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mixdown vs mastering

What is the difference between Mixdown vs Mastering

If you’re a band, artist or music producer, your sound is the most important thing. You should know the difference between mixdown vs mastering. You might have carved out your own musical niche – be it metal, trap, a soul diva, disco or techno producer – but if your sound isn’t the best it can be, you’ll struggle to stand out from the competition.

This is why bands and producers need to know the difference between a mixdown and a mastered track. Why they need to know how to EQ, how to use compression, reverb and multi-track. 

This Ma’ana blog will talk you through the terms you need to know, the crucial differences between a mixdown and mastered track and some places where you can get your mix and music mastered online for free! 

The Mixdown 

The mixdown is the final blend of your track. It’s the combination of the drums, guitar, vocals, bass, FX etc all merged into one final track. 

Where bands in the 60s could only record on a multi-track with 4 parts, meaning drums, vocals, bass and guitar normally. Today a mixdown can include dozens of different parts. 

And with so many different parts all competing to be heard in the final mixdown, getting the levels and blending them together is crucial so your mixdown is as clear as possible. 

There are many different ways to create an effective mixdown and sound mixing. Firstly, the levels need to be balanced. Your drums shouldn’t be dominating the mix and your guitar solo should not be lost. Bringing the levels up and down is the easiest way to start the blend. 

EQ is the next best tool. All music has a different frequency and when those frequencies clash or are overloaded, it’ll reflect in the final mixdown. Creating a muddy and messy sound. Using the best Equalizer you can find, ideally an eight-band one, you can visually see where the frequencies are on each track. Cut and boost where you need to to create space and clarity. 

Other important tools to get the right mixdown are reverb and compression. Reverb will add depth and fullness to your sound. If your music was recorded live in a studio, it’ll automatically have a bit of reverb (it’s the faint echo sound that you get in all recording environments and playing spaces). But if you’re using loops or computer made noises, you’ll need to add reverb to create a more natural sound. 

Mixdown Compression

The other main tool is compression. Compression is normally used on the kick drum and the bass, where it boosts the quietest sounds and reduces the loudest, creating a more balanced dynamic range. Another way to explain it is it makes the sound louder without increasing the amplitude. It can help create greater space and clarity in the track, boosting quieter sounds and frequencies. 

Most music making software including Ableton, Logic and Reason will have inbuilt compressors, EQs, reverb settings and more, meaning you can tweak and adapt your mixdown as you go. 

It’s important to test your final mixdown on a variety of speakers – check the final track on headphones, via laptop speaker, in the car and on a big soundsystem if you can. It’s also important to take a break when you’re creating the mixdown. Take regular breaks to let your ears recover. Another top tip is to use a reference track for your mixdown. Take a track you like the sound of and regularly compare your track with the comparison track. Tweak it until the two sound closer and closer together. 

Mastering 

Traditionally, a band, artist or producer will create the final mixdown themselves. It can take hours, even days, to find the right mixdown. But like most skills, you’ll get quicker and better at the process the more you do it. 

Once you’re happy with the mixdown it’s time to get the track mastered. 

Think of the mixdown as the cake you’ve made yourself. It’s tasty, but it’s a bit rough around the edges. And then compare it to a cake made with the same ingredients by a professional baker. Obviously, it looks good and it tastes even better. Mastering and audio engineering is a similar process – it adds polish and sheen to the final track. It creates the final track that is ready for distribution. That track will sound as good through iPod headphones as it will on a Funktion 1 sound system.

Mastering will correct any sonic deficiencies, adjust sound levels, add compression, limiting, EQing the track, add reverb and more to make sure the track sounds up to date with modern music. Plus, if you’re mastering an EP or an album, the mastering will ensure each mastered track sound similar. This is because the same processes are applied to all tracks to create a uniform sound. Lastly, there are dozens of different music streaming platforms including Youtube, Spotify, Soundcloud, Deezer, Anghami and many more. And each one will have a different audio player meaning your music will sound different on each platform. Largely this is because each platform wants to sound the loudest and clearest – check out the Loudness Wars for a fascinating read – and a professional master will take these different platforms into account. 

It’s not easy to master

But where you can create your own mixdown, creating your own master is a trickier process. 

For one thing, you’ll have heard the track so many times that; a) you can’t tell where it needs to be boosted, how to boost or cut the EQ frequencies. And b) you’re probably sick of the sound of the track and are quite happy to trust the process to a new set of ears. 

The good news is that where once you had to go to a professional mastering engineer for the process, you can now show around online or try to create a mastered finish your self. 

Software like Izotope lets you take control of the mastering mix online yourself and is relatively easy to use. It’s very expensive, however, so only really an option if it’s something you’re going to do yourself regularly. 

There are now plenty of online sites where you can get your music mastered. Sites like LandrCloudbounceeMastered and loads more. Most will let you try their mastering out for free if you sign up. As well as offer a variety of different subscription models. Shop around to get the best deals and compare the prices and the different mastering qualities. 

Profession mastering

While online sites have come a long way in the last few years, it’s hard to beat giving your mixdown to a professional sound engineer who’s mastered thousands of tracks over the years. Prices will vary from around AED50 per track to AED500, with a range of different options. Again, shop around, ask for recommendations and haggle. You’ll get a better price if you send an EP or album for mastering, as opposed to sending over individual tracks. 

One important consideration is that if your music is signed to a label, they will nearly always organise the mastering, paying for the service. When submitting music to record labels to be signed, you want it to sound as rich and polished as possible. Using an online mastering service can be a relatively cost-efficient way to create a more polished sound and get the attention of the label. When you consider how competitive the music market is, any small difference could be crucial. 

Conclusion

A mixdown is something that a band, artist or producer will work towards, balancing all elements of a track together to create a rough but effective version. Mastering then provides the professional finish to the track, making it ready for the public. There are plenty of Youtube tutorials and online courses you can take to improve your mixdown and mastering skills. And thanks to the online revolution, plenty of websites where you can simply upload your music to their mastering algorithm. Either way, putting in the hours refining your mixdown and mastering will pay huge dividends in your music career. In turn, helping you stand out from the competition. And they’ll be skills that will last you a lifetime, growing with you. 

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