How to Make Your Mix Sound Louder Without Destroying Sonic Quality

Firstly, you have to realize that loudness is genre dependent and not every track needs to sound loud and thick. Obviously there are 2 stages when you can make your track sound loud.

 

 

Mixing stage and mastering stage

It is always good idea to have your song mastered in a professional mastering studio. The most prominent and successful mastering engineers have years of experience, trained ears and necessary knowledge how to use the sophisticated mastering processing gear. Mastering is very important final step, and any respectable mastering engineer will tell you that even a professional mastering studio with extremely skilled engineers and the best equipment and facilities won’t be able to make a bad mix sound really loud and clean. Therefor firstly you have to learn to cover the ground on the mixdown department, so the mastering can take your mix to totally another level.

 

Using quality samples and recordings

You have to have a decent listening environment, so you can make decision what is a good quality and what isn’t. Then you will easily learn to know a good quality sound when you hear one. It is all about training you ears – daily practice will get you there. When you hear sound, tend to listen for the low and high ends especially – do they sound clean and crisp? Are there any unwanted noises? Another important thing to listen to is the dynamics. Are they intact?

 

Learn compression and don’t ruin your tracks with too much limiting

People often think that compression is a magic pill that will help sound everything good and loud. Sure, compression is a great tool, but you have to learn how to use it properly. General rule of any compression is to use low ratios and to avoid short attack times. Short attack time usually kill audio. To avoid over-compressing your mixes you should remember, that the higher the ratio, the higher the threshold should be. Never forget, that heavy compression is always audible. Better idea is to use compression gently at different stages of recording and mixing. Also if you want to go for loudness, it is beneficial to learn how multiband and parallel compression works.

 

Saturation

Saturation is very powerful and often overlooked tool. By adding little bit of saturation to individual channels you can drive your mix a tiny bit louder. It is always worthy to experiment with saturation – different plugins give you different results. You can add saturation to bass track, tape saturation work excellent for drums. Saturation in any form adds harmonics to the sound. The perceived volume is raised as natural compression with little bit of limiting. These combined effects add up to what could be called ‘fatness’ or a ‘warm’ analogue feel. Remember that saturated audio should still sound clean and not distorted.

 

Be careful with bass

Bass is usually taking lot of energy in the mix. It is always good idea to use low-cut filter to stop very low frequencies to get out of control. If you want to be sure what’s going on there, use a spectrum analyzer!

 

Balance your EQ

If your mix is unbalanced, it will never sound loud. In other words – balance is everything. For total loudness of your mix is very important to have balanced your Mids and Hi-Mids area. Our ear hearing is very sensitive in the 2kHz region – you can always use this trick to make guitars and drums sound loud and aggressive without pushing up the average level.

 

At the end of the day don’t worry about loudness too much. As you will practice with mixing and as your ears will be more trained, your mixdowns will get better and louder as a byproduct. Also with more practice you will develop your musical instincts: you will be able to trust your intuition while making a decisions.

Music production tutorials that will help you with mixing

music production tips and tricks

Let’s face it out,  Grammy Award winning mixing engineer Dave Pensado is not only great music producer, sound engineer and mixer responsible for countless hit songs played on the radio charts (Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Pink, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, etc…), but also with his weekly show PensadoPlace which is dedicated to mixing & engineering techniques he is a great tutor and teacher.  For those who haven’t seen his show so far, it is a MUST! You will love this guy.

His weekly show consists of two parts; from episodes – interviews with many famous and prominent people behind the music industry (mixer, sound engineers, artists, etc…) speaking about various angles of music production and Into the Liar section, that is something like How to guide – he shares and explains there various mixing techniques, tips, tricks, hints and other aspects of his work in details. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to learning music production, this is definitely the place, that will keep you busy for a few weeks/months. Dave is a very humble guy and shares basically everything what he does in his work. I learnt a lot just by watching them and always when I’m frustrated with my dull mixes, just by watching these videos it always gets me inspired. Here is the selection of my favorites Daves Into the Liar music production videos. You can start with these videos, and then check out more when you have time! 

 

Working with low frequencies

This is alfa and omega when you want to have a nice and clean mix with readable and powerful low-end. You have to learn how to work with low frequencies.

I don’t carve frequencies, I just mess with it until it sounds good

Dave explains his tips in these great videos: working with low frequencies, using filters when mixing bass and how to get great bass track. More bass tips >>

 

Using Compression

Sometimes it is a good idea to use instead of compressor tape emulation or saturation. However, if you don’t know where to start, you have to watch this video about compression techniques and  advanced parallel compression technique.  Dave also recommends you to experiment with presets as a starting point – advantages of presets are, that usually they are designed by professionals, so there is a big chance you will get them work in your music production. This is another great music production tutorial about compressions and audio compression ratios.

Always focus on emotion and energy in your track, rather than the technical aspect. Be careful with compression, because when used in a bad way, it can take your track down.

