Mastering vs. Mixing – What is the difference?

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

From: “Gary Baldanza”


Thanks for getting back to me. I’m a bit confused. I thought that purchasing mastering services included the mix, or, to put it another way, how can you do a master if you don’t have each instrument (including vocals) on their own
separate channel for you to manipulate.

Dear Gary:

Not to be dismayed. Many people confuse “mixing” with “mastering”. At this time, most mastering engineers work with 2-track tapes that have been previously mixed down to stereo by the producers or artists. Mixing is the art of getting a soundfield, with the reverberation, delays, special effects, and equalization, not just mixing the levels of the tracks. Each song can take hours or even days to get just the perfect mix depending on how much time you want to spend on it. As we move from 2-channel to surround, mastering will increasingly include some mixing, but the “mixing” will always be of “stems” or submixes that are reductions from a far greater number of tracks. In most 2-track work, the mix engineer is sure enough about his/her work to send a simple 2-track mix; or, if you want to send stems, send a mix minus vocal and bass, perhaps, with the vocal and bass on 2 separate tracks, total 4-5 tracks. For a surround project, a 24-track format will be useful to send stems, as each “stem” will consist of 4 to 6 tracks in a soundfield. Since mixing takes considerable time in itself, your project could take two to 3 days just for the mixing, followed by 3 to 5 hours (typical) for the mastering.

Mastering is the art of refining and polishing a mix to take it to the next quality level. And many other nuances you can visit at our website.

You may need to boost the lows for the bass because it the original recording is too flat and lacks “punch”. If you had everything pre-mixed on a mini-disk or two track tape you wouldn’t have much flexibility.

True! But first of all, you’ve got to get it “in the ballpark” and have a conception of the sound you are going for. Because the two procedures, mixing and mastering–are different processes.

Another approach is for you to work closely with us as you mix. Clients can send us a “mix in progress” for us to review, give them comments on how they are doing. That’s because the better the tape that is sent to us, the better the master we can make. You send us one song and we tell you how it’s going, what we can do with it, or whether it is better for you to remix.

I hope this helps,


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