Mixing & Mastering Pt. I – An Intro
Published on May 14th, 2020 – 5 minute read
This is the first of a two-part article series about getting your songs mixed and mastered by a studio. The first part explains what exactly mixing and mastering means, and explores the some basics of recording at home versus at a recording studio. The second part explains how to prepare your tracks before sending it off to get it mixed or mastered by a studio.
1. Why get your songs mixed and mastered?
When you record your voice or instrument, the first thing you’ll notice when you compare it to your favorite song is that it just doesn’t sound the same. It may be a great song, but there’s a particular reason why the audio quality doesn’t sound as spacious, clear or loud as what other artists release. The reason is mixing and mastering.
Audio Mixing Definition
Now, what exactly is mixing? Just like how recording is a process of capturing the sound of your voice or instrument, mixing is a process of placing the sounds that you’ve recorded in a way that each sound fits together like a puzzle. To continue with the puzzle analogy, each sound is a piece in this puzzle, but only when they’re put in the right place and connected to each other, are you able to see the bigger picture. In the same way, when each sound has been put in the right place and connected to each other, you’re able to hear the entirety of your song in a way that sounds more spacious (bigger), clearer and louder. (There is a lot of discussion whether louder is better, but that’s for another topic.)
Say you’ve either learned to mix yourself, or gotten it mixed professionally by an audio engineer at a studio. You go show your friend on their speakers, expecting to hear the same thing as what you’ve spent hours upon hours perfecting to sound exactly how you want it to sound. But it doesn’t. Without going into too much detail, music being played through different devices (your headphones, speakers, in your car, etc.) will often sound different. This is partly where mastering comes in.
Audio Mastering Definition
Mastering is a process which adds the frame around the puzzle that the mixing process has put together. In other words, it adds the final touches so that it sounds well across different devices, makes your songs sound consistent (if you want to release an EP or album) and – sometimes most importantly – provides a professional, fresh perspective from someone who can help make sure that the sound is up to commercial standards. Along the same lines, mastering engineers will have the equipment and the right acoustic treatment to hear and correct frequencies that may be missing or are too loud. One important thing to note, however, is that if your mixing hasn’t been done well, mastering will not do much to help make your song(s) sound better. Adding a frame to a puzzle with a missing piece will still be a puzzle with a missing piece – adding the frame won’t change that fact.
2. Recording at home vs. at a recording studio
The decision to record at home versus at a recording studio can depend on certain factors ranging from what quality of recording you require, all the way to what genre you’re creating. The reason why what genre you’re creating comes into the mix (pun intended) is that you will have different needs depending on whether you’re recording vocals on a pre-made beat or whether you’re a four-piece band.
While there’s been a modern trend of musicians recording at home, sometimes this method can have its own limitations. Recording studios offer expensive equipment for you to use in a space that has been constructed specifically to record in. While you may get 75% quality recording at home, recording studios will be able to offer that extra 25% which can affect the journey of your song as it goes from recording, mixing, mastering to being heard by your fans.
Recording at home means investing in equipment, learning the basics of recording, and applying acoustic treatment to your recording space. It is certainly viable, and is done by many artist. It comes down to your own preference – and often – budget. Either way the reality is that you’ll need to invest either time to learn or money to buy equipment, or money to pay to record at a recording studio. It should be noted that recording studios will also provide you with the audio files for them to mix and/or master themselves, or for you to send to another studio for the next to processes.
3. Recording at Home – Some Basics
If you’re going the DIY route of recording at home, you’ll either need at least one microphone to record analog (think vocals, drums, guitar or bass amp) or an audio interface for plugging your electric instrument directly to your computer. If you have a piano or synth, generally you will have a MIDI to USB plug which will allow you to connect it directly to your computer’s USB port.
Next, you’ll need a software to record what you play. This is where DAWs (digital audio interfaces) become involved in the process. These are softwares that musicians, bands and professional sound engineers use to accomplish a variety of tasks such as recording, editing, arranging, mixing and exporting – to name a few main functions. While professional musicians and engineers generally pay for these programs, you can find a list of free DAWs that we’ve put together here to get you started. Choosing your preferred DAW may take some trial and error. Although they provide similar basic functions for the most part, you may find that one is easier or more effective than another for what you’re trying to accomplish.
Now you go record an awesome song! If you’ve already recorded a song and want to get it mixed and mastered professionally by a studio, the next part of this article series covers how to prepare your files before sending it to a studio.