Making music has many stages to it. Possibly the most important part is the final one: mixing and mastering. The process of making your track sound as great as it can be. Mixing music involves making sure the levels of each section - vocals and music - are where they need to be for your track and putting each section together into song format. Meanwhile, mastering involves processing the mix so that your song or album is ready for radio, TV and streaming.

There are various ways to go about both, and in this article we’re giving a step-by-step guide on how to make your music ready for your fans to listen to. You don’t need to be an engineer to know how mixing and mastering works; having a professional to help you out can be handy, but finishing off your music isn’t impossible without one. Scroll down for a run through a very important part of music making.

How to mix your music

So, you’ve finished your production and recorded your vocals (if you need them) and they sound great individually but now, each section needs to be put in the correct place. This involves layering each individual element into a multitrack where each element flows into the next.

For example, if you’re a musician who has sung and recorded instruments in a studio or on a DAW (Ableton, Logic etc.), both count as individual tracks. The next step will be making them sound great together.

Use your DAW to organize your tracks into individual channels and in the way they should be for the overall mix or multitrack. In order to pitch each section perfectly so that they’re all at the same volume, use a plugin to adjust. You can then use many tools to make sure the track sounds right, including compression, EQ, reverb or filters to get the sound you want and balance out the vocals and music. Each have different functions:

  • Compression keeps the levels of each individual track at whatever dynamic range you choose.
  • EQ manipulates the frequency of the overall mixed track.
  • Reverb is an additional function that can add extra impact to sections of a song.

Other filters such as delay, saturation and modulation can also help to fully form the sonic range of your track, and you can use each filter at your discretion.

For more inspiration, you can study any tracks that inspired yours in the first place. These are known as reference tracks and they can influence the sound you want for your own music.

Once you’re happy with your mix, play the track in different settings so that the volume levels are the same. Play the track in a studio through speakers, through your headphones or earbuds or even in your car. Play it to your friends, family and people you trust in any environment you can find so that you’re confident with how your track sounds.

Producers and engineers use studios like this to mix and master music. Photo credit: Snap Studios

How to master your music

Now that your track is mixed to your liking, mastering is the final part of the process. It usually isn’t as detailed as mixing and more about applying light touches to the final product. So, extra EQ, compression, limiting and enhancement can be used to make your music sound professional and ready for consumption on TV, radio and streaming services. This can be done on a DAW if you work from one or in a studio with an engineer.

Mastering an album involves making sure each individual song is polished and flows into the next, adding fade-ins and fade-outs where necessary. This is called sequencing.

For extra perspective, it might be best to leave your music alone for a while after the mixing process. Return to it with fresh thoughts of how the final cut should sound.

As with mixing, listening to reference tracks will remind you of your original intention for the song and guide mastering. Overall, you want the final track to be as true to your initial idea as possible and with a few adjustments, mastering will do just that.

Products like this program equalizer are used by engineers to control the sound levels of music. Photo credit: Snap Studios

If you need a bit of extra help

All of the information above may sound daunting, and if you need extra assistance with mixing and mastering, services such as Landr and eMastered are a good place to start. They offer online mixing and mastering services at affordable prices so that you’re not alone on your journey. As with every part of making music, mixing and mastering is something that needs your maximum attention so you can get maximum results.

Check out more musical deep dives on Campus, including this list of cheap music production tools to help you out.