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Game Audio Volume - Lower Vol = Less Clipping?


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#1 Reginald L. Seay Jr.   Members   -  Reputation: 111

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 01:23 PM

I've recently figured out a fantastic volume for composing music for a game. I was watching a youtube video of Splinter Cell Conviction and started writing. I based that song around the sneaky aspects of espionage games and it came out great. Upon finishing, however, I realized that the volume of the song was rather low. However, all of the bass that I wanted and treble was perfect. How does the Industry fix this problem? The song has absolutely no Audio Clipping or distortion, but I'm lost as to raising the volume without sacrificing quality and risking distortion.

My song
http://soundcloud.co...e-night/s-9V1vH
Note: If you right click the song link and open it in a new tab, you can press play on my song and then press play on the Splinter Cell Video and hear my song over the sound effects of the game.

The Inspiration (Splinter Cell Conviction)
http://youtu.be/ZPfsdCHqzkI

I'm using Reason (unfortunately still 3.0), my mixer volume is actually at 110, but if I raise the level anymore it's going to clip, real hard. Open to suggestions.

***Updated Song***
http://soundcloud.com/reginald-l-seay-jr/cloaked-in-the-night-final-mix/s-8HhMu

Edited by Reginald L. Seay Jr., 19 September 2012 - 11:29 PM.


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#2 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 01:45 PM

I cannot hear any music in that splinter cell vid nor from your soundcloud as the link is broken so what i am about to say is an informed guess based on the little informatio you have provided:

Peaks higher than 0dbFS (or even less than 0dbFS as inter-sample peaks can occur @ reconstruction) = clipping. What you are probably hearing in the video game you mention is a well balanced mix in terms of frequency and dynamics. This allows you to have the music quieter and better place it in the game "mix" (so to speak) before it masks or is masked by other game play sounds. To answer your question, there really is no quick fix answer. Mixing music is an art in itself that cannot be achieved with any degree of competency overnight or at the flick of a few switches.

Edited by GeneralQuery, 26 July 2012 - 01:46 PM.


#3 Reginald L. Seay Jr.   Members   -  Reputation: 111

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 02:27 PM

I do apologize, I was fumbling around with trying to embed my SC song into this forum. I ended up making the song public, then back to private (which ends up changing the URL). I ended up settling with just the basic link. Link has been updated/fixed.

Also, there is almost no musical audio in the SC video i chose so that u can play my song and vid at the same time to experience them both together as if they were one big production

Edited by Reginald L. Seay Jr., 26 July 2012 - 02:28 PM.


#4 Moritz P.G. Katz   Members   -  Reputation: 1045

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 04:34 PM

Hello,

What GeneralQuery said!

In regards of your music sample: You used a lot of long bassy notes that take up a lot of headroom.
You might want to make them shorter so they don't resonate that long or cut off some of that "oomph" with an EQ. Rumbly sounds like this can be very hard to mix without proper monitoring, but this will be a good first step.

Remember that a good mix already starts with the arrangement: too much wish-wash and too few percussive notes with nice transients and you'll have a really hard time getting it loud without turning the waveform into a muddy-sounding sausage.

Nice ideas in there though, keep it up!

Cheers,
Moritz

Check out my Music/Sound Design Reel on moritzpgkatz.de


#5 Reginald L. Seay Jr.   Members   -  Reputation: 111

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Posted 26 July 2012 - 09:11 PM

Thank you both for the information. So, my next question would be, Is my song at a decent volume for mastering? Should I continue designing my songs at that volume, or should I figure out a way to make them louder?

#6 Moritz P.G. Katz   Members   -  Reputation: 1045

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 03:18 AM

Let me put it this way:
You should figure out a way to make them sound better.

Don't worry about mastering too much - deal with the arrangement and mix first. Loudness really shouldn't be your first concern.
Once you have a good song with a good mix, it will be a lot easier to master/post-produce/fit it in with the sound effects and the overall mood of the gameplay scene.

