What is mixtering?

Posted on Posted in Music Mastering

Mixtering combines mixing and mastering in one single processing environment. A mixtering engineer can be referred to as someone who mixes and masters audio music for a living using a mixing console or maybe a mastering deck, usually in combination of a multi-track reel to reel tape system or a digital work station (DAW).

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There are mainly 2 types of mixtering processes:

  1. Mixtering (audio tracks or stems)
  2. Production Mixtering

Mixtering: Whether you send your tracks off to a mixing/mastering engineer, to mix and master your music, that’s what is commonly referred to as “mixtering”.

Production Mixtering: If you need all aspects of music production: composing, arranging, recording (tracking), midi programming, mixing, editing and mastering, all done in the same place, then that’s what I consider ‘production mixtering’. It’s the most difficult discipline to accomplish and it usually requires to have many people involved. Can one person do it all? Sure, but not without years of experience in all areas of production, including music arrangement and writing.

There are reasons why mixtering in a traditional recording or mixing studio is more convenient than in a mastering suite. In a mixing studio, you can do all the tracking from a vocal isolation booth and a live room. However, mixtering inside a mastering studio is most desirable when the project is mainly ITB (In The Box), or if it requires working with pre-recorded tracks and audio stems.

But, because mastering suites are usually small, there isn’t the same room space or recording flexibility found in mixing studios; limited recording (tracking) can be performed from musicians and be captured to tape or disk (e.g. guitars, keyboards, vocals, etc) for signal processing.

Some people ask me, what do you call the result of a mix that is mastered in the same place? A production master, of course. Because the master is what will be used to make all reproductions. That never changes.

A Dream Mixtering Studio

As frequency translation becomes less important to some and the concept of mastering is beginning to merge with mixing to become one step, Mixtering is a natural evolution in digital recording technology or the record making process.

Ed mixtering in the 80’s

About Me: I have been mixtering almost since I opened up my first recording studio in Flushing, New York back in 1985. The first tape recording system that allowed me this was the Akai MG1212, an integrated 12 channel mixer and 12 track tape recording with an internal busing system. In those days, I used to mix and create stereo sub mixes and audio stems to mix then apply mastering, or the final touches at the master bus output. Good times.

But, I didn’t come to that audio engineering conclusion right away. Being trained ‘old school’ as a recording engineer by Howie Stein at his White Cloud audio studio in Long Island, New York, I had no idea about mastering until much later in my audio engineering career. That is, not until I met my mastering mentor, Dick Charles Waldspurger in 1991.

So, after I finished my training at White Cloud, I opened up my first pre-production studio and that’s when I started to notice that all my mixes didn’t translate that well once they were copied to cassettes.

My clients of course, at that time, never complained about the lower volume level and less sound impact compared to all the commercial cassette recordings and label releases of the times. In those days, they were just too happy to have a song recorded at a cheap price to notice any technical details like that. But, it personally bothered me.

I tried mixing to tape as hot as I could but sometimes distortion would rear up its ugly head when one least expected. Those high peak transients were the enemy. Naturally, having a compressor for each audio track would have made my life a lot easier, but the expense was too prohibitive for me at that time. And, even if I could afford that much money in gear, there were obvious problems of spectral imbalances in comparison to professional recordings that also needed to be addressed.

It was only after I became frustrated for too long that I came to the conclusion that in order to match that amazing sound I kept hearing from professional tape recordings, it would require to take the signal coming out of the main master buss of my mixer into an external EQ and then to a compressor set up at infinity to 1.

I would use a cheap 10 band stereo, differential/comparator equalizer and sometimes, my BBE sonic maximizer which did wonders to cassette recordings. Apparently, I had actually been “mixtering” the whole time in the 80’s. But, the actual term didn’t occur to me until I met my mastering mentor, the guy who made realize that “mastering” was in essence what I was doing the whole time (or sort of).

He is also the one who suggested I study and master the use of RTA’s (real time spectrum analyzers), and which I eventually did by 1995, bringing my mastering technique to acceptable, if not, very consistent quality results. Spectrum analysis allowed for me to close the gap between accurate frequency response and peak compression which was specially important when transferring to cassette.

The tools and the gear have changed, but because of my background, I still mix and master pretty much the same way I used to, only, it’s mainly hybrid or fully digital these days.

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