There is a difference between mixing and mastering audio and an artist needs to know what these techniques are and why they are different. If you’ve heard of both terms, mixing and mastering, it might be because you’re ready to apply the finishing touches to your soundtrack but aren’t sure where to start, or what to look for.
Mixers will balance out individual sounds, instruments, and voices in an audio track, where mastering engineers will level out and equalize the sound for better quality listening across multiple platforms and playback systems. Avoid hiring a sound mixer when what you need is a mastering engineer to perfect your sound quality.
Both mixing and mastering are important steps in the process of producing and distributing something special for your listeners. But what you might not realize is that most mastering engineers can probably also mix your track whereas not many mixers can also master your track. Read on below to find out what you need to know about mixing VS mastering and how to choose a good mastering engineer for your soundtrack.
The Difference Between Mixing and Mastering
Depending on your skill level and what you want from your music, you may need both a mixer and a mastering engineer. If you’ve mixed your track yourself, consider a mastering engineer for another pair of ears that are great listeners for attention to quality detail.
Knowing and understanding the differences between these two professions will assist you with making the right decision for your sound and how you want it to sound to you and your listeners.
Here are some of the main differences between sound mixing engineers and mastering engineers:
- Balance the individual instruments, voices, and sounds so they don’t compete with each other for volume
- Blends the sounds in a way that the listener can pick out the different instruments being used in the track – so the instruments aren’t overlapping and canceling each other out
- Mixing can be done by both the artist themselves, professional mixers, and mastering engineers
- Completes the final steps necessary for preparing your audio for distribution
- Equalizes and compresses the track for detailed sound quality and the ability to be played from multiple playback systems (i.e., speakers, radio, phones, stereo, iPod, etc.)
- Provide consistency across all tracks on your album
- Mastering engineers sometimes make such subtle changes that you may not even notice the difference of the tune-up, depending on how good your ears are when it comes to quality sound
- Mastering engineers’ equipment and hardware are designed for high standard performance, the equipment isn’t cheap and isn’t used by mixers
- Installs technical standards of volume levels required for most audio platforms
How to tell what you need
While mixers and mastering engineers typically use the same studios and slightly similar equipment, they perform different tasks for your audio and at different times. Mastering engineers provide the final edits to your soundtrack so that it is ready for distribution to your listeners.
Although what mixers and mastering engineers both provide is similar, you may need to use both to get your audio sounding the way you have visualized. You could also get away with hiring just one – a mastering engineer – if you already know some decent mixing skills.
If you want your music to be played with the same quality you hear on the radio and other playback devices, you’ll need a mastering engineer to provide your final and finishing edits. The mastering part of the music is essential for preparing your audio in a superior tone that meets high-standard audio requirements for ideal listening.
What to Avoid if Mixing Your Track before Sending to a Mastering Engineer
If you’re mixing your track yourself there are a few things you should avoid before sending your track to a mastering engineer.
Here are just some of the “what not to dos”:
- Chill out on the treble – if your mastering engineer doesn’t have an all-time studio space with soundproofing and expensive top-quality equipment, some background treble might be missed. Though it is the mastering engineers’ job to pick it up…
- Beware of poor vocal placement and volume levels
- Phase inconsistencies and cancellation in the audio
- The best mixing and mastering services
- Too much clutter from over-panning in the center
- Control the dynamics, it’s not about how loud the music is – the mastering engineer will level it out anyway, but you can try to achieve this yourself before sending it in
Did you know that many mastering engineers were mixers before they were perfectionists in mastering the final touches of your music? Some mastering engineers might give you advice on different ways in which you can mix your track to meet current market trends. It’s worth taking the advice on board.
What to Look for in a Mastering Engineer
Just like not all artists and mixers are the same, mastering engineers are also different in the way they style their music and have different standards for your sound. Mastering engineers should be looking at providing you high-standard quality work before sending back your track, but sometimes that might not be the case.
It’s not that they haven’t provided you something good, it might genuinely be they just haven’t provided you something that you like. That can be an issue and has been seen numerous times in the past.
You need to find a mastering engineer that is right for you and your music.
Here are some masterful tips on how to choose the right mastering engineer for you:
- Don’t just look for a renowned mastering engineer with years of experience. In some cases, they are the professionals more prone to alter your sound because “they know what’s best”
- Find a mastering engineer that asks you questions and wants to know how YOU want your audio quality to sound – have a list of preferences, your favorite tracks, and artists, and note down which parts of their music you like the most
- Research mastering engineers who have extensive experience but who also have good reviews. Reviews are important for credibility
- Find a mastering engineer that is interested in hearing samples of your songs before working with you. A good mastering engineer will be honest and upfront if they cannot work on your track due to indifferences and inexperience working with your type of music.
They might also be able to refer you to another engineer
- Get a trial run done first by sending over one song, having it mastered, and sent back for your approval. This will save you a lot of time, money, and effort if turns out not to be the right mastering engineer for you
- Consider looking up who mastered your favorite songs and albums and inquiring about their prices. If they’re Aria award winners, however, they might not come cheap
- Research artists they have worked with in the past. They might not suit your style of music and in that case, move along to the next option until you find someone experienced in your genre
- Tell them what you want. It’s extremely important for everyone involved that you tell your mastering engineer, from the beginning, exactly what you want from them and how you want your music to sound.
If you don’t tell them what you want, they might provide a service and end product you don’t like, and you only have yourself to blame
Conclusion – How to Find a Good Mastering Engineer
Finding a good mastering engineer doesn’t have to be a hard task. In fact, finding a good mastering engineer is probably the easy part.
The hardest part is finding someone that can relate to you and your requirements and who can also complete the job with the budget you offer. You may have found someone perfect for you but if they’re not in your price range it’s back to the drawing board.
Save yourself and the mastering engineer time by being upfront about the budgeting and costs and what you desire from them for the final edits of your rack or album. Consider the useful tips above in how to choose the right mastering engineer for you, and you’ll find an expert mastering engineer that’s right for you in no time.