Mastering Mistake To Avoid: Don't Get Mixed Up With Mixing & Mastering

It's common these days for the same person to mix and master the same track. There are plenty of potential problems for engineers to take this approach though. Joe Albano explains one pitfall here.  

Conventional wisdom suggests that, when a mix is done and it comes time for mastering,  it’s always a good idea to bring in a different engineer—a dedicated mastering specialist—for the task. But given the nature of modern production, it’s become more common to see the same mix engineer take on mastering duties as well—this could be due to logistics, or finances, or just because he wants to maintain control (what?—a control freak in the recording industry?!). This is, of course, doable—I’ve done it many times myself—but it does come with some potential pitfalls, that anyone who intends to go down that path should be well aware of. 

If the same engineer who mixed (and possibly also tracked, and even produced) is handling the mastering as well, his intimate familiarity with all the details of the arrangement and mix could turn out to be a disadvantage. When you’ve been listening to the same tracks over & over (& over), your brain starts to subconsciously fill in the gaps—you hear what you expect to hear—what you know should be there—rather than what actually is there. Another problem with over-familiarity is that you’re not going to react to the music as a new listener, hearing the song for the first time, would be likely to. Once again, you might hear what you intended the mix to sound like, rather than how it’s actually coming across, and miss out on an opportunity to make some subtle improvements.

A new person coming in to master will be more likely to both pick up on flaws, and get a first impression of the song/mix that will better anticipate how other potential users may react to it. But mixers who also take on mastering can still do a good job—if they can somehow shake off their over-familiarity with the project, and approach it, as much as possible, with their own set of “fresh ears”. 

This video, from the 10 Common Mastering Mistakes course, takes a look at the issue of multitasking through the mixing and mastering stages of production, exploring in more detail the potential pitfalls of wearing both hats, and some approaches that engineers commonly take to deal with the potential disadvantages, when they do find themselves taking on double-duties in the studio.

The rest of the 10 Common Mastering Mistakes course delves into more “Don’ts”—suggestions of things to avoid and alternative approaches—when applying the subtle tweaks and adjustments at that final stage of production. Check it out at in The Ask.Audio Academy here.

Joe is a musician, engineer, and producer in NYC. Over the years, as a small studio operator and freelance engineer, he's made recordings of all types from music & album production to v/o & post. He's also taught all aspects of recording and music technology at several NY audio schools, and has been writing articles for Recording magaz... Read More


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