If you’re new to the recording process, it’s often confusing to navigate. One major question often asked – what’s the difference between mixing and mastering? Often we hear these terms bundled together as one, but they are two separate processes, often done by two different people.
Once all your tracks have been recorded, the mixing process comes next. This is the process of taking each individual track in your song and blending them so they all work together. The mixer generally goes track by track through each element to make sure each one occupies its own space in the mix. This is done through processing like compression and equalization, as well as simple leveling and effects like reverb and delay. Sometimes producers even mix as they produce/record a track, though most will start from scratch once everything is recorded. Overall, it’s the process of making your song sound as great as possible while maintaining balance to the overall sound.
Mastering is the final step of the recording process. The mastering engineer won’t have access to all your individual tracks – they’ll only get the full stereo mix to work with. Think of it as the final say on your track. Generally, using similar processes to mixing like compression, limiting, and equalization are used, but again only to the full mix of your song and not individual tracks. The end result aims to make your mix stand out, and sound as good as possible across any and all systems a listener might be using. This is also where the final “volume” of the track is set, a topic much entangled in debate. The job is also responsible for sequencing tracks in a proper order.
Hopefully this clears up the basics when it comes mixing and mastering!