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  • Writer's pictureElvis Graholskis

Demystifying Mixing and Mastering: What Engineers Do and Why It Matters?

While you may have a general understanding of the roles of mixing and mastering engineers, there appears to be a scarcity of explanations regarding the specific qualifications and responsibilities associated with these roles. I hope this article will give you the information which you can apply and make your own judgements about who to hire and what to look for.

Mixing Engineers Job

A mixing engineer's job is all about blending different audio tracks together to make them sound professional and cohesive as a whole. Mixing engineers adjust the volume levels, balance the sounds from different instruments and vocals, and tweak the overall sound quality. That is the bare bones definition of a mixing engineer, but there is more that a mixing engineer might do. When a mixing engineer works on a project, they often come across problems in the original recording. Because their goal is to deliver the absolute best result, they take the initiative to address and fix those issues either before or during the mixing process. They want everything to sound top-notch, so they make sure to tackle any hurdles that might hinder the final outcome.

For example, the mixing engineer might tackle the following issues:

  • Unwanted spectral, clipping, crackling, humming and background noise in the audio track

  • Instrumental and vocal tracks can sometimes have bad timing when trying to follow the tempo of the song. Mixing engineer can makes time adjustments to the track which helps the song sound punchy and cohesive

  • Tuning issues - instruments and vocals can be out of tune so the mixing engineer might adjust and fix tuning issues.

  • Phase issues - Mixing engineer might hear and resolve phase issues

  • Drum, sample, guitar amp and bass amp replacement. Sometimes a mixing engineer might consider some sounds to be poorly recorded or not fitting the overall vibe of the mix, so they will change the sound in the box to resolve potential issues

The mentioned things might be all tackled by recording engineer or the producer of the songs, however it is also mixing engineers job to make sure that there are no issues with provided audio files before he can start and balance them.

Mixing Process - Technical and Artistic

Mixing process itself can be viewed in two parts - technical and artistic. Mixing engineer usually performs a lot of technical work to make sure that the original recordings sound better and cohesive. Since mixing engineers job depends on his ears, skills and creative thinking, the technical and artistic work usually blend together.

On the technical side mixing engineer employs the following work:

  • EQ or frequency carving. Mixing engineers use equalization to sculpt the frequency balance of each track, making space for different instruments and vocals. By boosting or cutting specific frequencies, they can improve clarity, presence, or tonal balance of a track.

  • Compression. By applying compression, a mixing engineer can even out the levels and create a more consistent sound. This technique helps to achieve a more balanced mix. Think of it as a way to keep the audio dynamics in check, making sure nothing gets too loud or too quiet.

  • Automation. Mixing engineers use automation to control the volume, panning, and effects parameters throughout a song. This allows them to balance the mix better and add movement and dynamics to different sections.

  • Panning and stereo widening. To create a wider stereo image and make the mix sound more spacious.

  • Saturation and Distortion, Adding saturation or distortion to tracks or the overall mix can introduce warmth, harmonics, and a vintage character, enhancing the perceived energy and excitement. It can also make the track to be perceived louder, without making it physically louder. Perceived loudness and actual peak volume are not the same. Perceived loudness is subjective and can vary depending on the listener and the context.

  • Creative Effects. There are many creative effects that can be applied and there is no limit of how many creative effects are out there, since a mixing engineer might use his creative thinking and create his own effects. Some usual effects are modulation, delay, reverb, chorus, flanger, however, he or she might also oversaturate a track to make it jump out, which can be considered a creative effect.

Mixing Is a Creative Process

If we take into account everything mentioned about a mixing engineer, one striking observation is the absence of a definitive guideline or blueprint for making a mix. Mixing engineers rely on their creativity to craft the final mix, which means that the same set of recordings can yield distinct results when handled by different engineers.

This difference extends beyond audio quality and track balance; it encompasses the feel, ear-candy, and overall flow of a song. Each mixing engineer brings their unique touch, resulting in a mix that carries their individual artistic interpretation. So, expect a diverse range of outcomes when finding the right mixing engineer to mix your song.

Mastering Engineer

Once the song is mixed and the mixed track is printed into 1 audio file, the mastering engineer can take that 1 track and master the song.

Mixing and mastering, in an ideal world with unlimited budget, must be done by two different people, since mixing and mastering are two different opinions about one song. After having the mix, mastering engineer might decided that there is too much bass or the vocals are too harsh and make adjustments according to what he or she thinks is better for the song.

The mastering engineer's job is to add a final polish to the track. They fix issues, make the song loud, and ensure it sounds great alongside other commercial releases. Using techniques like EQ, compression, saturation, fading, and volume riding, they optimize the audio for different systems. The last step for a mixing engineer, before printing/rendering the final product, is loudness maximization that is achieved by limiting. Mixing engineer might also use saturation to change perceived loudness of a song before that, but the peak and LUF's (Loudness Units Full Scale) are done in the limiting section.

Mixing and Mastering by 1 Person

Due to budget considerations, both individuals and labels often opt to have the mixing and mastering tasks handled by a single person. This approach allows for cost savings while still ensuring that the outcome is decent enough for a song to be distributed.

So it is not an end of the world and it is a common practice in the industry. You might have a better result when having a dedicated mixing and dedicated mastering engineer, but you can also get the outcome that is worse, especially if the mastering engineer is inexperienced. I hope you could learn from this article and if you want someone to mix and master your song, I will be glad to help you -

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