Mastering the loudness of a track

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

Post by Death »

Impostor wrote: Sun Nov 06, 2022 2:56 pm

Also true. In another thread I got the advice to leave a supposedly finished track for a couple of weeks in order to regain some objectivity. Good advice, but one that requires an enormous amount of self-control..

sysrqer wrote: Sun Nov 06, 2022 4:01 pm

I think that's great advice and it's something I've been practicing recently. I also like putting the export on to my phone/mp3 player and going for a walk, somehow when you are walking around and just listening things jump out more than they do when you're in front of your computer.

It does work :)

And yeh, that's also a good thing to mention. Listen on the kind of devices the average person will listen on; A phone with budget earphones, for example. Listen to it this way in both noisy and quiet environments. Although cheap earphones don't have the most accurate sound, they will definitely tell you something useful! Another one I hear mentioned a lot, especially by professional engineers, is to listen to it on your car's audio system (assuming you have one). I think the main reason for this is to listen on a system you're used to listening on. That's just as important as the quality of the system; You know what professional mixes sound like on your regular playback systems so if your mix has issues then you should notice them. But also, most people are not listening on the same kind of systems in the same kind of scenarios we are when we're working on music. It's definitely stuff to consider when finalising your mix. You've got to check a variety of devices to get the best picture.

As for the original question in this thread which I think has already been answered but I'll give my take anyway; Limiters in the context of the master bus are best used to catch just the highest peaks. Ideally they should only be working every now and then, doing maybe 2-3db of reduction (likely when the kick & snare hit as they tend to be the points in a song with the highest peaks). They definitely shouldn't be working constantly because they have a horrible sound and will squash the life right out of a mix! Be careful.. It's very easy to over do it with them! So yes, try to use them in a transparent way.

You can also use a compressor on the master bus and when done right it can really gel a mix and enhance/create some lovely movement. But again, be careful not to over do it. I usually only have about 0.5 - 1.5db reduction in the end. However, when I'm dialling in a compressor I usually have quite a lot of reduction happening; Maybe 8db worth. This is because it really helps me to hear the timing of the compressor so I can dial in the attack & release to match the timing & groove of the song. Once it's setup nicely I will then back off and get the reduction down to a more reasonable level.

Finally, another option for reducing peaks is 'soft clipping'. It's compression of sorts but it's not actually turning the volume down, it's just chopping off the top of the waveform instead. So, it doesn't provide any rythmical benefits but it does tame peaks and can give you some nice, subtle distortion. There are soft clipper plugins you can use. Tape emulation plugins also do this and I like to use them a lot.

I'll leave it at that but hopefully I've given you some ideas if you weren't already aware of these things :wink:

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Mon Nov 07, 2022 1:30 am

I'll leave it at that but hopefully I've given you some ideas if you weren't already aware of these things :wink:

Thanks for your input. I was trying to get rid of the peaks in the mastertrack without audible consequences (to be able to amplify the track without clipping) so using a compressor or clipper seems out of the question. Hard-limiting (that's how it's called in Cool Edit) just decreases the amplitude of the highest peaks in a smooth manner to below the desired threshold, in contrast to clipping which just cuts the top off, and compressing which only seems to dampen the signal above a threshold.

Probably the need for this could be prevented by treating the individual channels of the mix with more care, using clippers and compressors there, but it may be a long time before I'm comfortable with using them.

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Impostor wrote: Mon Nov 07, 2022 7:30 pm

Thanks for your input. I was trying to get rid of the peaks in the mastertrack without audible consequences (to be able to amplify the track without clipping) so using a compressor or clipper seems out of the question. Hard-limiting (that's how it's called in Cool Edit) just decreases the amplitude of the highest peaks in a smooth manner to below the desired threshold, in contrast to clipping which just cuts the top off, and compressing which only seems to dampen the signal above a threshold.

Probably the need for this could be prevented by treating the individual channels of the mix with more care, using clippers and compressors there, but it may be a long time before I'm comfortable with using them.

Well I think it's important to understand the difference between 'soft clipping' and 'hard clipping'. What people generally mean when they say 'clipping' is hard clipping. Hard clipping is how clipping works in digital audio. It cuts the top of the waveform off in a very harsh way when it goes above 0db. Long story short; It sounds like crap, is bad practice and you're right to avoid it!

