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TimMena

Any tips on track "Loudness"?

14 posts in this topic

Hey guys, new around here and I have a problem that you guys might be able to help me with. 

 

When I compare my music to almost all other composers/producers, their's is just much louder than mine, professional or not. I lower my instrument tracks so that the master bus doesn't clip, but then it all sounds too low. When I put a limiter on the master bus to boost the volume, it has a crackling sound going on. I'm not really that good with mixing yet, but this has been bothering me lately, just looking for a little help, so thanks in advance.

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Making things loud is easy. Making things clean is easy. Making things loud and clean is where the skill lies. It all about headroom management, judicious (where appropriate) use of dynamics processing, eq, saturation and distortion (I'm simplifying but you get the gist). Experiment with these effects, techniques such as parallel saturation work wonders for increasing loudness in a fairly transparent (or at least desirable) manner. Sticking a limiter on your master bus can only do so much. It's really a last step that has to be done on the master as it's not really possible/practical to do it in the mix.

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I found this article very interesting, and it has some nice graphical explanations: http://www.dnbscene.com/article/88-thinking-inside-the-box-a-complete-eq-tutorial

 

Essentially, maximum perceived "loudness" is achieved by filling every band in the frequency spectrum, i.e. your mix could be at the point of clipping, but by adding a new sound in an unused frequency range you can still increase loudness. Distortion can be used to increase the range of frequencies covered by a sound, for example.

 

Compression can be used to make your track louder on average across the time domain, by squashing down the tallest peaks and bringing up everything else to compensate ("make-up gain").

 

Of course these techniques are often used very bluntly, with the sole aim of making a track loud. People complain that a lot of modern music has lost most of its dynamic range due to the popular obsession with loudness.

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Thanks for the replies guys, I'll try to focus a bit more on giving each instrument it's own place in the mix and mess around with compression. 

 

If it isn't too much of a bother, would you guys mind checking out a track I did today? Maybe you'll hear what I'm working with. 

 

https://soundcloud.com/timmena/necro

 

Oh, and don't mind the mixing itself, I've yet to get better monitors than my av40's, and they don't translate well at all o.O

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Try to master your audio...in simple way

use multiband compressor for 4 bands (it will make more headroom for maximizing and will make frequencies of audio near perfect for standard)

use final limiter (will maximize your audio to max level)

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Try to master your audio...in simple way

use multiband compressor for 4 bands (it will make more headroom for maximizing and will make frequencies of audio near perfect for standard)

use final limiter (will maximize your audio to max level)

Uh.. no, sorry, but this is bad advice. A multiband compressor is a very powerful tool for very specific tasks. When you have access to the mix you should never even want to use a multiband compressor. Why squash and distort the mix you have so carefully created? As for a limiter, you use one to limit peaks and prevent clipping, not to "maximize your audio."

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Try not to do things just because. That includes, compressors on each track, EQ on each track, hi pass everything except the kick and the bass, limiter on the master, multi band compressor everywhere, pan everything, etc. All those things result from often a good advice taken to the extreme.

 

See the mixer tracks? Each time you're on one of them and hit the "Add effect" (or whatever) button, think "Why I am doing this?" if you don't come with a good answer, its because it wasn't a good idea to begin with (or that you just need to read up a little on what tools you have at your disposition).

 

You could also grab a book about mixing. I've read The Art of Mixing from David Gibson. Its more focused in how to think about your mix, how to tackle and approach different mixing styles, etc.

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Hello there,

Try to master your audio...in simple way
use multiband compressor for 4 bands (it will make more headroom for maximizing and will make frequencies of audio near perfect for standard)
use final limiter (will maximize your audio to max level)

Uh.. no, sorry, but this is bad advice. A multiband compressor is a very powerful tool for very specific tasks. When you have access to the mix you should never even want to use a multiband compressor. Why squash and distort the mix you have so carefully created? As for a limiter, you use one to limit peaks and prevent clipping, not to "maximize your audio."


???

Multiband compression is one of the standard tools during the last summing phase and the right kind of clipping is highly desirable / unavoidable if you're aiming for a comparably loud track.

The real magic's not in the master though, like many here have pointed out.
I like to think in this chain:

Arrangement -> Sound Choices / Recording -> Mixing -> Master

If your EQs look like roller coaster rides, you're either doing too much or you've already started with the wrong sounds or even something in your arrangement won't work.
E.g. If you have a track with many instruments bubbling in the lower frequency spectrum without much dynamics, you'll have a hard time getting everything loud and clear.

Cheers,
Moritz
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My advice is that you should create a minimum -2db headroom. At that point you must scrutinize your mixdown (in terms of leveling, potential frequency clashing, dynamics, depth and panning). When you decide that everything sounds good, wait at least 2 days and check it again.

 

After that, you may add a master compressor to glue things a bit (if you really think you must), a frequency exciter (be very careful with those; apply with MODERATION) and finally a limiter.

 

The part with the limiter might be a bit tricky. What I do, is observer the meter. If I see that there is little to no activity (the meter sticks at 0db) and the signal is attenuated too much, then... well, I know I overdid it.

