Some of you may be wondering what mastering is. To tell you the truth, it took me a while to understand its distinction from mixing.
Perhaps the main distinction between mastering from mixing is that the latter deals with multiple tracks. Mastering involves the tweaking of a consolidated single track. When you’re done mixing your project or session in your DAW software, you mix it down to a single track to have it ready for general listening. Even if you’re already happy with your mix, editing does not necessarily end there, as the mixed down files still may need some additional tweaking. This is mastering.
These tweaks may be necessary for different reasons, including:
- correcting minor issues such as noise or unwanted peaks
- making sure that volume levels across different songs in an album remain relatively close to each other.
- making sure that a mixdown is optimized or will sound good when played through a specific setup, such as headphones or the stereo system of a car or a theater.
With the above reasons mentioned, it should again be emphasized that mastering is not meant to save bad mixes. It can, or should only introduce minor enhancements or adjustments.
Now, one can argue that this, above all else, is where your critical listening skills and quality of audio gear will be crucial. Good mastering requires a high level of attention to detail and a sense of what sounds good and what sounds bad. This is also where you can further optimize the audio with respect to how audio is meant to be listened to.
Much like mixing, for most of us here, this will boil down to intuition, to trial and error. If you already have a good mix, it will just be a matter of working on the tiny details and maybe making sure your audio will sound good across a wide variety of speaker sets. If the mix is bad, you’re going to have a rough time working, so much so that, it might be a good idea to go back to re-mixing your project.