However, what I was suggesting is soft clipping. Soft clipping is the way clipping works in the analogue world. Soft clipping is not so harsh in the way it clips the waveform. It can actually give you a really nice sound if done in moderation! You don't need analogue gear to do it either; As I said, there are soft clip plugins and tape machine emulation plugins that have soft clip functionality. These plugins allow you to set the threshold at which soft clipping begins so you would set it a lot lower than 0db and benefit from soft clipping whilst not having your songs digitally/hard clipping. I always stick a limiter on the mixbus at the end of the chain whether or not I use soft clipping. I'm not suggesting to use soft clipping in place of a limiter but just something you can use before the limiter to make the limiter's job even easier which will result in a more transparent result.

Today's digital limiters are all 'hard limiters'. Basically, old, analogue limiters were essentially compressors with a really high compression ratio. This meant the signal could actually go above the set limit. Modern limiters are digital and so have something called 'lookahead' which basically means that they delay the signal to your ears (by milliseconds) so they can analylise the waveform and make adjustments to make sure it absolutely does not go above the limit you've set, whatever it takes.

Something else to understand about limiters (& compressors) is that when they adjust the volume, they distort the waveform. This distortion can be quite audible so don't assume that they're always going to sound transparent. They may even cause things to sound more distorted & less musical than a soft clipper would, for example.

You're totally right though. The best results come from lots of little things combined rather than one big trick. You don't necessarily need to process every single track with compressors & soft clippers etc though. I usually find it best to do compression on buses (Group tracks with multiple tracks running through them); For example, the drum bus which has every single drum sound running through it - I compress them all together.

EQ and compression are your main tools in mixing. Those are the things you really want to focus on getting good with. The rest is all dressing..

Compressors took me a while to get my head around. Essentially they're an automated volume control, turning the volume down when it goes too high and then turning it back up again as the volume drops. However, if you never explore them any further than that you will be missing out on so much! They can do some really cool things and alter the sound in ways you wouldn't have thought of. One of the main uses for them is to make drums more punchy by enhancing the transient, or more fat by reducing the transient. I think the best thing about them is their ability to enhance or even, create movement. You can do this by putting them on a bus. You'll be amazed at the life that suddenly comes out of things when you get it right!

I mentioned something similar in my last post but to learn how to use compressors you should really dig in with the threshold at first so there's lots of reduction happening and you can really hear what's going on while you adjust the controls. Once you've done that you can then back off to a more reasonable level. Here's a video that really helped me to get started with compressors years ago so I'm sure it could help someone else out too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91qs3fux5HY

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Wed Nov 09, 2022 1:36 am

EQ and compression are your main tools in mixing. Those are the things you really want to focus on getting good with. The rest is all dressing..

I'm playing around with LSP compressor on a drumtrack now. So far I'm able to produce a flam effect, and a reverb-like one. Not sure if it's an improvement yet :)

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

Post by folderol »

Another thing to watch out for is 'ducking'. This is where a compressor or look-ahead limiter is on the final stage. A peak will lower the entire signal, and it will take a finite time for the signal level to recover, so maybe that kick is tamed, but you then can't hear the next word from the singer. Therefore I would advise these to only be applied to individual tracks, with just a final very light limiter on the end.

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

Post by artix_linux_user »

Let's get that straight:
ducks are amazing animals and even the lame duck is a great creature.
Everything can be ducked - just to give the whole scope:
there are also ducked reverbs and ducked delays.
Making digital noise without digital clipping aint that hard:
you have to think first, sure.
then you can use a bigger digital headroom or you are using dynamic effects.
or both, or none of the above, or...or..or...
love

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Impostor wrote: Thu Nov 10, 2022 9:47 am
Death wrote: Wed Nov 09, 2022 1:36 am

EQ and compression are your main tools in mixing. Those are the things you really want to focus on getting good with. The rest is all dressing..

I'm playing around with LSP compressor on a drumtrack now. So far I'm able to produce a flam effect, and a reverb-like one. Not sure if it's an improvement yet :)

Sounds like you're using a delay rather than a compressor :shock: It's definitely a compressor?

folderol wrote: Thu Nov 10, 2022 10:46 pm

Another thing to watch out for is 'ducking'. This is where a compressor or look-ahead limiter is on the final stage. A peak will lower the entire signal, and it will take a finite time for the signal level to recover, so maybe that kick is tamed, but you then can't hear the next word from the singer. Therefore I would advise these to only be applied to individual tracks, with just a final very light limiter on the end.

