We’ve all thought about it, we’ve all been asked about it and many of us hate it. But we are in an industry to serve and if our customer asks to make things loud, we make things as loud as we can. However, it is not as easy when there are all these loudness normalizations going on and because of that, it is more crucial than ever before to balance your mix properly.
I truly hope that you’ll find these tips valuable and if you like, share your own.
Disclaimer: Please do note that these are my personal experiences and none of these tips are absolute truths or things you should do on every mix you do. These are tips that might help you to achieve a better mix. What fits the song always take 1# priority. Extra 2 or 3dB of loudness won’t help if you can’t deliver a feeling with your song.
1# DYNAMICS ARE EVERYTHING
Everybody talks about dynamics and how you must make your songs as dynamic as you can. But what it does actually mean? You can divide dynamics into two categories: overall dynamic range (the difference between the quietest and loudest volume of a song) and the dynamics between the different parts of your song. Answer to not mess up your overall dynamic range is NOT to limit the hell out of your track. The latter is a bit more interesting.
A track that is very dynamic but mastered to -14 dB LUFS will have its peak levels preserved when played on Spotify. If you compare that to a loudly mastered track, at – 6 dB LUFS for example, its peaks get lowered to – 8 dB LUFS. The two tracks will play back at the same perceived loudness level, but the loud or “peak” parts of the more dynamic track will be much louder. -Spotify
DYNAMICS BETWEEN DIFFERENT PARTS
Spotify and other streaming services normalize your tracks by the average values of your song. What this means in practice, is that if a song DOESN’T have any volume changes throughout the song, the maximum loudness will be much lower, than when a song has both soft and loud parts.
Think of it this way: you have two versions of the same song. One with no volume changes at all, and one with soft verse followed by a loud chorus. Both songs have exactly the same average volume but what are the differences? The second song will actually have a much louder chorus than the first one despite the average loudness is the same.
By creating volume differences to different parts of the song, you’ll even end up with a more interesting version of your song, so why not to do it?
Same principles can be applied while producing or when making arrangements for your songs. Also, one cool trick is to make your verses to have less low-end than your chorus.
2# LOW AND HIGH FREQUENCIES
Low frequencies take more headroom than high frequencies
Imagine that you have a room and inside that room are all of your audio tracks. This room has an overall capacity of -10LUFS or -14LUFS and anything above that level will distort. Every track inside the room has ‘x’ amount of information.
This is exactly the situation when we are mixing to digital platforms like Spotify. A certain volume is a level when your headROOM is full (pun intended), and your job is to make sure that all the tracks organized nicely to their own places.
Why low frequencies matter so much, is that they fill up your headroom super quickly. For example, if all of your tracks have some information below 100Hz, your available headroom will fill up much more quickly. Use a high-pass filter to filter out unneeded frequencies and you have more room for other tracks and frequencies to breath. Plus your mix will sound much clearer and more focused. Of course, this comes to the age-old debate of should you high pass everything and no you should not. But high-pass filters have their place while mixing and to be honest, you don’t really need anything below 100Hz on vocals or below 20Hz on anything.
HUMANS ARE MORE SENSITIVE TO HIGH FREQUENCIES
What about high frequencies then. They generate less energy, take less headroom from our mix but are equally as important because of how our ears work. Humans tend to hear brighter frequencies louder, especially on a high-mid frequency range because we are simply more sensitive to them.
However, your mix can also have too much high-end information, especially above 20kHz. If you’re not making music for dogs, it is pointless to have anything above 20kHz. Even Spotify recommends cutting unwanted frequencies from your tracks.
“You have inaudible high-frequency content in your mix. Loudness algorithms (both ReplayGain and ITU 1770) do not have a lowpass cut-off filter, meaning any high-frequency content will add up to the energy measured by the algorithms and your track will be measured as louder by the algorithms than is actually perceived.” -Spotify
Above 20kHz only contains information that will eat up your headroom and spend your precious little LUFS points all for nothing. You can read the full article from here
One good way to get your mix to jump out of listeners speakers is to boost transients. You can use any transient shaper but one of my favorites is Oeksound’s Spiff. Spiff is a dynamic transient processor and SUPER powerful. It can be used on individual instruments, mix bus or while mastering. Just be careful because boosting too much or having too much transient information can make your mix really harsh and unpleasant.
4# LOUD VOCALS WILL MAKE YOUR SONG SEEM LOUDER
You might have heard a song where the vocals are super loud and you think damn this sounds loud! You are correct, it sounds loud and you can use it to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to lift the vocals a little to get them upfront. In the end, everybody loves vocals!
Obvious pro tip: If singer sucks, don’t do it. Bury them deep into the mix.
What do you think? Is this loudness optimization all for nothing? Or do you want your tracks to sound as loud as possible? We are all in a journey of learning, so tell me how YOU optimize your tracks and what are your favorites tricks to get your songs loud!