Tracking, Mixing, or Mastering? - The Process of Recording

We field a lot of inquiries from potential clients asking about our services.  The one thing we are usually trying to figure out is what exactly the artist is wanting done. 

Artists just want their song to sound like what they hear on the radio or buy from major label artists.  They usually don't know exactly how to get there, which is why they are seeking a professional recording studio.  Most of the time we get a call asking one of the following.

How much is it to record a song?

Is mixing included?

Do you do mastering?

All these questions can be answered by understanding the recording process.  So lets break it down.

There are primarily 3 main steps to record a song.

1. Tracking

2. Mixing

3. Mastering

So let's take a deeper look at these steps individually.


Tracking - The process starts here.  This is the most important step of the process, and unfortunately we find it is usually the least budgeted for.

Tracking is recording the tracks, or individual instruments that make up the song. This could be a live band, or the vocals for an already produced music track.  The analogy we like to use is acquiring all the materials to build the house. 

Why is this the most important? Because this is the song in it's barest form, and it's also the sounds we are going to use to build the finished product.  If a song is tracked well then it can pretty much mix itself.  Instead of fixing problems with a mix you can focus on bringing out and enhancing the performances that were recorded in the tracking session.

Things that should be addressed in tracking include tempo, tuning, instrument sounds, microphone placement, arrangement, and key.  Every effort should be made to record the initial tracks for a song in a way that the song works on first playback.  This is how professional producers track their artists you hear on the radio. This is also where using a professional studio with great acoustically treated rooms is worth every penny.


Mixing - So you recorded your song and have all your tracks dialed in.  The performance is spot on and you are ready to mix.  Mixing is where we assemble all the tracks from the tracking session and put the song together.  If you tracked the song properly then your mix should start coming together quickly.  Now you can focus on polishing up the individual tracks with eq, compression, and effects. Balancing instrumental parts against the vocals, and really making your song come to life.  At this point your song should be sounding like a finished professional product just like you imagined.


Mastering - This is the final step of the recording process.  Mastering is a final polish of your song.  If your song was tracked well and mixed well then mastering should add that little bit of icing on the cake to make it shine.  In mastering we edit fades, perfect the final eq of the song, and add a little bit of volume to make it stand out on any type of speakers or headphones.  Mastering can also include more steps if you are mastering for an entire album, or for a specialized medium such as vinyl, but this article is just about the basics.

So now you know the steps needed to record a song.  You should be able to start putting together your budget for starting a new project, or know where you need to be headed to finish a project you already started.

So just to summerize...

  1. If you haven't started recording yet, or realize that you need to start over from scratch then you are looking at booking a tracking session.
  2. If you're not happy with the levels of instruments or vocals in a song you've been recording then it's time to get it professionally mixed.
  3. If you have a song that sounds great to you in every way, but you just need a little volume compared to the other songs you listen to in the car, then mastering is what you need.

I hope this helps you find out where you are at with your recording project, and gets you to the next step.  If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section and we'll be happy to answer them.