How To Get Your Music LOUD 2

Waveforms of different types of mixes.Waveforms of different types of mixes.

 

Part 2 in a 2 part series.

When a song is mastered, the whole mix will be compressed, and hopefully only enough to make it sound better, not worse. If a snare drum it peaking way above everything else in a mix, like in the middle image above, it can cause a lot of problems in mastering. If it’s the loudest single part of a song, and it’s peaking near -1 db and is about 6 db ¬†above every other element in the mix, it can effect how a song can be compressed in mastering and how loud the song will be after mastering because two things happen as a result of that snare hit:

1. That loud snare hits lowers the average volume of the song.

2. In order to increase the average volume of the song to make it louder, that snare will need to be compressed quite a bit. The snare, being the loudest element in the mix, is what will pass the threshold of the master bus compressor and cause the compressors to engage.

After being compressed by the audio mastering engineer, that rouge snare hit, will be brought down for a split second to put it at about the same level as the rest of the mix. The the peak volume of the song can be brought up 6 db now, increasing the average volume of the song as well, so that the whole song is a little closer to the loudest peak volume it can be at 0 db. That snare hit was actually “pushing” the volume of the rest of the mix down, and because it’s gone now, you can raise every other element in the mix 6 db.

Sounds cool right? The average volume is now louder and the problem is solved? Yes, and no. That snare might be at a more reasonable volume in order to make the whole song louder by raising it’s volume, but when that mastering compressor grabs that snare, it also grabs other sounds in the mix and messes with them. Collateral damage, baby. While the problem might be solved to get the song louder, a new problem has now been caused in that every time that compressor grabs that snare, the the other instruments and voices in the mix will get pushed around and it likley won’t be very nice sounding.

Now, to be clear, a good mastering engineer can hide some of this, but it’s always better to have your mastering engineer working on making your songs sound awesome, instead of working on repairing the mixes. The more you love your mix going into mastering, the more you’ll love it after mastering.¬†A song that has every element in the mix under control and nothing jumping way out in front of the mix can be made significantly louder in mastering without the compression causing issues with a songs musicality.

If you’re struggling to grasp this complicated idea about the side effects of compression, imagine this: you’re playing in a band on stage, and every time your drummer hits his snare, a black hole opens behind the stage and sucks everyone else in the band and their instruments 6 feet backwards (think compression). As soon as the snare stops ringing, the black hole explodes, and blows everyone 6 feet forward again. Sound painful? It is.

 

So how do you fix it?

The Solution:

One way to get an idea of how your mixes will respond to compression in mastering is to use a compressor or limiter on your master bus that’s pulling about 3 db of compression while you mix. The Waves L2 Limitter is great for getting an idea of what sounds in your mix are going to cause issues in mastering. I recommend turning it on and off at different points during mixing to check your results.

Another great solution is to put a limiter as the last effect on each track in the mix, and gradually bring down the limiter’s threshold on each individual track so that you can tame those sounds that want to jump out in front of the rest of the mix. Be careful not to let the limitter compress too much though. You shouldn’t see constant gain reduction, just an occasional blip on the gain reduction meter. Typically no more than 1-3 db is ideal. In a good mix, typically all of the main elements are at about the same volume, and using limiters sparingly on each track can help to accomplish this.

The last method, is to watch your gain meters while mixing and if you notice that one of the tracks seems to be a lot higher than than the rest, bring it down and try to EQ that track to sound louder than it actually is. Adding a few db’s with an EQ to the hi-mids can sometimes help. Bass drums are notorious for being mixed too loud, and often need to be turned down and then EQ’d to sound louder. You can also experiment with other effects, like compression and effects like the SPL “Transient Designer” to make the attack of an insturment seem more intense so that it seems louder without having to be.

It can also be helpful to put a spectrum analyzer plugin on your master so that you can see if your mixes are unbalanced. You’ll be able to see right away if your bass is way too loud, or if one element is jumping out in front a lot. Generally, with most styles of music, seeing a mostly even readout on the spectrum analyzer is a good thing for a mix.

The last step that I recommend, is to import your bounced down mix files that you’ll be sending to mastering into a program that will let you see the waveform click for more info. If you see jagged lines shooting out of control way above the rest of the waveform, you might have a problem on your hands. If you see a flat line at the top and or bottom of your audio, you’re likely clipping your master bus_kmq.push([“trackClickOnOutboundLink”,”link_58a19e6f92f7d”,”Article link clicked”,{“Title”:”clipping your master bus”,”Page”:”How To Get Your Music LOUD 2″}]);, or have left a limiter on the master track.

Do you have any tricks that you use to make something in your mix sound louder than it actually is? Post a comment below!