Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of different clients with lots of different backgrounds, and aside from “What’s the difference between a producer and an engineer,” one of the questions that pops up more than any other is: “What’s the difference between mixing a mastering?” The simple answer is that mixing deals with the individual instruments and mastering deals with the track as a whole, but I’ve found even that answer to be somewhat confusing, so let’s try it another way.
Lets say you wanted to bake a cake.
Step 1. Gather the ingredients you’ll need, like flour, sugar, butter, eggs and whatever else the recipe calls for. In the recording world this is akin to figuring out which instruments you want to have in your song.
Step 2. Put them together according to the recipe. This is much like the arrangement of the song, where you determine which instruments (including vocals) play at which parts.
Step 3. Mix, stir, and whatever else it takes to turn it into cake batter (I admit that I’ve never actually baked a cake). This would be the recording process.
Step 4. Bake the cake! This is when all the ingredients are subjected to heat and the cake starts to take shape. This is also the mixing portion when all the instruments are manipulated into the desired sound and shape.
Step 5. Once the cake is out of the oven it’s now time to add the icing! This step, ladies and gentlemen, is mastering. Mastering adds the final sheen and gloss. It brings the whole track together and enhances the mix to make it fuller, brighter bigger, wider and all sorts of cool stuff. Just as putting icing on the cake can’t alter the ingredients in the cake, mastering cannot change the mix, only enhance it.
Step 6. Share the cake with friends and enjoy it together!
(I apologize to any people out there can actually bake. This may not make the best of cakes, but it makes for some great sounding music.)
Cary Crichlow, Senior Producer and Engineer
RCR Recording Studios