Cheers,
Moritz

Check out my Music/Sound Design Reel on moritzpgkatz.de


#7 WavyVirus   Members   -  Reputation: 735

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Posted 27 July 2012 - 09:38 AM

I believe that perceived loudness is defined by two things:

1. The 'fullness' of the frequency spectrum. If there are 'gaps', frequency ranges not occupied with any sound, then you can drop in a new sound to fill the gap without the overall dB increasing or causing clipping, while increasing perceived 'loudness'. You mention, however, that you are happy with the range of frequencies in your track

2. Sustain a high amplitude for longer. One way to achieve this is with 'compression', which squashes down the louder peaks a bit to give you some headroom and allow you to boost the overall gain. This is an often (over) used effect. Subtle compression can be applied to the whole song to give it a bit of a boost, or you can apply it to individual sounds or groups of related sounds.

Edited by WavyVirus, 03 August 2012 - 07:16 AM.


#8 RedAudio   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 04:15 PM

What you have to remember is that lower notes carry more energy and when you're music's got a lot of low end content you really have to start looking at controlling it by taming peaks and creating space with EQ / minor panning.

Generally speaking anything below 40hz is worth cutting, unless want to make use of sub rumble and low noise. Most speaker systems (without a sub) only go down to 40-50hz. Rolling off 40hz will free up wanted head room in your mix.

Now there are way's to make things sound "lower" than they actually are by adding harmonic content. There's a couple plug ins out there for this such as Maxbass which allow you to do some trickery. Compression also helps get you some extra head room, but when the difference between a soft note and loud note is too great then riding the level (automating the bass volume) is a better option. You can then add small amounts of compression to keep things tidy and not worry about destroying dynamics.

Also rolling off frequencies on other instruments will free up even more space. The idea is to get rid of, or tame, all the unwanted noise where there's no information relevant to the instrument.

When you're mixing you should naturally try leave at least -4db of head room if not -6db on the Master Fader so it gives you room for mastering. If you're mixing to 0db it gives you no room to do anything really... Apart from making thing's worse when you come to master. None of the other instrument channels should be clipping at all especially in the digital realm, analogue you can get away with some clipping.

Edited by RedAudio, 04 September 2012 - 04:24 PM.


#9 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 06:31 PM

Peak headroom for mastering is meaningless, it's RMS that counts. Also, going over unity on channels will not result in clipping on modern DaWs, it's only important fir your master bus as this is what goes to the DAC. There's no harm in using faders so just pull the master fader if need be.

#10 RedAudio   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 03:53 AM

RMS yes, but for some one new to mixing it isn't a good idea to whack all your faders up to maximum only to use a master to pull the volume down. That's just bad mixing etiquette it leaves you with little room for automation, and encourages new people to go OTT on processing. There's no need for you to keep pushing faders up to hear your music louder, just turn your speakers up, (unless you've not recorded x-instrument properly with a good gain setting) then when you get to mastering you'll get the volume back. When stuff starts distorting badly from having too much gain, from EQ boosting, compression make up or gain boosting, you can still hear it even if you're not going over 0db on the master. If it's the odd minor clip then yeah, not too much of a problem. Anyway, my 2p.

Edited by RedAudio, 05 September 2012 - 05:43 AM.


#11 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 07:29 AM

RMS yes, but for some one new to mixing it isn't a good idea to whack all your faders up to maximum only to use a master to pull the volume down. That's just bad mixing etiquette it leaves you with little room for automation, and encourages new people to go OTT on processing.

It makes absolutely no difference, it's all a relative perspective. Having your loudest element at unity means that none of the other faders will even approach unity. THat's how I mix as it gives me an instant relative peak level of all other mixer channels simply by glancing them. -3dB on a channel means that it's half the volume of my loudest element (nearly always my kickdrum), it's as simple as that. Nothing else approaches unity. Of course, this means that the master bus will clip unless I pull down the fader but that's absolutely no sweat and has no impact on my mixing workflow. Going back and forth wasting time adjusting all faders when one reaches unity or when the master clips is extremely inefficient and not grounded in reason.

