Audio production has a number of stages associated with it, typically recording first, then mixing and mastering. This article will concentrate on mixing and mastering. When all the tracks for a song have been recorded it will be handed over to a mix engineer who will load the tracks into a digital audio workstation. The tracks themselves might be mixed within a digital mixing environment or they might be sent out of the computer to an analogue mixing console.
Either way the tracks will be balanced together using the faders in the software or the physical faders on the mixing console. Many engineers like the feel of an analogue mixing console, analogue equipment can also add a special sound character to the mix itself. Within the console or workstation there will be channels that can process the signals within them. The most important processing as standard, would be the equalizers. These allow the mix engineer to sculpt the tone of a sound, i.e. add bass to a kick drum, add mid range attack to a snare or some brightness to the high hats and cymbals. In addition the channel on the mixer will allow the mix engineer to send the signal elsewhere to add effects such as reverb, delay or chorus. The mixer will allow the sound signal in the channel to be located within the stereo field using a pan control, the pan control can put the signal to the left and to the right, creating a believable stereo image.
Mastering is usually exercised on a collection of tracks that will appear on a CD or compilation of digital files. Importantly, the level between the tracks will be considered so they play at similar or at least sympathetic volumes to each other. During mastering the tone of a track may be globally adjusted to add some character or subtle eq tweaks made to bring mix elements into focus. This will ensure the music will translate as well as it can to as many sound systems as possible. Remember there is a big difference between a smart phone and a club playback system. The mastering engineer will aim for making the music suitable for these widely disparate reproduction systems.
In addition, the mastering engineer will be listening for sonic defects such as vocal mic pops (wind blasts), extraneous studio noises and clicks and glitches caused by edits in the mixing process. These can easily go missed in a stressful and long mixing session and the objectivity of an online mastering studio is greatly appreciated. The mastering engineer will also be responsible for creating the master files and committing them to a pre-master disk or as quality checked files to send to the client. When a pre-master disk is created the disk needs to be PQ encoded, a process of inserting markers for the tracks start and end points on the CD-R disk.
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