TURN UP THE AMPLITUDE
We all want our music LOUD but also want it to be dynamic and captivate our listeners. This is the challenge of music production, mixing, and mastering. This is a greater challenge when we (even us professionals) try to do all 3 of these things for our own music!
So, if you go into this article knowing you will probably not get every aspect of your music to sound as PRO as you want, but you have a shot at getting your music t tips on how to get your playback level louder here are a few tips:
1. The Composition
Having a LOUD ITB track means structuring your composition so that it can be loud with out needing to get to the 2bus mastering chain! A very dense and overly layered composition/arrangement has a tendency to not be as loud as it could because there are too many elements. Often it is “all” these parts which are not “working well together because they are opposing one another.” Yes, I know I know, layering in theory should make things louder by doubling the amplitude of each sound by adding another layer. But in mixing reality, less is more. The less you have going on in the mix will give your song a larger degree of perceived loudness.
2. Boost the “Presence” of Bass Elements
While you may be thinking that bass is all about low end, it is, but this is not completely accurate. Bass is not “all” about low end. Bass is about low end and harmonics. It is for this reason that you should know right now: More bass does not equal louder. More bass will render a quieter mix than you are expecting. Counterintuitive, yes I know, such is the complexity of mixing and mastering music 🙂
Personally, I am a huge fan of organic bass tones…
I love when I am at a show and can really feel the bass. You know that feeling; it’s like a tide wave washing over you. Though the organic and pure sounding bass rocks, it does often pose something challenging when you are mixing and mastering your own music. As my good friend says, “The bass is sucking up a “fuck ton” of headroom” (It’s ok to swear here, this is music production not church)!
So how do we get louder playback? Good question! As much as I hate to tell you to do it, you have to sacrifice a bit of bass! Don’t worry though the bass is not going to be lacking! We are going to “make up for it” by making the bass more “present.”
The thing you want to know and burn into your brain in this: Get your mixes to sound like there is more bass than there actually is!
Bass enhancing plugins are out there to help you with this exact thing! If you don’t have one or want to buy one here is what you should do: Look at your bass sounds in the 150-300Hz ranges and add some distortion or saturation to these frequencies. It couldn’t hurt to go up from there too!
3. Let Your Drums Shine
We all need our drums to punch through the mix and many of us (including me) do not have an API 2500 sitting in our racks to do this for us. So, we recommend you start using compression and some very creative ways to side chain other instruments and layers out of the way of the drums.
If you do not want a hardcore pumping effect (something we here at The Continuum Music Studio are not a big fan of) then don’t set the compressor to drastically. A little really does go a long way. Most people just can’t hear the actual effects of the compression unless the gain is way or the compressor is pumping hard. If you start to really listen to the subtle elements in the track; some gentle side chaining goes a long way to increasing the loudness of your track if the drums can cut and breathe.
4. Brightness is Your Friend
Bass frequencies take up a lot of space in the frequency spectrum all the while are not very desirable frequencies to the human ear. We all love how bass feels but it’s the upper-midrange frequencies that appeal the most to the human ear. This being a fact, it is often common that we “perceive” the midrange to be louder than the rest of the frequencies in the spectrum.
When you focus the majority of your attention of your mixing on the upper-midrange, by subtly enhancing the upper-midrange’s main rhythmic and melodic essentials, you can create a much louder overall playback level.
Start your mixes by getting your low end dialed. Once you do this you don’t have to keep fussing with it. Understand it takes up the most space. Be an objective audio engineer and understand this. Once the low end is tight sounding with the right amount of feel, then focus intensely on crafting your vital range of mids.
5. Always Be Conscious of Gain Staging
If you want your mix to be LOUD at the end, a limiter is NOT the way to do this. Gain staging your project properly on a track by track basis will do this. If you do not gain stage correctly you will have to add over 4 decibels of gain on your limiter. This is the fastest way to destroy the color and contrast in your mix!
Limiters are great at two things:
Distortion and flattening a mix. We all want color and to preserve dynamics. Mixing Mainstream EDM, Pop, Rock, Dubstep, Chillstep, Trance, and many other genres all thrive without distortion and with dynamics. Understand that the more your push the limiter the more your push your mix into sounding like it’s limited. Why mix in the first place I ask you? If this is what you want, slap a limiter on after 2 hours of mixing and upload to the Internet.
I personally use limiters very moderately and gently, so much so you would never know I used one. I use compressors. Compression offers a better smoothening of dynamics and a softened flattening effect to the 2bus.
Mastering compression is the key, not 2bus limiting. Unless you want part of the “loudness” wars then by all means limit the hell out of your mixes. “Skrillex does hit, the Red Hot Chili Peppers do it, and so do many Pop artists do it too” (I can hear you all saying this, lol). You can follow the crowd if you like, it’s not like music lasts the test of time or will be around in 100 years or anything. Well, it will, but not your overly limited, smashed, distorted music (I say this with massive love and truth)! Pink Floyd will, but not most of the 5 minutes big room bangers of today. Twerk music will never be a part of music history like Thriller will.
If you want your music to sound good, and not flat, use more than one compressor knocking off a few dB on each. This will not only do what a limiter does in a more moderate way but this will also give you a much more organic sound, even if you are making music like Dubstep that sounds anything but organic 🙂
All of these techniques are simple and easily over looked. Mixing music and audio engineering is about compromise and awareness. Not every sound you write should make the final mix and you do not need 8 layers of bass.
If you really want your music to sound loud you have to understand what the human ear hears and what the listener is going to be most influenced by. These are not the lows my friends. Focus your attention on the mid range and your tracks will turn some ears, while sounding good in the clubs too!
I do not know about you, but I strive to bring a vintage sound to modern music. I never got to own a tape machine, and would love to bring the vibe of those to my digital recordings. Otb is not an option for us all, TODAY. In time, with growth and evolution it will be 🙂 For now, we must perfect our ITB mixing and mastering skills and this starts with things that are both simple and counterintuitive.
Loudness is not everything…
but in our current commercial market it is something. We, as audio engineers, must adhear to current music production trends in order to be heard, but do not have to follow the trends in the name of sacrificing quality for loudness to compete.
Tips and tricks like these can make a huge difference when breaking into the music scene on our own. Mastering houses are great as are mixing facilities, but that is not always the most desired option. That being said, arm yourselves with as much knowledge as you can get! And remember:
If you don’t practice what you learn it is as if you are learning nothing at all!
Stay Passionate Music Producers and Never Stop Making Art!
Written by: Kriss Walas
A Licensed Continuum Music Studio Blog Creative Work
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