So what exactly is mixing and mastering?

Being that I offer mixing and mastering services, I often get requests from people to mix and master their songs, but I later find that sometimes these people are confused by what it actually means to mix and master. Hopefully I can clarify in plain terms what they both are and what steps each one entails.

There are several processes involved in the creation of a recorded song. There’s songwriting, producing, arranging, recording, and the last two which are mixing and finally mastering. I’ll separate the two to make things easier to digest. For now, just know that mixing always comes before mastering, and mastering is always the last step in the process.


Typically when a song is recorded, every sound and instrument (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, etc.) is recorded separately onto it’s own track. This is done so the mix engineer, the person who does the mixing, can have greater control of each element in the song. The individual tracks each receive different treatments by the mix engineer including level adjustments, left to right panning, compressors, equalizers, and various fx processors such as reverb and delay. The finished result of all the tweaked and manipulated individual tracks are then summed together to become one single stereo track. This stereo track is what gets sent to mastering.

One thing to keep in mind is that mixing is a marriage of artistic and technical decisions. The science of psychoacoustics and how humans perceive sound plays a pivotal role in the arsenal of great mix engineers. The other side of the mixing coin is artistic or what I like to call taste. Every mix engineer has their own flavor when mixing. If you gave the same song to a thousand mixers, no two mixes would be the same.


Once the mastering engineer receives the single stereo track, the song will go through a series of steps before it is ready to be distributed for public consumption. Mastering engineers use the same types of tools (compressors, equalizers, limiters, stereo enhancements, etc.) as the mix engineer, except their job is to polish just one stereo track. The mastering engineer is responsible for making sure all of the songs in an album match each other in frequency balance and overall level and that those levels are comparable to commercial music already in the public domain.

They also place the songs in the correct order, embed the song title, artist name, and ISRC codes into the final master file before it is delivered to the label or artist. The mastering engineers primary goal is to enhance what the mix engineer has done in terms of punch, clarity, and overall quality so that the music sounds good on all mediums from smart phones to hi-fi sound systems.

Hopefully this gave you a better understanding of mixing and mastering. I hope this helps you make better music.