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Mixing Vs Mastering: where you need to listen.

In modern audio engineering, mixing and mastering are considered as two separate stages of the production process. During the mixing process, we concentrate on how each track coexists with the others. We play around with spatialization and make subtle or heavy dynamic changes, for shaping the recordings in the way we want them to be heard and perceived. During mastering, whether it's a single track, a full album, a score or soundtrack, our focus shifts to the quality control side of the process. We evaluate the accuracy of playback, the consistency and faithfulness of the dynamics, and the overall tonal balance of the material. To ensure a perfect reproduction across all media and listening environments, the record should be heard and perceived in the best possible way.


mastering engineer Paul Schal mixing inside 432studios with HEDDphones

When Mixing

Mixing is the process of bringing each recorded track together into a cohesive whole. Where every instrument finds its place and communicates with the others.


Tracks Gain Staging

To achieve a well-balanced mix, proper gain staging is essential. Pay close attention to the relative levels of each track, ensuring a harmonious blend without unwanted clipping or distortion. Experiment with subtle volume adjustments to achieve optimal balance and clarity.


Spatialization (Stereo/Surround Field)

Explore the spatial dimensions of your mix by placing instruments within the stereo or surround field to create depth and dimensionality. Try panning, stereo imaging, and spatial effects to introduce ear-catching sounds and textures. Consider how the placement of instruments contributes to the overall sonic image and emotional impact of the mix.


Instruments/Tracks Hierarchy

Establish a clear hierarchy among the instruments and tracks, emphasizing the focal points while supporting elements gracefully recede into the background. Balance the interplay between foreground and background elements to maintain clarity and focus. To ensure that each instrument complements rather than competes with one another, use EQ, compression, and other processing techniques.


Feel and Perception

Mixing is not only about technical considerations but also about evoking emotion and enhancing the listener's experience. Pay attention to the overall feel and perception of the mix. Adjust the dynamics, tonal balance, and effects to achieve the desired emotional impact. Consider the mood, energy and narrative arc of the music. Strive to enhance its emotional resonance through thoughtful mixing decisions.


Audio engineer Paul Schal's hand operating the gain control on SPL PQ mastering equalizer at 432studios

When Mastering

Mastering is the final production step that brings a mix to its full potential. Ensuring that every nuance and detail is well represented for a complete listening experience.


Quality Control

Focus on evaluating playback accuracy and frequency balance across the spectrum. Ensure that the mix translates seamlessly across different playback systems, from studio monitors to headphones to consumer speakers. Use reference tracks and monitoring tools to identify any tonal inconsistencies and make precise adjustments to achieve optimal fidelity.


Spectral Editing

Refine the sonic quality of the mix by eliminating artifacts and unwanted noise with spectral editing techniques. Use precision tools to restore the frequency spectrum, remove imperfections and improve clarity. Pay attention to subtle details such as sibilance, clicks, pops, resonance and low-level noise. Use spectral editing tools to address them without compromising the integrity of the mix.


Representation of Dynamics

Preserve the integrity of the mix's dynamics while improving consistency. Use dynamic processing tools judiciously to tame peaks, enhance transients and ensure a balanced and dynamic listening experience. Use techniques such as multiband compression, parallel compression and dynamic EQ to shape the dynamics of the mix without sacrificing musicality or punch.


Playback Translation & Delivery Formats

Consider the intended delivery formats and optimise the mix for maximum impact and compatibility. Fine-tune compression, limiting and other mastering processes to ensure optimal playback translation across streaming platforms, CDs, vinyl and other media. Pay attention to loudness levels, dynamic range and overall tonal balance, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure a consistent and engaging listening experience across all formats.


Conclusion

 

Mixing stimulates the listener's brain by shaping the emotional and perceptual aspects of the music. While mastering fine-tunes the mix to tickle the ear with optimal fidelity and consistency. Understanding where to focus your ears in these two stages of the production process will help you to be more effective in every decision you make, whether technical or creative. Leave the noise behind and focus on what really adds value to what you are working on.

Sharpen your technique and make records shine!

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