Mixing creates balance between the individual elements. They are made into one cohesive whole. The final polish is done with mastering. You can mix a mix but not master it. But you can’t master a record without mixing it.
Mixing allows you to access every instrument in a song. You need more lead vocals? You can have more lead vocals. You only have the final mix to master. It is much harder to alter the balance of individual elements.
Both at the mastering and mixing stages, you strive to achieve balance. Mixing is different because you balance individual instruments. Mastering is about balancing entire songs and their spectral content. Mixing makes instruments sound better together, mastering makes songs sound better together.
Mixing sessions can be very time-consuming. Simple arrangements can contain 32+ tracks. Complex projects may have hundreds of tracks. Mastering sessions are typically composed of one stereo or multitrack file for each song or multiple stems.
Mixing can be a tedious process. You make many adjustments to each track, some very heavy-handed. Your tweaks will only impact that element. Mastering, on the other hand, is subtle and broad strokes that have a profound effect on the whole song.
Mixing is all about improving the artist’s vision and ensuring that the original emotion is conveyed. Mastering is about sound quality. It makes sure that every song sounds the same or better than everyone else’s.
Which medium are you mastering?
Is your mastering done for vinyl or digital? Is your digital mastering for vinyl or digital? These are questions that an online mastering service cannot answer. Mastering is greatly affected by the medium you are mastering.
However, there are many other technical aspects that must be taken into consideration. Which streaming service is best for mastering? What will the most likely way for your audio to be normalized? Is there enough space for the online mastering service to allow you to protect your master from being clipped during the encoding process. It is crucial to leave enough room for the conversion process when mastering for streaming. This last question has a surprising answer. Online mastering services might account for different amplitudes that occur during the encoding process. However, one test seems to have proven otherwise.
What is the significance of consistency across multiple tracks?
This is an important aspect that you should be aware of. Engineers are able to tell when tracks should be equal in volume and when they should be slightly different. Engineers can adjust the mixes to meet your requirements and then begin processing. A mastering engineer can adjust volume between tracks to create album cohesion. An algorithm-based online mastering system does not have this ability. Online mastering allows you to adjust the volume, but it is impossible to control the loudness exactly as you want. If you have an EP or album to master, online mastering may not be the best choice.