Mixing and Mastering: 10 most common questions
10 most commonly asked questions about mix/master
What’s The Difference Between Mixing & Mastering
Mixing takes multiple tracks and blends them into one track that sounds cohesive, clear, and punchy. Mastering takes the stereo mix, and enhances it using EQ, compression, and limiting – ensuring maximum loudness, with minimal distortion, so it sounds good on all systems, and is ready for distribution.
The mixing process differs from mastering, because it takes multiple tracks (20, or more), and gives the engineer individual control over each instrument track.
This means the engineer can use audio effect processing (such as EQ, compression, reverb etc) to slot each track in its own area of the frequency spectrum – preventing the clashing of instruments, and overpowering sounds from washing over others, that cause imbalances, & a difficult listening experience.
The idea of mixing is that each track will have its own space, or work in conjunction with another, to sound cohesive, as a final, single track.
Mixing is much more creative than most people think, and although there are the technicalities of removing nasty resonances, providing vocal presence, and balancing – a lot of what a good mix engineer will do is creative, and a lot of the sound + vibe of your favourite music is a result of a good mix engineer at work.
Mastering, however, focusses solely on enhancing the final stereo mix, and making sure that it’s right for streaming services, physical print (if you want that), and that it is at maximum loudness, without destroying dynamics.
What Does A Mixing & Mastering Engineer Do?
A Mixing and Mastering Engineer will balance multiple instruments, to make everything sound cohesive, clear & punchy; exporting it to a final mix. They will then take this mix, and enhance it ensuring your music is loud, and ready for distribution.
The mixing engineer focusses on the sound and vibe of your track, making sure each instrument has its own space, and sounds as good as it can.
They focus on balancing the levels, frequency spectrum, moulding the acoustics, atmosphere & more, to create an exceptional listening experience.
The mastering engineer then takes this final stereo mix, and enhances it further using virtual analogue and analog gear to inject warmth, character, and maximise loudness, without introducing artefacts. The mastering engineer will also be responsible for making sure your track is ready for distribution.
How Much Should Mixing & Mastering Cost?
Quality mixing and mastering can cost anywhere between $150-$1000 per track. This can get go into the thousands with more experienced engineers but, you can get a quality mix and master, ready for radio, on a budget of $150.
Mixing is going to be the most expensive out of the two.
Just mixing can set you back hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. It takes a long time for an experienced engineer to get the balance of a track right, and if you have a lot of tracks, it can be very difficult to blend all of them together and maintain clarity.
Good mastering is generally much cheaper, and you can get a good-sounding master that’s radio ready for $50/track. The more you pay, the better quality service you’ll receive (usually).
Most masters for $50/track won’t pay the same attention to detail as higher paid masters.
If you’re on a budget, mixing and mastering shouldn’t cost you more than $200 per track.
There are plenty of experienced engineers that will be able to get your track radio ready for $200 and, in our opinion, you shouldn’t really get the higher priced services until you start to make money with your music.
Sometimes you might be able to find a less-experienced engineer who is charging much less for their services, to gain experience.
This is rare to come by, but if you’re on a massive budget, it might be worth checking if there are any music production university students that are willing to mix and master your tracks.
Make sure they are in their last semester, and they have some previous work you can listen to.
Is It Better To Pay For Mixing & Mastering, or Do it Myself?
If you’re not skilled in mixing or mastering, and need your track radio ready, it’s better to pay for mixing & mastering. If you want to learn, and don’t have a large fanbase, or the need a radio ready song, start learning yourself.
The answer to this really depends on what skill level you’re at, whether your release needs to be radio ready at this stage, and whether you want to learn mixing and mastering or not.
Personally we would recommend anyone who’s serious about music, or production as a career, to start learning mixing or mastering.
However, mixing and mastering isn’t for everyone.
Even some talented music producers choose to get professionals to mix and master their tracks, even when can themselves.
This is because, when producing for hours, you can get bored of your song, and might not be able to breathe the same life into it, as someone with a fresh mind.
Personally we would learn mixing, and outsource the mastering.
You can good mixes in headphones more easily than a good masters.
Mastering requires extremely expensive equipment, studio treatment, and often, you just won’t be able to get the same professional result without investing.
Headphone masters can sound good, but will simply never match that of a professional studio expert, who has invested thousands of dollars into gear.
And, you can get great-sounding masters from professional studios for $30-50.
For us, it’s worth it.
Is AI Mastering Worth it?
AI mastering is worth it. It can give you a radio ready track for a fraction of the price of an engineer. It will be nowhere near as good, or receive the same love and care that an engineer would give, but it’s a good alternative if you’re on a budget.
AI mastering gets a lot of flak, and there’s a reason for that. Mastering isn’t really a process that can be done by a robot properly (yet).
However, it can get you the loudness you need, and ensure that your track is ready for distribution to all major streaming services. Sometimes this is all you need, and you don’t need a high quality master from a professional.
If you’re releasing music as a hobby, or you don’t have a huge fanbase yet, there’s not much point spending upwards of $50 on a decent master. At this stage, you probably need to get better at making music anyway.
If you have a great mix that has clarity, and sounds cohesive, then AI mastering can finish it off for you at a fraction of the cost, and your end result will still sound professional. It’s hard to make a great mix sound bad in the mastering stage.
But, mastering from a professional will always be better.