Using EQ in front of the compressor you will get a good clean signal to work with. To tune the color of the material, use EQ after compressor. Read more on compression here >>

 

Train you hearing, use reference mixes!

When you are new to music production it is a common thing that you will struggle with understanding or hearing compression, EQ, applying reverberations. Usually it takes a long time to learn how to hear the difference. Dave once told a story that he started to mix as a older guy – in his 30s, but first 3 years of his job he was dedicating 2-3 hours daily only to listening others mixes. Sooner you start with training you ear, sooner you will be able to use it in a proper way. Don’t get discouraged – every skill is trainable.   Inspire yourself by watching these 2 Dave’s videos about ear training. Also remember, it is important to listen reference mixes while making your own music production. It is always good idea to place reference song within your project, so you can quickly access it and use A/B comparison. Use your own invention! Don’t try to simply copy/paste your reference track. Reference track is a good for use of checking the levels of various elements, looking for the dull spots in the song, etc…

Referencing is a short cut way to taking a break. It refreshes your brain because we tend to get used to what we hear, and lose objectivity in the process.

Learn how to use reference mixes from Dave.

 

On PensadoPlace there are many other short episodes, that can help you with your mixing skills. Which is your favorites one? Share your thoughts in comments.

 

Why do we need dynamics control?

Limiters, compressors, expanders and gates are all devices which control the level of audio signals and therefore the dynamic range of a track or piece of music. They affect the loudness of a sound just as a fader or volume control does. In a dynamics device, however, the device according to parameters set up by the engineer controls the level automatically. In a traditional analogue device this would have been an electrical circuit element that would first sense the level of the signal and then adjust the output as required. Analogue compressors are still regularly used at the input stage, during recording, but in digital systems most dynamics control is now achieved through plug-ins which emulate the analogue world in terms of both performance and parameters. Below is a diagram to show how a traditional analogue dynamics unit would work.

dynamic control

As we noted earlier on, the useful dynamic range of the human ear is from OdB SPL (the threshold of hearing) to 115dB SPL (the threshold of pain). Digital sound equipment is now able to cover this dynamic range with 24bit recording, which has a range of 144dBs (theoretically anyway as the real limit of even the best Digital to Analogue converter is 122dB SPL of dynamic range). CD audio is a 16-bit system and has a dynamic range of 96dBs, which is more than adequate for most music and speech recording. Classical music is most renowned for having very quiet and very loud passages — a wide dynamic range. Even if reproduced in a Hi-Fi environment this would equate to about 65dBs difference between the loudest and quietest parts. Most pop and rock formats area designed to have a much smaller dynamic range since they need to be intelligible in a wide variety of situations – such as cars, factories, kitchens, railway stations etc – where ambient noise might be considerable. Under such conditions the signal must be compressed so that the quietest level is audible above the background noise without the loudness of reproduction being unacceptable for the given situation. Background music, for example, must be reproduced quietly yet should at all times be audible enough to be intelligible. The key to a successful commercial mix lies in an ability to engineer loudness and impact into a mix that is heard on a transistor radio. The limiter/compressor is a tool that makes this possible.

 

 

Common applications for automatic gain control

Protecting a system from being overloaded
In order to optimise the signal-to-noise ratio and maintain a high average record level without the fear of accidental overload, a limiter can be inserted to operate just prior to the onset of significant distortion

Increasing loudness
Changing the sound by making it either “denser (by reducing the dynamic range) or lighter (by increasing it).

Noise reducing
Reducing background noise, “spill”, cross-talk and improving the signal-to-noise ratio of analogue tape recorders and other noisy signal paths by the use of elaborate systems such as the Dolby ones.

Reducing sibilance
Extreme “s” and “t” in vocals and other similar problems with the use of de-essers.

Special effects
Voice-over and ducking (as used by disc-jockeys), dynamic equalisers such as the Opti-Mod for increasing loudness in radio broadcasts and a myriad of other inventive applications that we shall describe later.

Cover photo by Pedronchi

Compress Drums Quietly

Compressor is a very crucial part of a DAW and is a super helpful tool which enables you to compress any instrument. Drums could be compressed by mixing them and by turning down the speaker volume. Making the compression decisions based on mixing at low volume levels will make the mix efficient. So the main idea is while compressing the drums if the drum sound could be made punchy and pumping at low volume levels it is going to be super easy for them to sound interesting at that normal listening level.

Mastering: How to make a song louder in mastering – and the price you pay

Learn mastering with multiband compression. A song can be made louder using compressor, EQ and limiting. The main idea is to raise the volume without making the track sound crushed or distorted. Usually louder tracks are distorted and the chorus is not audible to the ears but multiband compressor helps to lessen the distortion and raise the volume on the other hand.

Mastering EQ – make music sound louder, with LESS compression and limiting

Learn about Mastering EQ with Ian Shepherd. EQ is a great tool in a DAW which makes the music sound louder with less compression and limiting. While working on songs with heavy drums with loud snares there is a possibility of crushing the track sound and it is important to keep the songs at proper level. This problem is solved by Mastering EQ.