 

Be sure to use transparent dynamic processors. We don't want any additional 'flavours' at this stage.

 

And remember, no post-mixdown shenanigan is a real remedy for a bad mix.

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Wow...

This advice is scary since it seems that I am doing every bit of it. But in all honesty, if I don't, my mixes sound god-awful.
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[quote name='Moritz P.G. Katz' timestamp='1357909584' post='5020286']

Multiband compression is one of the standard tools during the last summing phase and the right kind of clipping is highly desirable / unavoidable if you're aiming for a comparably loud track.
[/quote]

No, a multiband compressor is not a "standard" tool. The only "standard" there is in mastering is EQ, a Limiter, and maybe a normal compressor. But don't take my word on it, have a look at what some professional mastering engineers are saying on the topic of multiband compression:

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/666266-multi-band-compressors.html

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/688521-eq-vs-multiband-compression.html

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/76421-multiband-compression-voodoo.html

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/high-end/4647-using-multiband-compression.html

http://www.gearslutz.com/board/high-end/24980-multiband-compressor.html

 

As for "comparably loud", how loud is comparable? And comparable to what? When you're clipping the limiter, you're creating distortion, diminishing the quality of your music. When you present your material you would want it to be at the best quality, so squashing your mix to get some imaginary "loudness" (it's not) seems counter intuitive to me. Just turning the volume knob would have provided better results. Now if you're working on a project where you're mixing with sfx 'n such in mind i can see why you would want your music comparably loud.

 

I agree with the rest of your post.

 

Cheers,

Chris

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Hey Chris,

Multiband compression is one of the standard tools during the last summing phase and the right kind of clipping is highly desirable / unavoidable if you're aiming for a comparably loud track.

 
No, a multiband compressor is not a "standard" tool. The only "standard" there is in mastering is EQ, a Limiter, and maybe a normal compressor. But don't take my word on it, have a look at what some professional mastering engineers are saying on the topic of multiband compression:
http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/666266-multi-band-compressors.html
http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/688521-eq-vs-multiband-compression.html
http://www.gearslutz.com/board/mastering-forum/76421-multiband-compression-voodoo.html
http://www.gearslutz.com/board/high-end/4647-using-multiband-compression.html
http://www.gearslutz.com/board/high-end/24980-multiband-compressor.html
 
 
 


Well, those threads display a lot of different opinions... I think multi-band compression can be very useful, provided you know how to use it. I know plenty of mastering people who don't shy away from it. Mastering is all about moderate use, of course - on the master bus, a single dB give or take can have a serious impact!
 
As for "comparably loud", how loud is comparable? And comparable to what?
Comparable to other loud music. As in, when you play it after a loud song, you don't have to crank up the volume to make it sound equally loud.
When you're clipping the limiter, you're creating distortion, diminishing the quality of your music.
I don't want to start a "loudness war" discussion here - but it's a fact that loud & clipping music has become a sound aesthetic on its own, at least in electronic/rock/popular music in general.
When you present your material you would want it to be at the best quality, so squashing your mix to get some imaginary "loudness" (it's not) seems counter intuitive to me.
Sure, that's always the problem: will people turn up their volume knobs or dismiss your track as sounding weak because the track they played back previously is a lot "hotter"?
Also, there are a couple more factors determining the perceived loudness of a track than just pure volume. That's why it really depends - obviously, in recorded orchestral music you'll want to avoid any clipping, but in a slamming modern hip-hop track you'll probably want to drive and clip the transients of the beat.

In games, you can pretty much define the headroom yourself - which is why you don't need to compete with Katy Perry & Co. loudness-wise. Which should be all-the-more reason to concentrate our efforts on the mix instead.
Mastering still has its place, though, especially when it comes to preparing the tracks for different platforms - if it's an iOS game, chances are high many people will hear your music through tiny iPad speakers. You'll want the music to be prepared for this, i.e. check if it still sounds good and maybe even produce a slightly different mix/master for the desktop version.

Cheers,
Moritz
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Interesting thread. Sorry for not including poster names in my quotes, hopefully it's not too confusing to read.

Uh.. no, sorry, but this is bad advice. A multiband compressor is a very powerful tool for very specific tasks. When you have access to the mix you should never even want to use a multiband compressor. Why squash and distort the mix you have so carefully created? As for a limiter, you use one to limit peaks and prevent clipping, not to "maximize your audio."

Headroom management is about RMS which is determined by making the most of the bandwidth available. Broadband tools alone cannot maximise headroom if one is looking to make a mix as perceptibly loud as possible. You also conflate loudness with harshness. As I said in my first post, loud = easy (drawback: harsh), clean = easy (drawback: too soft), loud + clean = loud and clear = where the challenge lies. IF this is your goal then multiband tools are essential. Does that mean squashing everything into oblivion is fine? Of course not, if you're doing such a thing then you should reassess exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.

My advice is that you should create a minimum -2db headroom. At that point you must scrutinize your mixdown (in terms of leveling, potential frequency clashing, dynamics, depth and panning). When you decide that everything sounds good, wait at least 2 days and check it again.

