Mixing and mastering music are two different but equally important parts in audio production business that mostly become hard and blurred to differentiate between. Basically, mixing is the first step and it is done before mastering which involves adjusting & combining individual tracks together to form stereo audio file after the mixdown. Stereo file is then mastered, which makes sure that different songs are clearly polished & forms cohesive whole on an album. The above defines mastering and mixing in their most simplest form.
The mastering engineer receives stereo track with notes & reference songs from engineer and the artists. This helped engineer to have an understanding of sound that they are going for & so that mix isn’t altered in areas which are intended to sound in a specific way. Now, finishing touches are added to song by making little adjustments primarily to EQ, limiting, compression and enhancements. All the songs mastered on album are brought to similar levels so album flows & is cohesive throughout. Spacing & fades are added at the beginning & endings of songs. Normally Red Book standard of 2 sec is added b/w songs. Audio mastering engineers also offers sequencing service for albums to put songs in desired order, encode tracks with ISRC, label track names etc. The mastering engineer’s goal is to provide high clarity, high fidelity and professional sound that will be enjoyed by listeners on any source.
After all individual tracks of song have been recorded, now comes the work of mixing engineers to work their magic. They start by labeling & organizing tracks into similar groups. Song is many times normalized to make sure that tracks are all at almost similar volume levels & no tracks peak. The engineer will then mostly EQ each and every individual track in order to get the best tones out and use the high & low pass filters to eliminate any unneeded frequencies. The general purpose of EQing is to make adaption that will allow all the tracks to have their own specific frequency areas. This will allow the song to be clear & each instrument distinguishable. Same idea is also used in panning tracks to get full, wide sound. Reverb, Compression, delay, and other processors etc can be added to individual tracks to get desired tones for instruments as well. Manipulating effects and fades throughout songs with automation can help engineers control the emotion of song sonically. After hard work done by engineers in tweaking faders, knobs and song sounds as best as it possibly can then comes the work of mastering engineer to step in.
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