“If mixing can be compared to individuals in a community, mastering is the environment to it.”
Music production process consists of multiple creative & technical steps. With todays technology, it is more obvious that artistry is not just in music & composition but in sound as well. This is a generation of sampling & sound shaping. So a producer of today should be able to connect with the artistry behind mixing & mastering audio.
There are tens/hundreds of material for learning mixing and mastering audio which are aimed to reveal the tools and how to use them in a systematic fashion. We all know that every entity (the sound too) is more than tools and techniques. If there is no perspective, soul and aesthetics behind an approach, it is not possible to talk about art. So this tiny article is written to inspire you to have a perspective on top of all the data available.
The mixing process identifies the roles of every sound and defines aesthetically pleasing relations between the individual sounds of a track. Think of it as a book and the writer defines the characters within their relations in the beginning. It will be charming if there is enough space and contrast for story to evolve. Otherwise the story will kill itself quickly. This is same for a good mix. These relations should be clear and the elements should have enough space to reveal their individual color. Every relation should have a reason to it, if two instruments are fighting for the same frequency range this should be on purpose. Like anything else.
Practically there is not a right mix or a wrong one. Otherwise there will not be different musical tastes and balances all around the world. Rather than being correct, the entirety of the mix is the most crucial. If you want your track to have character, define your relations not according to books or other producer suggestions but with your own choices. Your only limit is the entirety of your mix. For example if your hats are too loud for a general drum mix, don’t let it sound amateur but characterful. This approach of finding your own balance might be hard at first but definetely worthed for a unique expression. Probably this is not a good choice for a well known genre mix, but again the aesthetics rely on the character and definition you load into it.
On the other hand the mastering perspective is totally different. If mixing can be compared to individuals in a community, mastering is the environment to it.
Film directors have light and color palette’s they prefer to work with. Some prefer darker scenes more and some prefer dull colors to support their expression.
The same is true for composers, especially within electronic music compositions. The mastering engineers mission is to decide on the most suitable environment for every unique piece of music. Mastering side is a little more restricted than the mixing side. Limitations are,
* The track is already composed and mixed, the perspective is already there, so you cant change that perspective totally unless wanted so.
* You are playing with a whole piece of audio rather than stems and different parts of the mix (generally this is more healthy), so yes you can add clear definitions by taking smooth actions but cant make drastic changes.
* The track should be mastered so when listened in different systems and places it must be consistent to some extent.
Above all these limitations, definition, clarity and color you add onto a mix defines your art. Mastering engineers should all have an experience on how different styles of music sound and what kind of a balance these styles have.
Generally the equipment and tools you use define the character of the mastered audio. It is like shooting a movie with a certain camera gives a certain look. Over the years mastering engineers define their tools and workflow so they start to have a signature sound to them.
The good old advice “dont master the track you composed” is a bit different today. We know a bunch of popular producers track, mix and master their own material. For me this works when you are looking for a unique sound or when your sound is already there when you are finished with mixing. So only a little limiting is applied as mastering.
Above all never forget a piece of art is about perspective and decisions (emotional and logical). The one thing you may grab from this article is, make your own decisions on a piece of music if you want it to have a unique perspective.
Reflect your ideas as comments,