the effects that are used. It’s a huge balancing act for sure, but it will help the songs to truly be as good as they can be.

How Is Mixing Unique?

Mixing is a very unique process compared to mastering. While these are processes that are typically discussed in the same breath, they are functionally very different and should be treated as such

When mixing and mastering are dealt with in the same way, it can lead to songs that sound rushed and not fully complete. This is how mixing can be used as the unique process that it is, so your songs can be as good as possible. 

Lots of Tracks

Mixing involves using every single track that the producer creates. Mixing sessions can be as small as just a handful of channels, to channel counts that are in the hundreds. Mixers need to have access to every single sound, so they can place them exactly where they need to go in the song. 

Intent on Fitting Pieces Together

Mixing takes all of these small pieces and makes them fit together in better ways. That means using lots of effects, level changes, and equalization fixes to change how all of the different channels work together. 

It often means changing one sound so that other sounds can fit together much more effectively. It’s a complex process of fitting pieces together, but the end result of a good mix makes it so that people can hear everything that is going on inside of the song. It takes each sound and makes it as effective as possible. 

Makes a Lot of Changes to the Original Sound

Mixing often means making a lot of huge changes to the original sound of the song and its tracks. Lots of effects are applied in the mixing process, which can make all of the tracks in the song sound very different. This is done to make sure that everything fits together as well as possible. 

How Is Mastering Unique?

Mastering’s main goal is to take a mix and make it as good as possible. Mixing is focused on the small details, but mastering is much more focused on the big picture. Here’s how that works. 

Very Few Tracks

Typically, mastering happens to the final stereo bounce of a mix. Mastering engineers don’t have to worry about all the different tracks, they just have to make small adjustments to the mix as a whole. 

That often means making large but subtle changes to everything in the mix at once, instead of making drastic changes to each individual track. Mastering engineers almost always just work with only a stereo mix, and try to make it as good as possible. 

Intent on Creating High Quality

While mixing engineers typically focus on the vibe and artistic elements of a song, mastering engineers are typically concerned with making the song as objectively good as possible. This often means making sure that the song is as loud as possible, without any harsh resonances in the mix. These are objective things that make the song as good as possible. 

Focuses on Enhancing the Original Sound

Mastering is focused on the big picture. That means making changes that apply to everything in the mix, and making it so the song as a whole sounds as good as possible. It’s not an easy process to find the sweeping changes that will actually sound good, but a good master will make a song sound professional, cohesive, and full of life. 

How Unison Can Help

While mixing and mastering are incredibly important parts of a song, it’s also critical to make sure that the song has good content musically. That’s why Unison provides a whole host of different tools for musicians to make use of. The Unison Serum presets can help to add color and excitement to your MIDI instruments. When you’re looking for new melodies and chords to incorporate into your songs, the Unison MIDI collection can help you to expand your palate. 

All of these incredible resources and more are available to any musician looking to truly expand their sound at Unison. Your greatest music is ahead of you, and Unison is here to make sure you get there with style and class. 

 

Sources: 

Mixing Your Music: The Easy Guide to Sounding Like a Pro | Landr

What is the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering? | Sweetwater

iZotope Tips and Tutorials What Is ,Mastering and Why Is It Important? | iZotope 

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