Mixing and mastering are two of the most underrated services in the music business. As creators, we should want our music to sound amazing. Here's why. Frankly, with the ability for literally anybody in the world to buy a microphone and recording device, more and more of the music being released does not go through the necessary steps to ensure that the song sounds its best. I can speak from experience, because when I was 18, I knew how to do one thing...press record, and press stop. That was my first self-made album. Boy was I naive! I hadn't taken the time to educate myself on how the music I grew up listening to, and loved, sounded the way it did. Take the time to either A) Study and learn how to mix and master your own music, and devote the time to hone your craft, or B) Hire a professional.
What is mixing and why is it important? Well, let your ears figure that out. Below is one of my songs, "Mess of Me". Take a listen to the one named "Mess of Me (UNMIXED VERSION FOR DEMONSTRATION)", and then take a listen to the other one named "Mess of Me". (Highly recommend that you listen on headphones) What do you notice?
In the unmixed version, there's a lack of clarity, the vocals are low, the instruments are not balanced, and it just doesn't sound...polished. The mixing process (separate from the recording process) allows one to hear the song, and tailor-make decisions to ensure the recording is clear, and that the elements in the song work well together for a pleasing listening experience. This includes (but is nowhere near limited to): setting volumes, choosing if certain instruments are louder or softer at certain points in time, creating space with panning instruments, carving out or enhancing sound frequencies, compressing tracks to ensure they are controlled, adding space and creative elements with reverb and delay, and more.
If the goal of your song is ultimately to be heard, mixing is a necessity. The listener's ear is used to hearing (for the most part) well polished songs that have been mixed and mastered. To create the best experience for the listener, take the necessary time to create a well-polished, and well balanced mix. I'm finding that more and more artists, producers, and songwriters are achieving balance and polish during the recording process, which is fantastic. That means the mixing process may not need to focus as much in one area, but it's still crucial to ensure everything sounds it's best.
There are plenty of tutorials, videos, PDFs, and courses where you can learn to mix and master. If you are passionate about wanting to learn it, I say go for it. Get those tools in your tool belt. If you're not interested in it, be sure to set aside some money to hire someone to mix and master. Let your ears decide...if you have favorite songs that you love listening to and want that type of sonic quality, find someone who can give you that same quality, or better.
What is mastering? - In short, after the song is mixed, there is one final step to ensure the song will sound it's best, anywhere it is played. Music lovers listen to music on everything from earbuds to top-of-the-line headphones, from TV speakers to laptop speakers, movie theaters to major stadiums, grocery store speakers, and yes...record players even still! All these sound sources will sound different, so how do you ensure your song sounds it's best on all of them? Enter...Mastering!
Sure, these days many, many creators mix and master their own songs, and that's absolutely wonderful, so long as the intention is to achieve the best quality you can (with constant training and constant referencing). The best way to get good at something is to do it again, and again...the right way. Others may choose to sometimes, oftentimes, or always hire someone else to mix and master their song, even if it's solely for a different ear/perspective for the song. Still, others may have one person mix, and another person master it. One's budget has a lot to do with why certain choices are made, and when. Ultimately, with each and every song...you get to choose. But I feel the most important aspect of mastering is having a dedicated session where one listens to the fully mixed song, and makes sonic and technical decisions regarding the overall song, so that it sounds it's best and consistent with the sonic quality of what's in the marketplace (in a nutshell).
I hope this has provided you with some insight and perspective.
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