In my opinion, music is the perfect art and craft to combine creativity and technicality. For those interested in potential career opportunities or music as a hobby, there may be some confusion about the differences between mixing and producing.
What are the differences between audio mixing and producing? Mixing is the process of adjusting levels between individual tracks, panning elements in the stereo/surround field, adding effects and creating a comprehensive sonic profile for the project. Producing is the process of bringing ideas to fruition by making decisions that will serve the final product.
In this article, we'll discuss the differences between mixing and producing and how the lines have been blurred with modern music technology.
The Blurred Lines Between Mixing Engineers & Producers
In the days of big studios, big budgets and analog equipment, it was often the case that the roles of mixing engineers and producers were exclusive.
The mixing engineer would be responsible for mixing the music (which sometimes included recording the music, though not always). This often meant taking instruction from the artists and producer(s) to achieve the intended creative results. However, the mixer's job was to ensure the technicalities of balancing levels, automating, applying proper processing and effects, etc., were done properly.
On the other hand, the producer was responsible for developing and executing the creative direction of the music. Producers worked on getting the best performances from the artists, helped shape the arrangement and musical tone of the music, and directed the mixing engineer to mix in a way that would allow for the achievement of the sonic goal. In other words, they were in charge of producing the product (the recorded song/asset).
Today, with the modern digital audio workstation, the lines have been blurred.
For example, I can sit in my home studio with my DAW (I use Logic Pro) and effectively write, record, produce, mix, and master my own music.
Related article: Top 7 Best Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) On The Market
Music production has become a sort of catch-all term for anyone and everyone who develops musical ideas (often our own) into a recorded product. The term “music producer” today often refers to an artist who records and/or programs their own music (often in the hip-hop and electronic genres).
Mixing has largely remained the same (though easier through modern technology), though many musicians learn to mix themselves. Mixing engineers are required in studios, broadcasting, live sound and more.
So the two terms are different, though many artists take on the responsibility of both jobs.
What Is Mixing & What Do Audio Mixing Engineers Do?
Mixing is the overall procedure of balancing levels and processing audio to create a “mixed” audio product.
Mixing engineers take recorded and programmed audio and effectively “polish” it so that it sounds cohesive.
Mixing involves, but is not limited to, the following:
- Balancing the levels of individual audio tracks/elements to blend or “mix” them together
- EQ frequencies (boost the important bands and cut the problem bands) of tracks/elements and buses
- Compress tracks/elements to achieve more consistent levels
- Use distortion and saturation wisely to bring out the character of certain tracks/elements
- Group and bus tracks/elements together for improved processing
- Add width to stereo mixes using effects and panning
- Add depth to the mix using effects
- Ensuring proper phase relationships between sounds
- Metering for proper levels, width, etc.
- Editing and otherwise cleaning up subpar recordings
- Use mixing production techniques to achieve creative results
- Mixing in a way that allows the song to translate to different listening environments
- Automating the values/levels of tracks and processes to achieve the production goals
- Ultimately giving the song a cohesive and polished sound
Mixing is an essential part of producing music. It also applies to any other media form that contains audio, including film/television, live broadcasting, live sound reinforcement, and more.
Mixing is one of the most important aspects of producing music. However, it's only one aspect.
If you're into mixing, be sure to check out my article Essential Processors/Processes For Mixing Music & Audio.
What Is Producing & What Do Audio/Music Producers Do?
Producers are more like movie directors. Although music requires a collection of different role players, such as singers, rappers, instrumentalists, and engineers, the producer bridges them and brings the idea to reality.
However, due to technological advancements, the term “music producer” has expanded to include many roles. Let's consider the two outermost examples:
A producer could be responsible for ensuring the creative vision is achieved, getting the best out of the team, including the artists, the recording, mixing and mastering engineers, and more. This role is generally reserved for big-budget studio albums. Think of Bob Rock or Rick Rubin.
On the other side of the modern definition of “music producer” is a kid with a laptop, putting together samples in a free DAW to produce his first beat.
The common thread is that both are producing a product. The product is the audio.
Note that, technically, the term “music production” doesn't actually refer to the writing of the songs but rather bringing those ideas to the world through a real audio product (whether physical or digital) that can be listened to.
As music evolves, the mixing aspects of production (I often refer to them as production techniques) become more prevalent.
For example, using audio effects, processes and automation have traditionally been performed by the mixing engineer and overseen by the producer. Nowadays, these “mixing processes” are often integral parts of the creative process of producing a song (this is more true of hip-hop and EDM than, say, jazz and classical).
To recap, the roles of producer and mixer are often combined in the music industry today, and it's important to learn both skills, whether you plan on being on the artist side or the technician side.
Mixing is the process of mixing audio elements (tracks) together into a cohesive audio product.
Producing is a looser term that includes developing the creative vision of the project, sourcing, recording and programming track, using mixing processes creatively, and ultimately producing a musical product (audio).
Though the lines have been blurred, it's still useful to understand the differences between the two.
Personally, I began writing my own music and then found the need to learn production and mixing to bring my music to life.
I hope this article helped you distinguish the differences and understand that both may be necessary skills to develop for your career and/or creative hobby!