There's no need for you to keep pushing faders up to hear your music louder, just turn your speakers up, (unless you've not recorded x-instrument properly with a good gain setting) then when you get to mastering you'll get the volume back.

There's always reasons for pushing up faders. There's also always reasons for pushing down faders. I hear this "don't touch the faders" myth a lot on the internet but there is absolutely no basis for it. If someone doesn't understand gain staging then not touching faders isn't going to help them.

When stuff starts distorting badly from having too much gain, from EQ boosting, compression make up or gain boosting, you can still hear it even if you're not going over 0db on the master. If it's the odd minor clip then yeah, not too much of a problem. Anyway, my 2p.


This has nothing to do with faders. Plugins can clip a mixer channel, but the channel itself will not clip, i.e. you will not hear any clipping artefacts. Going to great amounts of effort to achieve something that can be achieved simply by pulling down the master fader is not a good use of time. Everyone has their own mixing style and that's absolutely fine, but propagating myths about master fader = bad is not helpful.

Edited by GeneralQuery, 05 September 2012 - 07:31 AM.


#12 RedAudio   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 08:31 AM

It makes absolutely no difference, it's all a relative perspective. Having your loudest element at unity means that none of the other faders will even approach unity. THat's how I mix as it gives me an instant relative peak level of all other mixer channels simply by glancing them. -3dB on a channel means that it's half the volume of my loudest element (nearly always my kickdrum), it's as simple as that. Nothing else approaches unity. Of course, this means that the master bus will clip unless I pull down the fader but that's absolutely no sweat and has no impact on my mixing workflow. Going back and forth wasting time adjusting all faders when one reaches unity or when the master clips is extremely inefficient and not grounded in reason.


I'm not quite sure where you see I'm coming from. I'm talking from an extreme POV. My point is that people who are not to sure about setting levels correctly before mixing will, more often than not, will try to make things as loud as possible by cranking the gain way to high on a channel, boosting the bass going mad with processing will result in a crushed mushy distorted dynamically dry mess, pre master fader. May not say it's clipping, but it'll sound bad. No point cranking down the master to compensate for a terrible mess.

This has nothing to do with faders. Plugins can clip a mixer channel, but the channel itself will not clip, i.e. you will not hear any clipping artefacts. Going to great amounts of effort to achieve something that can be achieved simply by pulling down the master fader is not a good use of time. Everyone has their own mixing style and that's absolutely fine, but propagating myths about master fader = bad is not helpful.


Yes, nothing digital can go over 0db. Which is the main reason why it sounds bad! Values that sum to a value greater than 0db get chopped off. Period. This murders waveforms and you can see it as flat tops & flat bottoms. Where as in analogue clipping it still retain a rounded shape. So you may not be peaking, but you can still hear "clipping" from a) audio being crushed too much by processing (such as hard limiting) or b) audio getting chopped off It's not pleasant, and my point is being aware of your levels and setting them correctly. I rarely let my channels go above -2db when mixing I never let them touch 0db, and the I leave about -3 / 4db headroom before mastering the track. But that's how I like to do things.

Edited by RedAudio, 05 September 2012 - 08:43 AM.


#13 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 09:20 AM

I'm not quite sure where you see I'm coming from. I'm talking from an extreme POV. My point is that people who are not to sure about setting levels correctly before mixing will, more often than not, will try to make things as loud as possible by cranking the gain way to high on a channel, boosting the bass going mad with processing will result in a crushed mushy distorted dynamically dry mess, pre master fader. May not say it's clipping, but it'll sound bad. No point cranking down the master to compensate for a terrible mess.

My point is that putting arbitrary restrictions on the mix is an exercise in the pointless. All of the "bad practices" you describe (which I agree with) are incredibly naive mistakes which will not be rectified by not touching the faders in the first place or chasing your tail by turning all of the mixer channels down as soon as the master clips. There is no need for this, a single gain stage at the master bus (fader changes on the master are still in the 32 bit floating point domain) is equal to (and far less hassle) turning down all of the other channels. If you don't believe me, try it: bounce down both versions and flip the polarity. The result? Digital silence. Keeping channels under unity is a good practice, but not if keeping the master under unity means having to rebalance your faders each time you change the dynamics of the mix.

