Sound Tip #8 – Mixing and Mastering are NOT the same thing!

This is a touchy subject for a lot of audio engineers. The reader is welcome to disagree on much of what I am about to say, however let’s get the rule out of the way.

Rule #8 – Mixing is what happens when you mix your multi-track audio down to a Surround, Stereo, or Mono listening track. Mastering is leveling and processing the mixed track, in order to match the entire sound design of the project as a whole. NEVER do them at the same time.

Personally, it is my opinion that the persons mixing an audio project (typically music) SHOULD NOT be the same collective of professionals that “master” the project. This is due to something called “mixer’s ear”. When you spend hours mixing someones project, your ears develop and form around the project. Your brain starts filling in gaps and you are mixing on monitors that you are already accustomed to. By splitting the mixing and mastering into 2 groups, you allow more ears to hear the sound/feel of the project and will typically be worked on in different studios and different monitors.

The most constant mistake I am seeing today with digital DAW’s and sound designers would be mixing the project inside your DAW (IE. Pro Tools) and then attempting to master the track using plug-ins on the “Master Channel”. This is just a bad Idea. Even if one person is processing the mixing and mastering, at least mix the project down and then master the final track. Your computer will have less to auto-sum and you will also get a nice break to make a more educated attempt at the mastering process.

Just try it on your next project and I promise you will her a big difference. Especially when you are working on an album. Mastering all of your mixed songs at the same time will insure a unified sound on your project and your client will be much happier with you. People will always try to cut corners and save time, this is not the corner to cut when your client is expecting a professional product.

-Lee Kebler

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