What Is Mixing vs Mastering?

Learn about the difference between mixing and mastering. It is common for people to get the 2 confused, but hopefully by the end of this you will have a stronger understanding of the difference.

Mastering equipment in a rack case

What is mixing?

Once you are done recording individual tracks - vocals or instruments, you’re ready to have the project mixed.

Mixing is typically cleaning up many audio tracks - for example, adjusting volume, timing, adding EQ, compression, reverb, auto-tune or other methods that may characteristically change the sound of each recorded track

The goal is to transform the many into a single, cohesive and balanced whole.

What is Mastering?

Then, in mastering, you take that whole and give it a final polish to get it ready for streaming or the radio.

Typically, when mastering, you’re working with a single stereo file or just the master output of the mix

Mastering engineers still may use EQ or Compression, but usually do so in subtle amounts that tighten up the entire song.

For some, mastering is about making the song AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE while maintaining the feeling, emotion and PUNCH that it was given in the mixing stage.

Mixing vs Mastering

In both mixing and mastering, the goal is to achieve balance. Mixing usually has big obvious changes, while mastering is more subtle with broad changes that affect the song as a whole.

Mixing has more creative opportunities to capture the artist’s vision, while mastering is more about sound quality and making the song as good or better than the competition on the radio now.

Side note - mastering can also include adding metadata, but most aggregators like CDBABY, DistroKid or other vendors take care of that for you now.

Written by Zachary Hanni on November 11th 2022

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2 artists working with an audio engineer