Yes, nothing digital can go over 0db. Which is the main reason why it sounds bad! Values that sum to a value greater than 0db get chopped off. Period. This murders waveforms and you can see it as flat tops & flat bottoms. Where as in analogue clipping it still retain a rounded shape. So you may not be peaking, but you can still hear "clipping" from a) audio being crushed too much by processing (such as hard limiting) or b) audio getting chopped off It's not pleasant, and my point is being aware of your levels and setting them correctly. I rarely let my channels go above -2db when mixing I never let them touch 0db, and the I leave about -3 / 4db headroom before mastering the track. But that's how I like to do things.

Actually, clipping will not happen in practical cases until you step out of the hi bit-depth floating point domain and into the lower bit depth fixed point domain that the DAC expects, i.e. post master fader. And this is precisely my point: keep your mixer channels under unity, sure, but a gain stage is still a gain stage, whether it's at the master stage or across the mixing channels. Which is more efficient in terms of workflow: turn down mixer tracks each time a channel pushes the master over unity or simply pulling down the master? Pulling down the master, say, 3dB or pulling every other mixer track down 3dB?

Edit: I hope our conversation isn't off topic but at the risk of enticing a mod warning I'll summize my argument as thus:

1) there is no excuse for mixer channels going over unity. Although the channel will not actually clip, it's a bad practice as it's a misuse of headroom for nothing other than sloppiness. I believe we both agree on this point.

2) a gain stage at one point is equal to an identical gain stage further down the signal path, so long ad no dynamics-sensitive process is between the two said points.

3) Considering that faders are (almost exclusively) post insert, a mixer channel gain stage is identical to a master bus gain stage.

4) Now, here is the important bit: as mixer channels do not clip (actually clipping is irrelevant to this point but I'll keep it in this edit for clarity), comparing peak and RMS levels of mixer tracks is entirely relative. Thus, if no channels are over unity (for the sake of best practices) then any point of reference is valid.

5) closing point: if all perspectives are valid, there is no benefit to rebalancing mix levels to stop the master clipping. That is what the master fader is for. Thus, so long as you choose a sensible reference point, there is no need to compensate for master bus clipping at the mixer track level.

6) so, back to my personal method: I choose 0dB ad my ceiling when mixing. My kick will be at 0dB and not much else. Thus, mixer levels become relative to my kick, so any channel going over unity is a sign that headroom is being wasted I'd mix elements that should not be perceived as bring louder than my kick (I make House, hence the kick thing). I do not burden myself with balancing and rebalancing my mix to stop the master clipping, thus my workflow is not inhibited by such wasteful correctional processes.

Hopefully that's cleared a few things up for you about my position.

#14 RedAudio   Members   -  Reputation: 112

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 10:15 AM

I do agree with what you're saying, but what I'm trying to explain (poorly) is when you get an inexperienced person leaving 3 or 4 channels right up in the red constantly (for what ever processing reason) for the whole duration of the track and instead of correcting the problem they pull the master fader down just because they don't want the master to clip, then start fiddling around with the other faders only to spend wasted time trying to get things to sound right. It just isn't a great way to go about things. Or worse yet, not even touching the master and sticking a limiter on there to stop it clipping and to make it louder, that's when the real mess starts.

As you said, if the channels are all not clipping at unity, but causing the master to jump then, by all means pull it down a little on the master, or just mix at lower volumes and crank the speakers.

#15 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 10:57 AM

I do agree with what you're saying, but what I'm trying to explain (poorly) is when you get an inexperienced person leaving 3 or 4 channels right up in the red constantly (for what ever processing reason) for the whole duration of the track and instead of correcting the problem they pull the master fader down just because they don't want the master to clip, then start fiddling around with the other faders only to spend wasted time trying to get things to sound right. It just isn't a great way to go about things. Or worse yet, not even touching the master and sticking a limiter on there to stop it clipping and to make it louder, that's when the real mess starts.

