So you're done with your track... but it needs something. Mixing? Mastering? Rubbing the lamp to get the genie out?
There are three different working steps on a track, from its design to its distribution: production, mix and mastering. But it's not always easy to know where one step ends and where the next one begins.
The production of a track is to create the track itself. It is to choose the elements that are going to be part of it and bring them life and character so they can become one single piece together. This is the step where the relationship and order of the elements is chosen —what sub gives body to the track, what synth carries the melody and what kind of tiny bell tinkles on the background.
- It creates the characters of the movie and gives them a script to follow and the lines to read. Who's the good guy, who's the bad guy and who gets the girl at the end.
To mix a track is to shape the already created elements so they can all work good together. At this point the levels, delays and personalities must be already defined since the mixing processes will be focused on polishing those elements and getting the best out of them —mixing will control that the background tinkle bell doesn't have a 2KHz resonance piercing your crowd's ears.
- It studies the plot of the movie and makes the characters real and alive, making them interact with each other properly. If the guy on the screen is wearing a blue shirt, then the wall behind him can't be blue.
On the mix you don't decide what kind of EQ is applied to the bass; you decide how to perfect that EQ so it works in line with the rest of the low elements and creates a nice and moving groove instead of a big ball of low frequencies that destroys everything on its path.
Harrison Ford is holding your track on his hands. That big ball is your low end.
Mastering is the final step and it's what gives body and presence. When all the elements are defined it's time to work on them as a single piece and shape the dynamics, color and stereo image that was created when they were joined together.
At this moment, the final EQ, compression and limiters are applied in order to make that track sound complete and ready to be released —it's the difference between playing your track on your phone and playing it on the club.
- This is what makes the movie win the Oscar. It brings the final color, the editing and the soundtrack that goes along with all the characters. Brings to the light all the work done, and wraps it up with a bow.
Production, mix and mastering always go together and they just can't live without each other. Production always comes from the artist so once you have your track done, the question is what do you want to do with your track now?