What Is Mixing And Mastering?
Mixing and mastering are both important parts of audio production. Mixing is the practice of adjusting/combining individual tracks in an audio file – the mix. Mastering is putting the final touches on your audio to get it ready for distribution.
Mixing and mastering are both essential parts of the production process. Here’s what you need to know about both.
Mixing is the first step of post-production on a song. The job of a mixing engineer is to control the frequency balance and dynamic range of each individual track in the mix, so that all parts of the mix are audible and do not drown each other out. To do this, a mixing engineer uses tools like compression, equalizers (EQ), and reverb to make sure that all the tracks are well-integrated and don’t compete with each other. They may also use the level and pan position of each track to create a sense of space on the final track.
Mastering is the last step in the production process of a song. The job of a mastering engineer is to make sure the playback quality is optimal across all formats and systems before distribution. A mastering engineer might apply tools like EQ, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement.
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What Are the Differences Between Mixing and Mastering?
One difference is track count – a mix engineer may have dozens to hundreds of tracks to work with, while mastering engineers merely have the bounced stereo file of the mix. They can only work with the entire mix, not individual tracks within the mix.
Another difference is workflow – at least part of a mix engineer’s job is organizational, labeling and color-coding tracks, ordering them hierarchically in a DAW (digital audio workstation), creating instrument groups, and creating submixes. A mastering engineer, by contrast, simply needs to make sure the track is as ready as possible for widespread release.
A third difference is that mastering work is done with more specialized tools – high-performance and transparency EQs and compressors.
Additionally, mastering engineers are more likely to be given quiet spaces to work in, while mixing engineers can be quite mobile. Mixers may also try different equipment to test to see if the mix is still good in different playback environments.
How Much Should I Charge for Mixing and Mastering?
I’ve seen a lot of conflicting information on this. In the freelance markets like Upwork and Fiverr, costs are typically lower – Ranging from $20 a song to $65 for the absolute best, five-star mix and mastering engineers (mixing and mastering packaged together in the latter).
I have seen some websites recommend starting at $5-$10 a song for mastering on its own if you’re just starting off. However, they note that you’ll have a lower quality of clientele at that rate. All the same, you are more likely to have an abundance of work if you price yourself in that range. There’s a trade-off. Keep in mind, this website is by someone who is promoting their own mixing/mastering services, and may be biased.
On average, I found that most freelancers online were mixing songs or mastering songs at around $20-40 a song.
How Do You Mix A Song?
First, you need to prep the tracks by organizing them and color-coding them by instrument. Using mixbuses can speed things along. If you are mixing a lot of songs, using the same color-coding/organization system across songs can be helpful. You may also want to add fades and crossfades and gain plugins.
Second, you need to play with EQ, compression, and reverb. Equalizers are plugins that keep the volume more even across the entire track. Compression is reducing a song’s dynamic range. Reverb is how a sound bounces off surfaces in an environment. Reverb effects simply emulate the way that sounds reflect in different environments.
Finally, you can create space by balancing your levels and panning. When doing so, it’s important to think about headroom.
For more information on mixing a song, consider checking out this guide.
Five Tips to Help You Master Your Audio Production
As we now know, mastering our audio is the final step in the audio production process. When we master our audio, we are looking for ways to polish the product and make it the best it can be. It can be a daunting task, and that’s why we have prepared a list of five tips that you can follow to produce the best audio possible.
Organization Is Key
Before you even begin mastering an audio project, you need to be organized and prepared. You should make sure that you have your final mixes labeled correctly. You will also need to have already finalized the song title, metadata, sequencing, ISRC codes, and the CD text. Ideally, you will also want to note any glitches with the file, distortion, or bad edits, as this will likely save you time when you master the audio. Notably, if you are producing the audio for someone else, identify who the manufacturer will be to know what they expect.
Provide a Variety of Audio Mixes
If possible, you should have a variety of mixes of the audio that you are working on. Don’t forget to mark these different mixes so that you don’t get confused, as this could slow the mastering process down. Try to include mixes that have vocals up and vocals down and other sound differentials so that you can tell the difference between audio files.
Don’t Overcompress Your Audio Mixes
A mistake that many make is to overcompress their audio files. You want your audio to be at a similar resolution to the recording, if not the exact same. If you overcompress your audio, you won’t have enough headroom to master your audio correctly. Keep your final buss compression minimal as you can’t undo this later on. Stay away from extremes; you don’t want the audio to be too loud or too quiet as this can take away from the overall effect of your final product.
Make You Have the Right Room
Now, this next tip may sound a bit strange, but I promise you it’s crucial. You can have the best equipment and software on the market and still churn out inferior quality audio if you’re not utilizing a room with good feedback. Depending on the sound feedback you get from the room, this will affect how you’re going to master your audio mixes. If the feedback from a room is distorted, for example, and your mastering according to this feedback, your track isn’t going to sound that good on different playback systems.
Get a Second Opinion
If you’re mastering your own work, you’re often very attached to it, and as such, you might miss crucial sound details. Whenever possible, you should have a second person listen in on a track and give you feedback. It’s often best to have one person who works on the mixing and one who works on the mastering so that the final audio piece remains unbiased.
How Much Does Mixing and Mastering Cost?
Outside of the freelance websites, you can expect to pay a minimum of about $200 per song to have your work professionally mixed and mastered, or up to $700 per song for a professional mix/mastering engineer, or more than $1,000 a song for a top producer.
If you want to try mastering yourself, you might want to check out LANDR, which offers comparatively affordable plans, starting with a free plan that allows you to master two tracks, and ending with a $300/year plan for unlimited mastering. An alternative to LANDR is Emastered, which is $168/year or $50/month for unlimited.
For mixing, if you are looking for a DAW, some free ones include Tracktion’s Waveform Free, Bandlab’s Cakewalk, Avid ProTools First, and PreSonus Studio One Prime.
If you’re willing to spend some money, some of the top options are Abelton Live, Adobe Audition (comes with Creative Cloud), Garage Band for Mac, Logic Pro X (also for Mac), and Mixcraft. Still others are listed here. For more info on beat leases, be sure to reach out.
If you’re going to be mixing and mastering, you will need a good pair of open back headphones. Open back headphones are recommended specifically because they allow air to pass through that prevents echoing from affecting your sound. These can cost from $150 up to $600. A list of recommended headphones can be found at gearank.com.