Well you should compress things in stages before they even reach the master bus and then use a moderate amount of intelligent compression once you're at the final stage because that's all you'll want if you've got it right further back in the chain. It takes lots of practice compressing smaller group buses first to be able to do it right though so I wouldn't advise master bus compression at first, just a limiter catching the highest peaks and reducing about 3db. Bus compression can give an effect similar to sidechain compression where you purposefully make things duck out and it can sound awesome (I compress bass & drums together for this purpose because as the kick & snare activate the compressor, the bass will get the effect of ducking out of the way - just like sidechain compressing the bass off of the drums would do). I strongly disagree with advising to only compress on individual tracks. If you do that you will never get the benefit of movement created/enhanced by compressors! That is one of the greatest things about them...

I think the drum bus is one of the best ways to use bus compression, especially for learning how compressors create movement. The kick & the snare usually have the highest peaks and will cause all of the drum sounds on the bus, to duck out & make way for them. The high-hats, for example, will rise & fall in volume which creates movement & feeling to what might've before been a very static & boring beat. And of course, you can apply this method to buses with other instruments running through them which I strongly advise! You do this all over your song and you'll feel it come to life, especially if it was lacking feel before doing so. Once you get your head around this technique you'll feel like you've really levelled up :)

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Fri Nov 11, 2022 5:38 pm

Sounds like you're using a delay rather than a compressor :shock: It's definitely a compressor?

:) Yeah, it says so on the box.

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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@impostor That's so weird. I don't know how you've managed that because I've never been able to get a compressor to make those effects! Maybe you're onto something :lol:

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 12:11 am

@impostor That's so weird. I don't know how you've managed that because I've never been able to get a compressor to make those effects! Maybe you're onto something :lol:

I guess he's using the compressed track parallel to source track and hasn't compensated the latency which then might play some flam or slap et al :wink:

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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you should always hit the boom before the bang

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 12:11 am

@impostor That's so weird. I don't know how you've managed that because I've never been able to get a compressor to make those effects! Maybe you're onto something :lol:

I think it (kind of) makes sense that a not-too-short attack coupled with short release could produce a flam from a single hit. And a long attack with long release just smearing out the sound could be reminiscent of a reverb.

Anyway, those are not the effects I'm looking for with a compressor. Problem is, I don't know what I am looking for either :)

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Loki Harfagr wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 9:04 am

I guess he's using the compressed track parallel to source track and hasn't compensated the latency which then might play some flam or slap et al :wink:

That's a good point actually! There might be some latency delay issues happening here..

Impostor wrote: Sun Nov 13, 2022 1:44 pm

I think it (kind of) makes sense that a not-too-short attack coupled with short release could produce a flam from a single hit. And a long attack with long release just smearing out the sound could be reminiscent of a reverb.

Anyway, those are not the effects I'm looking for with a compressor. Problem is, I don't know what I am looking for either :)

That's astounding. On one hand you appear to have little knowledge of compressors, how they work or what you might want to do with them, then on the other you present knowledge like that which displays a good understanding of how a compressor might affect the sound! I suppose that does mostly depend on whether or not me and you have the same idea of what a short or long attack/release is. Still, it shows you are really thinking about how they work so keep going!

Start by practising with the release control on about 150 ms and then just play with the attack control. If you don't hear any difference then lower the threshold until you can. Just remember to use makeup gain to compensate for the compression that's happening when the signal gets compressed; The more it gets compressed the more makeup gain you will need. The idea is to get it to sound as loud (not more, not less, just the same level) as the uncompressed signal. This way you can turn the compressor on & off to A/B compare the compressed and uncompressed signal and hear what you've actually done.

Loudness matching levels like this is very important when doing any kind of processing because it's the only way you can make a good judgement about whether or not you've actually improved something. Because otherwise you can get tricked into thinking something sounds better when it actually just sounds louder, or vice versa, thinking it sounds worse when it actually just sounds quieter; Loudness matching will make it all clear :wink:

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Re: Mastering the loudness of a track

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Death wrote: Mon Nov 14, 2022 1:06 pm

Just remember to use makeup gain to compensate for the compression that's happening when the signal gets compressed; The more it gets compressed the more makeup gain you will need. The idea is to get it to sound as loud (not more, not less, just the same level) as the uncompressed signal. This way you can turn the compressor on & off to A/B compare the compressed and uncompressed signal and hear what you've actually done.

Ah, okay. I haven't fiddled around with makeup gain yet. I'll keep that in mind.

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