Peak headroom is meaningless from a mastering perspective. If one wishes to farm out the master to a specialist mastering engineer then leaving enough RMS headroom is where the truth of this advice lies, but even then a broadband track with -2dB RMS would essentially sounds like a distorted square mess. Loud, modern EDM final masters would not be pushing much more than -8dB RMS. Leaving RMS headroom is really just a rule of thumb, in my opinion propegated by mastering engineers to stop people sending them FUBAR'd pre-masters where the client decided in their infinite wisdom to ruin the mix with some unnecessary/incorrectly applied dynamics processing over the stereo bus biggrin.png

Edit: as a side note, I should clarify that peak monitoring is important but it does not tell you anything about the dynamics. I personally use a waveform visualizer for this as well as RMS meters and I keep an eye out for headroom-gobbling superfluous peak information and fix accordingly. Phase relationships between different frequency bands as well as different mix elements is also extremely important.
 

After that, you may add a master compressor to glue things a bit (if you really think you must), a frequency exciter (be very careful with those; apply with MODERATION) and finally a limiter.

I personally only use a limiter as the mix is there in front of you to do everything else. MAYBE a compressor, but you might as well just mix into the compressor from the get go but as always, context is king (my requirements may differ from yours etc.).


 

No, a multiband compressor is not a "standard" tool. The only "standard" there is in mastering is EQ, a Limiter, and maybe a normal compressor. But don't take my word on it, have a look at what some professional mastering engineers are saying on the topic of multiband compression:
http://www.gearslutz...ompressors.html
http://www.gearslutz...ompression.html
http://www.gearslutz...ion-voodoo.html
http://www.gearslutz...ompression.html
http://www.gearslutz...compressor.html

I would take most things written on Gearslutz with a pinch of salt ;)


 

As for "comparably loud", how loud is comparable? And comparable to what? When you're clipping the limiter, you're creating distortion, diminishing the quality of your music. When you present your material you would want it to be at the best quality, so squashing your mix to get some imaginary "loudness" (it's not) seems counter intuitive to me. Just turning the volume knob would have provided better results. Now if you're working on a project where you're mixing with sfx 'n such in mind i can see why you would want your music comparably loud

Loudness is relative but is generally interpreted as a high(er) RMS. High RMS does not necessarily equate to squashed dynamics, as with many things in audio engineering there is a gap between the naive approaches (which deliver less than stellar results) and more intricate approaches that are largely birthed from the power and flexibility of modern DAWs.

 

I don't want to start a "loudness war" discussion here - but it's a fact that loud & clipping music has become a sound aesthetic on its own, at least in electronic/rock/popular music in general.

I largely agree with this although I think clipping is probably pushing it ;) The modern aesthetic of loudness (not the silly loudness war nonsense) in electronic music is COMPLETELY different from traditional/acoustic music (the latter does not take well to heavy dynamics processing without being abrasive and fatiguing). The key is context, context, context.

I think this touches on a important point: "traditional" mixing styles and "rules of thumbs" very rarely translate to modern electronic music, thus a lot of the "dos and don'ts" make little sense (and are often counter productive) hence why it's important to grasp the underlying concepts instead of assuming advice is correct (and of course this applies to my post as much as anybody else's biggrin.png). This is why it's also important to understand the context of the advice: who is giving it and what is their background? An oldschool analogue legend giving advice about do's and don'ts rarely applies to me as my techniques, tools and requirements are completely different. I produce my records with the aim of being louder and clearer than my competitors (amongst other things, of course) but then my music is designed to be played back on large sound systems. Many of the mix micromanagement techniques and processes I use are overkill for people with different requirements. Context = king.

Edit: another side note. My distinction between "modern" and "traditional" music is somewhat lacking. Let me expand on this: if your sounds are sourced from acoustic/traditional sources (as I'm sure a lot of you making, say, orchestral video game music are) then I put that in the "traditional" camp. Your mileage will be more restricted in terms of processing traditional instruments for a couple of reasons: a) there is a strong cultural expectation as to how these instruments should sound (distorted to death is not such an expectation biggrin.png) and many instruments simply don't take to such processing (for example, because of their timbre and/or the inevitable intermodulation artefacts of heavy processing). Granted, my distinction is broad and simplistic but should suffice for the context of my thoughts on the matter.

Edited by GeneralQuery
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I think this touches on a important point: "traditional" mixing styles and "rules of thumbs" very rarely translate to modern electronic music, thus a lot of the "dos and don'ts" make little sense (and are often counter productive) hence why it's important to grasp the underlying concepts instead of assuming advice is correct (and of course this applies to my post as much as anybody else's ). This is why it's also important to understand the context of the advice: who is giving it and what is their background? An oldschool analogue legend giving advice about do's and don'ts rarely applies to me as my techniques, tools and requirements are completely different. I produce my records with the aim of being louder and clearer than my competitors (amongst other things, of course) but then my music is designed to be played back on large sound systems. Many of the mix micromanagement techniques and processes I use are overkill for people with different requirements. Context = king.
Exactly!

In the end, your ears should be the final judge and a satisfying result justifies whatever steps you took to get there.

Cheers,
Moritz Edited by Moritz P.G. Katz
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