What’s the difference between producing and mixing music?
These days, we often refer to music production as the entire music creation process – from idea to finished track.
From writing and arranging your music to the final touches, a music producer is often widely skilled.
Advanced music technology, plugins, and tools through DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Ableton Live, FL Studio, Cubase, and Logic are accessible by anyone – making music production easier to learn than ever before.
Before we go into the differences between producing and mixing, let’s briefly walk through the music production process.
The Music Production Process
Each music production session can look quite different, depending on if you want to record real instruments or vocalists or collaborate with other artists.
But let’s say you work alone and rely on audio samples, synth plugins, and your DAW.
You also have a microphone that you use to record your vocal snippets. The music production process usually starts with a writing session.
#1: The Writing Stage
Writing your music is the fully creative stage where you brainstorm ideas, try different sounds and decide on your key and tempo.
Producers have different ways of starting a new track, which means the process can look different.
Some like to get the groove right first.
Others want a great chord progression or melody.
There's no one and "best way" – only what inspires your work as a music producer.
#2: The Arrangement Stage
Arrangement starts after you have started creating your music.
In electronic music, a common practice is first to brainstorm an 8-bar loop and then move on to arranging it – meaning laying all parts of your track.
That means the intro, verse, chorus, break, drops and outro.
Arranging music is stylistic and creative, meaning arrangements can change both depending on genres and on tracks.
#3: The Mixing Stage
Mixing your track is vital to make it sound good.
When you finish arranging an electronic music track, it’s not uncommon to have eighty different sounds that all have to fit together.
Mixing is making changes to these sounds to achieve balance and improve the end results.
When mixing, you can make frequency, panning, and audio level adjustments, add reverb and delay effects for depth, use compression to control your dynamic range – and much more.
#4: The Mastering Stage
Mastering is the final step before releasing your track on your chosen medium.
You can either do mastering on the master channel of your final mix, or, which is the most common, export your mix and master the complete .wav file.
When you do mastering, you do the last touches to make your track shine.
This process typically includes equalization, stereo imaging control, compression, and other effects to make it come alive.
It’s also about exporting the master in the right format, bitrate, and quality so it can sound great in different channels.
When someone masters an entire album, the engineer also adjusts silent spaces and decides on title orders, allowing the album to flow as a whole.
But, what’s the real reason between music production and mixing?
Producing And Mixing: The Difference
The real difference between producing and mixing is that producing and mixing aim to accomplish different things.
Compare it to a film director making a new Hollywood movie.
The director is in charge of artistic and stylistic decisions and makes sure the actors and crew do what they do – ultimately making the screenplay go visual.
He’s the composer of a vision.
The music producer is like the movie director.
And while you can hire other talents to do things like singing and mastering, it's a music producer's job to bring the idea to reality, from start to finish.
Because music producers nowadays can do almost everything from the comfort of their laptop, with extremely sophisticated software and plugins – his responsibilities are greater.
Mixing is a part of producing music, similar to doing special effects and color graduation in movies.
It’s about finding a way to combine the separate into a whole.
While you can hire a professional mixing engineer, it’s less common for music producers to do as they typically do the work themselves.
In short, the difference between producing and mixing is that producing music refers to the entire creation process, while mixing is one part of that process.
Music production is an advanced and sometimes tricky process when we get into details of the different stages.
Ultimately, the key to great music production is creativity. But to make our music listenable and liked by others, we have to make adjustments like arrangement, mixing, and mastering, like previously mentioned.
Those stages exist for a reason; to make your music truly shine.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.