Anyone can appreciate good music and listen to it on repeat. However, not everyone is aware of the painstaking efforts that go behind making a song or album.
The process of creating a song ready for distribution has more to it than just recording a bunch of vocals and instrumentals together, and putting them up for sale.
The songs that you hear on the radio or stream on apps like Spotify, have been polished and perfected after a long and complex process. Two of the most important aspects of this process are mixing and mastering.
Fact is, if a song is produced without going through mixing and mastering, the quality of the sound is compromised massively.
Mixing and mastering, collectively referred to as ‘post production’ of the song, help the audio engineers adjust, manoeuvre, eliminate and apply the desired effects in order to have a high quality song.
They use softwares in order to do all of this. If you’re struggling to understand why this is important, just consider the instance of live albums.
The tracks you will find on live albums tend to be an entirely different sound from the same tracks on produced albums.
Recording all of the various elements of the together leads to a muddy sound quality. With the help of mixing and mastering, an audio engineer gets to perfect the sound experience that is intended for the listeners.
In this article, we break down what exactly mixing and mastering is, what they both consist of, and why they are important:
What is audio mixing?
Put simply, mixing is basically the process of amalgamating all the various tracks playing within a song and mixing them up. This means taking the instrumentals as well as the vocals separately, and then combining them to create the song.
Mixing helps the engineer incorporate automation and effects to make the song sound as rich as possible, as well as to make specific choruses stand out consistently.
Mixing consists of, amongst many other things, adjusting the volume levels of vocal tracks and individual instruments. There are several sub-methods of mixing that help to produce the finished product.
Once the mixing engineer is satisfied with the combination of each aspect of the track, they can move on to mastering the track.
Mixing helps vary the frequency of each instrument in order to result in a cleaner and better sound quality. EQ, placement and instrument volume are adjusted to different levels throughout the song to lead to the intended audio experience.
Mixing allows the sound engineers to adjust the song’s EQ ( the loudness of specific frequencies). This can help rectify any muddiness that can result from instruments recording together.
Mixing enables each element to be treated individually in order to have optimal quality. During this part of the process, disparity or flaws in volume across a track must be resolved.
Subsequently, the track is combined with the other instrumental tracks to the result in the intended effect of the song.
Moderation of Volume of each element of the song is a primary role of mixing. This allows the desired vocals or instruments to stand out or come together nicely.
What is audio mastering?
Mastering is the process that comes after mixing and has to do with the audio of the mixed version of the track. Mastering helps the audio engineer treat the song as a whole to result a more professional sound.
The main targets of the mastering process are consistency across all tracks on the album, the overall sound quality of a track or album, and preparation for distribution.
Mastering can be done with the help of various tools to produce a track with increased depth and more complexity – and eventually, the polished end product that will be delivered to the masses.
Why is audio mastering important?
Mastering finishes the process of polishing the audio quality and results in more complexity in the music as well as much high quality in the recording.
The audio after the master process is basically fully crafted and ready for delivery of a unique sound experience to the listeners.
Delivering the artist’s vision
The vision or expectation that the artist has for their song has more to do with just a bunch of instrumentals and vocals crammed together.
After the mixing process (where the cramming is done) – the mastering process is what helps acquire the vision that the artist has for their song.
Frequency and tone
Mastering allows the audio engineer, or mastering engineer to use effects and tools that help adjust the frequency and tone of the track in its entirety.
The engineer is also going to rectify issues with the track’s balancing in order to have a fully polished end-product.
The transitions are an integral part of any song: from the bridge to the chorus and everything in between, it’s the transitions that make up a major part of the song – and mastering is what helps achieve smooth transitions within the song.
The audio engineer accounts for how each element of he song sounds in its particular position, and then makes adjustments to allow for smooth transitions.
The consistency and cohesion of the album as a whole is also an important aspect of the music.
Mastering helps ensure that each song within an album is placed at an appropriate position that is visually consistent for the listener who is listening to the whole album at once.
With both mastering and mixing finished, the album or song is perfectly ready to be distributed to the masses or uploaded on streaming services.
In the last phase of mastering, the audio engineer will make the single or album ready for download by converting it to the format that the listener will buy or directly listen to on video platforms like YouTube or streaming services like Spotify.