Below are a few quick explanations of important questions one might have when collaborating with a mixing or mastering engineer. The answers are meant to make you comfortable with the vocabulary, rather than be in-depth explorations of each topic. There are a lot of great articles explaining these questions extensively and, if you’re interested, you definitely should google them.

Why should I get a mixing or mastering engineer to work on my music?

The absolute foundation of mixing and mastering is a concern for the sounds in a song, track or piece. If you play an unmixed recording or production and compare it to a finished release of a similar genre, you’ll probably find that it sounds quite different – maybe some instruments are drowned, or the whole thing is really unclear, or the sounds simply aren’t as refined as in the finished track. If the composition and production are good, the gap in quality between a mixed and unmixed track can be astounding at times. That gap is exactly what mixing and mastering engineers do – take a raw recording or production, clean and balance it, and develop the sounds to serve its vision the most they can.

Unmixed Raw Tracks
Tracks by João Borsch and DroPe.
Mixed and Mastered Tracks
Tracks by João Borsch, DroPe.

What is mixing? What is mastering?

Mixing is generally the biggest part of the work, when one thinks of working on a project’s sonics. A Mixing Engineer fixes and cleans the technical flaws or artifacts inherent to any recording, rebalances each track to better serve its role in the whole thing, and creatively shapes the sonic signature for a track or song. When a tracks’ sounds are good, that’s probably either the producer or the mixing engineer’s responsibility.

Mastering engineers do a much more subtle job. They typically receive a stereo file with the finished mix, gently shape the broad aspects of its sound, ensure the tracks flow into each other (temporally and dynamically) in an album or EP , makes the track suitable for reproduction in different kinds of sound systems and, lastly, prepare the technical aspects to ensure release goes smoothly.

Mixing and mastering engineers might even use the exact same tools, but their concerns are very different. A mastering engineer usually shouldn’t fix a weird vocal sound – that is a mixing engineer’s responsibility. But a mastering engineer can ensure that your track has just the right amount of bass energy to be back-to-back with other commercial tracks on a playlist, for example.

Does my production need editing?

If you check my prices for mixing, you’ll notice I always have an optional add-in for editing. Timing and performance quality can be such a big part of a mix’s sound, that editing can be killer in getting to a good mix. In fact, many engineers will tell you they simply won’t be able to get a good mix if a performance is sloppy or if parts/takes were badly edited together. There is no saving an unmusical mix. This is often a source of conflict between musicians/producers and engineers. In fact, many mix engineers simply have to edit tracks, not being paid for that time, to avoid putting out a bad job.

To communicate clearly and have truthful expectations, artists should understand that it is almost impossible to match the standards of mainstream recorded music without editing or super tight performances. Are you worried that editing might hinder the vibe and musicality of your recordings? Good editing isn’t robotic, it simply recognizes the author’s intentions and that recording in a studio can’t always be a lengthy, slow process. If you’re unsure, it’s likely is that you do need editing on your recordings.

What’s the difference between booking a Mix+Master and hiring separate engineers for each phase?

Since, in my opinion, quite a lot of mastering is about having another person with a fresh ears and perspective work on the track, if you order a mix and master from me, I don’t exactly consider that final phase a “master”. Even though any good mixing engineer can deliver a finished track that sounds ready to publish in various formats, I believe that almost all the time – if there is a budget for it – a good mastering engineer will do a better job on the master and deliver a better product.