· Tracking (the technical term for recording) involves capturing sound into your DAW.
· Mixing involves adjusting and combining individual tracks into a stereo or multichannel format, a.k.a. the mix.
· Mastering involves processing your mix into its final form so that it’s ready for distribution, which may include transitioning and sequencing the songs.
6 Important Differences Between Mixing and Mastering
1. Mixing creates a balance between individual elements. It transforms them into a cohesive whole. Mastering takes that whole and gives it a final polish. Consequently, you can create a mix without mastering it, but you can’t master a recording without mixing it first.
2. Mixing gives you access to every instrument in a song. Need more lead vocal? No problem. While mastering, you only have access to the final mix. This makes altering the balance between individual elements much more difficult.
3. At both the mixing and mastering stages, you’re striving to achieve balance. The difference is that during mixing you’re balancing individual instruments. During mastering, you’re balancing complete songs and spectral content. Simply put, mixing makes instruments sound good together; mastering makes songs sound good together.
4. Mixing sessions can be huge. A simple rock or pop arrangement can easily contain 32+ tracks, while complex projects can have track counts in the hundreds. Mastering sessions, on the other hand, typically consist of one stereo or multitrack file per song, or possibly multiple stems.
5. While mixing, you make lots of adjustments — some quite heavy-handed — to each track. After all, your tweaks only affect that particular element. Mastering is the complete opposite — it uses subtle broad strokes that affect the entire song.
6. The mixing process is about enhancing the artist’s vision, making sure that the original emotional intent is conveyed. Mastering, on the other hand, is focused on sound quality. It ensures that the song sounds just as good (or better) than everybody else’s.