As a newbie music producer, having a good idea of the overall processes involved in the creation of a song is very important because it can help you understand the nature of this work.
Mixing and mastering are two essential components in audio production and they are often spoken about in most discussions.
Many beginners that I’ve encountered usually wonder if mastering is harder than mixing.
With that said, is Mastering harder than mixing?
Mastering isn’t harder than mixing because a lot more work goes into mixing as compared to mastering. With mixing, you’re essentially choosing takes, cutting them to fit, arranging them, cleaning them up, processing them, balancing and blending them all together to create a complete body of work. With mastering, your goal is to simply improve the final mix and have it ready for release by making it sound better, louder and more translatable on various audio systems.
In as much as mastering and mixing employ the same tools for processing. The processes greatly differ.
Let’s get into why mixing is a more complex process than mastering.
Mixing determines the fate of the song
Most people think mastering is the more crucial than mixing but the reality is that mixing is more crucial.
Mixing is the initial step in your audio production process and everything you basically do to your mix and are comfortable with, will be the song. This means that mixing will determine the fate of the song to a very high degree because you’ll present your mix to a mastering engineer after having carried out various mixing processes.
The mastering engineer will have to work with the state of audio files that you present. This means that the quality of the mix you deliver to them will determine just how well it can be improved.
Furthermore, after mixing is done and the final stems of the mix are presented. They’ll usually be no way of going back to the original states of the audio before processing.
This tells us that mastering is heavily dependent on just how well mixed a song is. Mastering isn’t an easy job, but a good mix will make it easier.
Therefore the determinant of the final track will be the quality of your mix.
Mixing is actually making the track
Another reason why I’ve gone on to say mixing is more complicated than mastering is for the simple fact that mixing is essentially YOU making the song.
When audio files are presented for mixing, the engineer becomes the judge and jury. They’ll make their choices of what actually makes it into the final mix and what does not.
For example, an audio engineer may be given a track that has multiple vocal takes and different variations of hooks or choruses.
In such a situation the engineers job is compile up these vocal takes, pick the ones that will make the final cut and sort through the variations of hooks recorded.
The engineer will have to pick which variation will become the main theme or chorus. After making these choices the engineer may choose to use other vocal takes in various sections like the bridge etc.
From this hypothetical situation above, we can fairly get a good idea of the complexity that goes into the process of creating a good enough finished product that can be finally and processed as a master.
Mixing is creating a connection among all elements
Mixing is not simply combining various tracks to create a full blown composition. It is also the process of creating a connection among all elements and this goes a lot further than just overall process of combination.
This is why most publications on audio mixing usually emphasize that the most important aspect of mixing is the actual blending of various takes and instruments fo create a final composition.
With mastering you’ll only be dealing with the final mix that has undergone various thought processes and scrutiny to make it an almost final version. This is why I’d conclude and tell you that mastering may be complex but a lot more goes into the mixing process.
Certain mixing decisions make certain mastering steps unnecessary
This is another key point that is crucial to this discussion because at the end of the day balance is always the goal both in mastering and mixing.
Furthermore, the tools used to carry out the both mixing and mastering are usually the same and may only differ to a very minimal degree.
Which means a good mix can certainly make the job mastering much easier and processes that are well carried out in mixing will inadvertently make the mastering process easier by having to do less because the audio mixer already did a great job.
The goal of mastering and mixing
The whole goal behind mastering is to make the final sound like other commercial and professional songs on the market.
When mastered songs are played on platforms like radio, they should not sound out of place.
They should sound good and seamlessly blend well with other songs that are played on radio.
That means that they should have the same level of loudness as other professional songs, plus, have a similar frequency response, and sound great over any speaker.
For mixing, the general idea is to create and have a good level relationship among all elements to the mix plus a good track organisation and a good arrangement.
All these things are done with the goal of getting to a final mix that is good enough to be improved and emphasized to have a finished song.
Mixing is a complicated process and will require more from the engineer, time being one of the most key things.