Should You Master Whilst Mixing?

Mastering and mixing are pivotal in music production, traditionally executed as separate phases to ensure clarity, balance, and polish.

However, integrating mastering techniques during the mixing process can revolutionize your workflow, offering a unique perspective on the final sound.

This approach not only provides immediate feedback on how your mix translates into a mastered format but also enhances efficiency and learning, allowing for real-time adjustments with the mastered sound in mind.

In this post, we’ll explore the advantages and challenges of mastering while mixing, providing actionable insights and demonstrating how tools like Mastering The Mix’s REFERENCE and LIMITER can optimize your production process.

Whether you're looking to streamline your workflow or deepen your understanding of audio processing, this discussion will equip you with the knowledge to blend these critical stages effectively.

Reference in a quality pro studio

The Rationale Behind Mastering During Mixing

The traditional separation of mixing and mastering is rooted in the distinct roles each process plays in music production. Mixing focuses on balancing individual tracks, adjusting levels, and adding effects to create a harmonious blend of sounds.

Mastering, on the other hand, fine-tunes this mix to ensure it sounds optimal on all playback systems and meets industry standards.

However, the lines between these two processes are increasingly blurring, especially among forward-thinking producers who seek to innovate and streamline their production workflows.


Integrating mastering techniques during the mixing phase offers several compelling reasons:

Immediate Sound Feedback:

By applying mastering processes like harmonic distortion, compression, and limiting during mixing, you gain instant insight into how these changes affect the sound in its final form. This immediate feedback loop can drastically shorten the production cycle, allowing for quicker adjustments that enhance the overall quality of the track.

Enhanced Learning Opportunities:

Integrating mastering into mixing provides a hands-on learning experience. You can observe firsthand how different elements of the mix respond to mastering treatments. This knowledge is invaluable, helping you make more informed decisions in future projects.

Greater Control Over the Final Product:

When mastering is part of the mixing process, you have more control over the end result. Adjustments can be made on the fly, ensuring that the track sounds as intended without the need for extensive post-mix mastering adjustments.

Efficiency in Workflow:

Combining steps can lead to a more efficient workflow, reducing the time between initial mixing and final mastering. This can be particularly beneficial in professional environments where time is of the essence, or for independent artists who handle both roles.

Early Problem Detection:

By mastering as you mix, you can identify and resolve potential sonic issues earlier in the production process. This preemptive approach can prevent small problems from becoming bigger issues during the final mastering stage.

While this approach might not suit every project, for certain styles and workflows, mastering during mixing can be a game-changer, bringing innovation and efficiency to the forefront of music production.

This strategy allows producers to stay agile, adapt quickly to changes, and achieve a polished, release-ready track much faster.

Music Classroom

How To Master During Mixing

Using Mastering The Mix Tools for an Integrated Approach

Mastering The Mix provides a suite of plugins that can significantly enhance the process of integrating mastering techniques during mixing. By utilizing these tools effectively, you can maintain control over your mix, ensure dynamic consistency, and achieve professional-quality sound.

Setting Up a Minimalistic Mastering Chain

Begin by establishing a simple yet effective mastering chain using the LIMITER and REFERENCE plugins from Mastering The Mix. This setup will allow you to apply subtle but essential mastering touches without over-processing.

1. Start with LIMITER

Place LIMITER on your master channel. Select a preset that suits your target medium—whether streaming or club play—then click analyze, and adjust the input gain according to the target ranges displayed in the plugin. This ensures your mix maintains its dynamics while achieving the necessary loudness and preventing clipping.

LIMITER plugin in a home studio

2. Use REFERENCE for Consistency

Load REFERENCE as the final plugin on your master channel. This tool is instrumental in comparing your current mix to professionally mastered tracks. Drag and drop your chosen reference tracks into REFERENCE and use its level match feature to ensure a fair comparison between your mix and the reference.

REFERENCE in a cool studio

3. Save EQ Until You're ACTUALLY Mastering

Using a mastering EQ during the mixing process is generally not recommended because it can obscure the individual characteristics and issues of separate tracks within a mix. Adjustments made at the stem or track level tend to be far more transparent and precise. When mixing, it’s more effective to address EQ issues on each track individually, ensuring that each element sits perfectly in the mix without broad-strokes alterations that could affect the entire track’s tonal balance.

Once the mix is complete and you move on to the mastering phase, plugins like Mastering The Mix's MIXROOM and BASSROOM can be incredibly effective. These tools are designed to fine-tune the overall sound with a level of precision and subtlety that complements the final mastering process, enhancing the mix without compromising the integrity and clarity achieved during the individual track adjustments.

Mixroom in a home studio

Dynamic Processing and Regular A/B Testing

While working with dynamic processing, keep adjustments gentle. Use the LIMITER to control the overall mix, focusing on smoothing out any peaks that might cause unwanted distortion.

Frequently bypass the LIMITER to assess the true impact of your adjustments. This regular A/B testing is crucial for understanding how the mastering effects are enhancing or potentially degrading your mix.


Ensuring Proper Gain Staging

Proper gain staging is essential for effective mastering during mixing. Before applying any mastering effects, make sure your tracks are well-balanced and none are clipping.

