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The difference between mixing and mastering



When I started in my own home studio 20 years ago, I thought mixing was the only editing stage the song needed. In fact, when I started doing my first demos and comparing them with commercial songs, I noticed that something was missing, until I heard about Mastering. It always bothered me because I worked in a home studio and I did not even know what it is and how it is done.

And this is something that concerns many people around the world who are involved in home recording.


I talk constantly with friends here at HomeStudioProject, but also with my students who have the exact same question.


Let's start by clarifying what a mix is. Mixing has to do with balance. We have to bring balance to our song and more specifically to volume, the frequencies, the dynamics, and the placement of the instruments in the stereo spectrum. Correctly?


First of all, we have to start our mixing by balancing all the tracks, in terms of their volume level, then we use EQ to balance the frequencies and our song sounds clearer, then we continue with the dynamics of the song. Here comes the compression to balance the dynamics of our song and finally the placement of our tracks in the space and when I talk about space I mean the stereo spectrum.


We can achieve this part from panning, which, is something we can do in the first steps of mixing, setting the right volumes, with various effects like reverb and delay.


If you are a beginner in home recording, all this may seem like a "mountain" to you(as we say in Greek) , but believe me it is not. It is all a matter of perception and practice. In a song during the mixing process, your goal is achieving two things.


The first as we said is balance and the second is emotion. You will achieve emotion in combination with balance, using the reverbs, delays, and other effects that will help you color your song the way you want.



But what is mastering?


Mastering is the last stage, the last touch in our song and our goal is to achieve three main things: To make our song sound louder, to sound better, and to be translatable in any kind of speakers


We do not start mastering if we have not finished our mixing. In mastering, we use the same plug-ins in a different way but of course, we can use the plug-in that sets our song to the right volume level, the Limiter.

In mastering, we can fix some mistakes, that maybe we could not in the mix. Note: We try to make a very good mix, to have a better Mastering. Good mastering is always when we do the less.


Another difference between mixing and mastering is that in mixing you have all your tracks and you can intervene in each one individually and correct something you hear during mixing. In mastering, you have a stereo channel and there you make the last corrections.


That is why I suggest doing mastering in a separate project and not in the same project you are mixing. Many friends asked me on the occasion of the video "Mastering in the home studio" if we should do mastering in the same project.


I also suggest not to do mastering, the same day you finish your mix (unless urgent).

The next day is better to start mastering with “fresh” ears.


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