MIXING AND MASTERING: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

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Nigeria has some of the most advanced recording studio technology in Africa, and provides rubust commercial opportunities for music performers. Ronnie Graham, an historian who specialises in West Africa, has attributed the success of the Nigerian music industry to the country’s culture – it’s “thirst for aesthetic and material success and a voracious appetite for life, love and music, (and) a huge domestic market, big enough to sustain artistes who sing in regional languages and experiment with indigenous styles”.

The terms are often confused. In the article, we shall outline the differences between them both and share some Digital Audio Workstation (D.A.W) independent Mixing Tips.

As you start to finish your first tracks, you will enter into what is known as the phase. Put simply, once you finish composing and arranging your song, you will mix, and then master your tracks. While it is possible to think that every artiste can Master his music, it is always recommended the song be taken to a pro! Although there have been cases where an artiste would wish that his music be handled by an expert, but his (artiste) slim purse/budget doesn’t make such dream a reality. Sometimes the artiste even wants to be a mastering engineer himself. The simple advise is for him to surrender himself to the right training and information in order to do a great job of mastering his own works. The best things in life come with a price!

MIXING is when you take all the tracks and adjust them for clarity and balance.

MASTERING on the other hand is when you have finished the Mixing process, and now you manipulate the overall sound to get proper volume for the destination sound system. Sometimes, songs are mastered to be optimally played back on a large club sound system. Other times the song will be mastered to sound as good as possible as an MP3 played on computer speakers. “Loudness War” or “loudness race” is just the popular name given to the trend of increasing audio levels in recorded music since the early 1990s, which some critics believe reduces sound quality and listener enjoyment. Increasing loudness was first reported as early as the 1940s with respect to mastering practices for 7″ singles.

Let’s return to Mixing.

The name of the game is audio clarity. Think of your mix as various “Pockets of Sounds” when you have the highs, the mids, the lows, you have the left speaker, you have the right speaker, you have the “foreground area” of the mix, and the “background area” of the mix.

You have four main tools at your disposal for the main part of the Mixing:

1. Good Arrangement
2. Subtractive EQ
3. Panning
4. Volume

GOOD ARRANGEMENT is about you having to consider when sounds occupy what pocket areas. For instance, in the high pocket, you don’t want the lead singer, the lead keyboard, and your French horns all competing for the same frequency at the same time.
Turn the volume down on the other sounds when the singer comes in. Save your French horns for the time when you pull the synth out of the mix entirely.

SUBTRACTIVE EQ simply talks about using a multi – band EQ to carve out unneeded sounds. For example, you have a singer. The singer’s voice is usually most present from 1k – 5k, where the human ear is most trained for consonants and vowels. Your drums all hang out low in the frequency range. 
EQ out the bottom part of the singer. Conversely, sometimes the drums which live in the low pocket contain all sorts of high pocket frequencies that muddle with the vocals. Cut out all the highs from the drums.

PANNING is when you put supporting instruments off to one side of the mix by panning the sound into the left or to the right speaker. It gives the effect of the sound being a unique accent, off to the side.
Your drums and lead sounds usually want to be front and center in the mix, panned centre. As Hobotech the instructor is fond of saying, “Mixing is like making a sculpture out of butter”. In other words, it’s easy to make one overly heavy sound adjustment that throws the rest of the sounds out of whack.

VOLUME explains itself in any audio production work.

Enhancing and Sweetening the Mix – All of these adjustments should be made while the entire mix is playing. You learn very little by working a sound soloed at this point. Most of the time, you want to make your adjustments as the part sits in the mix. 
There is so much more to the Mixing process and it is a science as well as an art. This means while there are some general rules there is no ‘One Size Fits All’ when mixing.

Now in Nigeria, audio is gradually being understood by producers, artistes, media houses and consumers.

The need for indepth sonic clarity, distinct tonal variety, warmth, punch, dynamism and volume has come to stay in our fast growing music and movie industry.

Credit must be given to the top music producers who have added a massive amount of value to the quality of music that we enjoy in Nigeria today. They are in no particular order; Dj Coublon, Shizzy, Sarz, D’ Tunes, Don Jazzy, Legendury Beatz, Pheelz, Tee-Y Mix, Masterkraft, Del B, Young D, Gospel on D Beat, Young Jon, to mention a few.
Cobhams has also helped create career defining hits for several of Nigeria ‘s renowned artistes. It is not necessary you find his songs on music charts all the time but artistes know where to turn to for classic and timeless music. We give that to him.

In delivery of the above mentioned sound quality and top producers who have had to make things happen, the name SWAPS ( @swapsondmix ) comes to mind. The year 2015 and arguably years to come would remain colourful for the Delta State born sound icon.

Below are few of the songs SWAPS has mixed and mastered alone or mastered all alone:

12 Songs on @Iyanya applaudise album

* Okamfo ft @lilKeshofficial 
* Turn up ft @olamide_YBNL
* Mogbe ft @patorankingfire
* Yoga ft @victoriakimani_
* Wambi
* Pshycology ft @iammrsongz
* Again ft @seyishay
* Commotion
* Awade ft @Dammykrane
* Macoma ft Efya x Sarkodie 
* Mama
* Egwu ft @mystroofficial

* Masterkraft @masterkraft_ ft Sarkodie @sarkodie & flavour @2niteflavour – finally
Prod. By @masterkraft_

* Kiss Daniel @iamkissdaniel – Good Time
Prod. By @djcoublon

Amadi ft Nathaniel Bassey – Champion
Prod. By @iamwillz007

* Kiss Daniel @iamkissdaniel & Sugar boy @sugarboyGWW – Molue
Prod. By @sugarboyGWW

* Kcee @iam_kcee , harrysong @iammrsongz & Skibi @skiibii – ebaeno
Prod. By @mystroofficial

* Mc Galaxy @mcgalaxyMCG ft Cynthia Morgan @cynthiamorgan1 & Dj JimmyJatt @djjimmyjatt – Gogaga remix
Prod. By @djcoublon

Teesongz @Teesongz ft Solidstar @solidstarisoko – Onome remix
Prod. By @sagzy01

* Yemi Alade @yemialadee ft Jeff(project fame) – Kissing remix
Prod. By @djcoublon

 *Gonna (Ugee) – B4B4 
Prod. By Lumzee P

* 2sec @2secTwins – Follow Me Solo
Prod. By @djcoublon

Jennifer Eliogu @jeliogu – Doh Shirt
Prod. By @didimoon

* Jahbless @jahblessmee – Loverman
Prod. By @krizbeatz_

To mention a few.

In comparison to our early days of mixing and mastering, it’s more than obvious the tremendous growth thus far. Unlike the early days of Polyrhyms, in which two or more separate beats are played simultaneously.

Like SWAPS would say 
“there’s no perfect mix/master, there’s a good mix/master.
if your song only sound good on selected sound system, when played alone and you have to convince yourself it’s good when compared/played with other songs then it’s not a good mix/master”. 

The days when artistes were seen as hoodlums, disorganized individuals void of a future not to talk of a bright future are long long gone.

Indeed, change and time is beautiful!

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