Ensure each track's level is appropriately set before it hits the mastering chain. This practice prevents any single track from dominating the mix or causing imbalance.

When to Employ This Technique

This integrated mastering and mixing approach is particularly beneficial in several scenarios:

  • Tight Deadlines: When project timelines are compressed, this method can save valuable time.
  • Consistency Across Tracks: For albums or EPs requiring a unified sound, using the same mastering chain across all tracks can help achieve this consistency.
  • Self-Mastering Artists: Independent artists who handle both mixing and mastering will find this approach streamlines their workflow and enhances the final product.

By following these guidelines and utilizing Mastering The Mix’s plugins, you can effectively integrate mastering techniques into your mixing process, achieving a polished, professional sound while maintaining the flexibility and creativity of your mix. This approach not only streamlines the production process but also empowers you with greater control over the final output of your music projects.


Limiter in a warm home music studio

Challenges and Limitations

While integrating mastering into the mixing process can offer substantial benefits, it also presents specific challenges and limitations that producers must navigate carefully. Understanding these potential drawbacks is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the final product.

Compromising Dynamics:

One of the most significant risks of applying mastering processes early is the potential for over-compression and limiting. These processes can squash the dynamics of a track, making it sound lifeless and flat if not handled with care.

Early heavy compression can mask the true dynamics of individual elements within the mix, leading to a final product that lacks punch and vibrancy.

Masking Mix Issues:

Mastering elements can inadvertently mask underlying problems in the mix, such as imbalances and frequency clashes. This can lead to a situation where these issues are only discovered after the mastering effects are bypassed or removed, often too late in the production process.

This masking effect can result in a less transparent mix, where critical adjustments are overlooked because they are temporarily obscured by mastering treatments.

Fuser in a white music studio

Premature Commitment to Sound Changes:

Applying mastering effects during mixing can lead to premature commitment to certain sound changes, making it difficult to revert back without affecting other aspects of the track.

This can stifle creativity and flexibility, as changes might have to be made with the mastering settings in mind, potentially compromising the mix's natural evolution.

Dependency on Mastering Effects:

There is a risk of becoming overly reliant on mastering effects to 'fix' a mix, which can lead to poor mixing practices. Effective mixing should stand on its own, with mastering serving to enhance rather than repair.

This reliance can degrade the educational aspect of mixing, where producers might lean on mastering as a crutch, missing out on learning how to achieve a balanced mix through traditional mixing techniques alone.

Balancing Act:

To navigate these challenges, it is essential to maintain a balanced approach:

  • Use mastering processes sparingly during mixing, focusing on subtle enhancements rather than significant changes.
  • Regularly bypass mastering effects to critically assess the underlying mix, ensuring that it sounds good in its raw state.
  • Reserve tone shaping and more aggressive dynamic processing for the final mastering stage to preserve the mix's integrity.

Understanding and mitigating these challenges is crucial for producers who choose to integrate mastering into their mixing workflow. By being aware of the potential pitfalls and employing mastering judiciously, producers can use this technique to enhance their workflow without compromising the quality and dynamics of the final mix.


Exploring real-world applications of integrating mastering during mixing can provide valuable insights into the practical benefits and challenges of this technique. Let’s delve into some specific case studies where this approach has been successfully implemented:

Example 1: Electronic Dance Music (EDM) Production

In a typical EDM project, the dynamics and loudness are crucial for the track’s impact. An experienced producer chose to apply subtle mastering techniques during the mixing process, using light compression and a soft clipper on the master bus to enhance the track's energy and presence. This early application allowed the producer to make informed decisions about element placement and dynamics, ensuring that the track would maintain its impact in club environments.

Example 2: Indie Rock Album

For an indie rock album, consistency across tracks was paramount. The mixing engineer used a minimalist mastering chain throughout the mixing process to ensure each track shared a similar sonic profile. This approach not only streamlined the final mastering but also helped maintain a coherent sound across the album, making the transition between songs seamless and engaging.

Example 3: Self-Produced Singer-Songwriter Album

A singer-songwriter working independently on their album integrated mastering EQ adjustments lightly during the mixing phase to experiment with different textures and sonic spaces. By applying these adjustments early, the artist was able to achieve a more polished sound before the final mastering, reducing the need for significant changes later, which could potentially alter the emotional tone of the songs.

Mixroom in a white music studio


Integrating mastering techniques during the mixing process is a nuanced approach that can offer significant advantages, including efficiency, enhanced control, and immediate feedback on how the mix will translate in its final form. However, it requires a disciplined approach to avoid over-processing and to maintain the integrity of the mix.

By understanding the benefits and challenges, as well as observing best practices such as using minimalistic mastering chains and focusing on dynamic rather than tonal changes, producers can effectively use this technique to enhance their workflow and the quality of their music. Tools from Mastering The Mix, such as REFERENCE, LIMITER, MIXROOM, and BASSROOM, can aid significantly in this process, providing the necessary capabilities to achieve a professional sound that stands up to industry standards.

Ultimately, whether you choose to integrate mastering during mixing should depend on your project needs, personal workflow preferences, and the specific requirements of the music you are producing. With the right approach and tools, this method can be a powerful addition to your production toolkit, enabling you to achieve polished, release-ready music more efficiently.