As you said, if the channels are all not clipping at unity, but causing the master to jump then, by all means pull it down a little on the master, or just mix at lower volumes and crank the speakers.


I agree, there really is no justification for lighting up the peak indicators on mixer channels. If you're having to push the channels that far, you've got issues with your gain staging that need to be addressed. That's by I like using 0dB as my reference for the mix ceiling: it's not unusual when browsing through samples for layers for, say, percussion and to roughly "mix" (in very loose terms) the layers so that they perceptibly sit in the mix, but looking at the meters you can see it going either over unity or close to 0dB (my ceiling). This instantly signals to me that I need to clear up the dynamics of that sound so that I can push it far lower in the mix whilst having it perceptibly at the same volume as before. But of course, this is all personal work flow stuff so as long as the bad practices we have discussed are avoided, any perspective is legitimate of it works for you.

Edited by GeneralQuery, 05 September 2012 - 10:58 AM.


#16 steve Machen   Members   -  Reputation: 115

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 08:45 AM

im sure by now you have fixed your problem but for anyone else who is interested

put simply its a multiple stage process

firstly the tracks should be mixed well - also no clipping should be seen/ (heard) on any tracks

secondly the master fader should be left a 0db never touch this however you can add EQ, compression and limiting to this master fader.

this will both stop the clipping and make the track louder however it is important to understand the audio capabilities in software for your movie, audio engine, game engine etc.

finally listen to your track on multiple devices then mix it again this may need to be done 2,3,4 maybe 5 times un-till you get the balance right.

Edited by steve Machen, 12 September 2012 - 08:46 AM.


#17 Reginald L. Seay Jr.   Members   -  Reputation: 111

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Posted 16 September 2012 - 09:31 AM

First, I would like to thank everyone for all of their input. You've all given me a lot to think about. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to spend as much time tweaking my song as I would like to, but I recently figured out some things that were wrong with the mix that I fixed. I had way too much decay as the overall effect of the entire song, so I lessened it. Also, I boosted too much bass in the kicks and bass line, so I also lessened them. This actually proved to give me a lot more headroom to work with. I was able to raise the volume without any audio clipping! Now the next step is to try to enhance things with compressors. Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to those, so I've been trying learn a thing or two via youtube videos and my own experimentation. At some point, I will post the better sounding version of this song on this thread, but It may be a little bit. Thanks again for everything!

#18 Reginald L. Seay Jr.   Members   -  Reputation: 111

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Posted 17 September 2012 - 08:32 PM

Ok, the updated version of my song is at the top! Let me know what you think about it. I was able to increase the volume even more once I put an MClass Compressor above the mixer. Lowered the input gain and lifted the output, did some other tweaks on the ratio ,attack, and release so that the compression wasn't so sudden and noticeable. I'm happy to say that this has no clipping and is the volume that I wanted when I first started it! Thank you guys for everything! I'm still trying to get the hang of compressors, but I believe that this is a good start.

#19 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 05:17 AM

secondly the master fader should be left a 0db never touch

There is absolutely no justification for this statement. As I have explained, a master bus gain stage is equivalent to the accumulation of individual mixer track gain stages. If you don't believe me, print both to audio and invert the phase. The result is digital silence.

Now, everyone has their own personal mixing style so of course people are free to do what they want but propagating the "never touch the master fader" myth does not help, as it implies that touching the master fader is somehow detrimental to the sound (it is not) and that the alternative (i.e. using the master fader) is bad/not a viable option (this, of course, is false).

Edited by GeneralQuery, 18 September 2012 - 05:22 AM.


#20 GeneralQuery   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1263

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 05:25 AM

I'm still trying to get the hang of compressors, but I believe that this is a good start.

Download S(m)exoscope and stick it on your master bus to get visual feedback on what the compressor is doing. This will help correlate the cause and effect of what you hear with what's actually going on with the waveform.




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