What is the difference between mixing and mastering a track? How can you tell good distinctions from good and bad mixing/mastering?

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What is the difference between mixing and mastering a track? How can you tell good distinctions from good and bad mixing/mastering?

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Anonymous 0 Comments

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Anonymous 0 Comments

Mixing is like taking all the ingredients of a cake and then putting them together so that it tastes well balanced. All the flavours are at the right level, nothing overpowering everything else – unless that’s what you want to do.

Mastering is then decorating the cake. Making sure, for example, that it fits in nicely and matches the colour and flavour palates of the other cakes that are presented on the same shelf.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The cake analogy is good but not perfect because it might create some confusion about elements that might sometimes be called “ear candy”. When you’re still adding elements to a recorded track, even small decorative touches, it’s all still mixing. Mastering is almost entirely about the last final bit of the presentation like as a photo in a baked good catalog or on the plate at a restaurant.

Slightly more abstract here but:
Mixing is assembling all the sounds of a recorded track so that they play well together. You’re adjusting the balance of all the individual elements, EQing, panning them left/right/center, adding effects like reverb/delay/distortion/modulation, making sure the dynamics of the song come across.

Mastering is about adjusting the overall balance of a recorded track so that it plays well from a specific media or on a specific kind of playback system. Nowadays mastering is mostly just about applying a slight EQ to the overall mix and adding a final pass of compression and limiting so the song sounds loud enough, but back in the day a mastering engineer would be looking at the overall frequency range to make sure it wasn’t too high or too low for like 8-track or vinyl but CDs and streaming is digital so it doesn’t matter. The overall volume to make sure it had an appropriate dynamic range for vinyl, etc. Radio might need different frequency response than home stereos or dance club systems and a good master could account for that.