Updated: May 5, 2018
Mixing vs Mastering: One of the common mistakes for any recording artist, especially those starting out visiting Major Level Recording Studios a full service music studio in Houston TX, is to not fully understand audio engineering terminology. Nothing wrong with that, that's our job as sound/audio engineers and you should be focusing on great vocals and lyrics. However, not understanding what you need in terms of mixing and mastering might be why your songs end up sounding unfinished if you skip a step or cut corners choosing one over the other rather than both.
You Ask, Do I need BOTH Mixing AND Mastering? Yes... And What's the difference between the two...Lots!
To Understand the question you're asking you must understand a little bit about what each Mixing and Mastering does separately and then together. I teach Audio Engineering so let's have a microwave style audio engineering class 101.. For times sake, I'll keep it brief.
Mixing: In a nutshell, is taking a songs' separate recordings, and parts (each track or stems), both the separate vocal takes such as leads, overdubs, harmonies, etc as well as the beats individual parts and stems, live recorded instrumentation, etc and treating the separate parts both separately with things like EQ, compression, gates, panning, limiters, leveling, reverb, automation, delay, etc and then summing or grouping in a bus. When those parts are all joined together after being properly mixed down they sound like a cohesively recorded song but still need quite a bit extra to sound like what you hear on the radio, a finished, polished, song.
Mastering: To Sum it up, Mastering is taking the overall song or songs (if mastering multiple tracks for one album or playlist ), or summed stems (Meaning all drums together, all vocals together, etc) and effecting certain things within the overall mixed down tracks (post mixing and bounce down/render) effecting things like clarity, air, perceived loudness, saturation, bottom end, stereo imaging, punchiness, warmth, dynamics, gain, of the overall track. Basically when combined together it's the polishing of the mix that gives your song its final professional sound and it is the most critical step to nail.
Without BOTH Mixing AND Mastering, you are missing many steps that every professionally and serious independently released song has taken. There's no way around it, you need both. Now that you know what Mixing and Mastering is and how both effect your recorded music...be sure to make sure your songs are both Mixed and Mastered before you release them.
Michael "Major Keyz" Walker