Home Recording - Basic Equipment - Mixdown Volume Very Low
December 17, 2008 7:28 AM   Subscribe

The final mixdown on music I have created at home is very low in volume. How can I raise the volume of my final tracks without getting that god-awful digital clipping?

I hope that you all can be kind enough to relate the answer directly to the software that I am using. Currently I am recording and mixing the tracks with Sonar 4 Producer. All instrumental tracks are put through a Line 6 PODxt Live and are then ran into the Line In on the back of the PC. Most songs end up with 2 guitar tracks, bass, drums (created in Fruity Loops), and a couple of misc tracks (piano, organ, percussion).

I have then tried to dump the tracks into Sound Forge 6.0 and use the Normalize feature to raise the volume. I have also tried the "Wave Hammer" compressor. All of this does the trick, but not to the extent that I would like.

Any suggestions? Are there any other peices of software that will do this specific function for me automatically and much better than what is available to me through Sonar or SF?
posted by Brettus to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest reading step three of this page.
posted by subtle-t at 7:37 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but be careful with the Waves UltraMaximizer (if you happen to have it, that's what the linked article specifies). It's easy to make your tracks sound like shit with it, and a lot of people do. A little goes a long way.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:09 AM on December 17, 2008

To make your mix louder, turn up the amplifier. Seriously. You are probably trying to squeeze more sound out of signal that is already overloaded. Turn down your gear, turn up your system, and remix.
posted by Aquaman at 8:32 AM on December 17, 2008

Aquaman is correct.
posted by Jairus at 8:57 AM on December 17, 2008

A compressor is going to raise (in a way) the loudness of everything (nerds, bear with me), and normalization is going to find the loudest part of what you have and raise the volume on the rest of the track so that highest point in the file is at the highest level you choose. So, you're going to have to be more specific on what "the extent you would like" means. One will increase volume, one will increase loudness. What aren't you hearing? Could it be just a bad mix?
posted by rhizome at 8:57 AM on December 17, 2008

George Yohng's W1 limiter is a free VST plugin that's a clone of the Waves L1. I've gotten good results with it.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2008

To clarify a few things : It's not that one particular instrument is not loud enough, it's that the whole file, as compared to tracks on a CD, or even tracks that I hear on MetaMusic. To Rhizome: I apologize, but I guess I am not understanding the distinction between increasing volume and loudness, they sound synonymous with me.

I have no professional experience, so my ability to explain to you what my "the extent you would like" means is spotty at best. Ultimately, my end goal is that when someone has a 6 disc changer in their car - and it goes from a Foo Fighters CD to my CD, that they wouldn't have to turn up the volume to match the volume of the previous CD.

Does that make sense?
posted by Brettus at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2008

Yes that makes sense. Bounce the mix at conservative levels, then open a new project, import the stereo mix, and put a limiter on it, like the one I linked to. Play with the threshold until it sounds right. The end.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:36 PM on December 17, 2008

Brettus, the issue is that there's an arms race between bands so they all sound as loud as the Foo Fighters or whoever they're listening to, and your sound quality will suffer if you try to make it sound like that. You can do it, but it won't sound as good as if you just turn up the volume.

Google for Loudness War.
posted by Jairus at 1:47 PM on December 17, 2008

Yeah, look into the loudness war. Basically, everyone is trying to make their tracks as loud as they can, and then even louder. You can increase the apparent loudness of a track by using limiters and through mastering. Limiters basically jack up the loudness while "limiting" the track's output so that it doesn't go over 0.0db (or whatever you have it set to).
posted by god particle at 2:01 PM on December 17, 2008

Ditto on using google for loudness war. Read the wikipedia article on compression. Your music will suffer dynamically, ie, the difference between loud and quiet parts but it is YOUR mix and you should do as you see fit. Classical music is pretty strictly uncompressed to maximize dynamic effect. That is why it seems like you have to turn it up and down a lot. I would put mild compression so it doesn't sound weird but nothing too intense. Some people (sound enthusiasts) loathe compression. Some LOVE it. The problem is the modern music layman's ears are trained to hear compression as the "correct" sound for a CD and uncompressed music as unprofessional sounding. Good mixing and getting the correct levels at the start can help it so that you can define the levels rather than the compressor. When I was young I always wondered why classical music was so horribly mixed. Now I know that I would be accosted by an engineer for classical music productions.
posted by occidental at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2008

Google the loudness war if you want to understand why this is a touchy subject and you're getting all of these tangential answers. If you want to make your track louder, use a limiter.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:24 PM on December 17, 2008

"Loudness" is a processing that is done on the music to make it sound louder at a given volume.

"Volume", as it exists on a track, is just a numbers game. In digital audio, a source file can only be so loud. That is 0db. What you want is static normalization. It parses the file, finds the spots with the highest peaks, and then amplifies the whole track the same amount so that those loud spots don't clip. Say the peaks are at -6db- it will raise everything 6db. The peaks won't clip and it doesn't touch the actual sound.

To prevent this from happening in the first place, and to improve the sound of your productions, make sure when you are mixing that all the levels are as close to 0db as possible without going over. Or maybe there's a setting that's limiting your mixdowns to some arbitrary low volume.

You want your files to use the full amount of dynamic range that your format will allow.
posted by gjc at 3:14 PM on December 17, 2008

Commerical mixes undergo a final stage called mastering, which use specialized EQs, reverbs, maximers, limiters, compressors, etc. to get that commercial loundness. Depending on the nature of your music, you may really want to to blast for the effect. Nothing worse than going to a club and dancing to a tune with no punch!

One plug-in to try is Izotpe Ozone. I use version 3, but I'm not sure if it is updated or not. Ozone 3 is a mastering plugin that applies special EQs, Limiters, Reverbs, and Maximizers to your track. Typically, i will bounce a track out of sonar, open it in sound forge 9, and process with Ozone in SF9. You can even download free presets (A+ HighClass Master is my fav) inaddition to the great ones bundled with it.

A good tip also is to mix yoru track so that you are peaking at around -3.0dBs. That way, when you go to Ozone (or any other mastering plugin) you lower the chance of going in the red, once the plugins are applied. overusing limiters/compressors will make the music sound "squashed"

good luck!
posted by FireStyle at 4:51 AM on December 18, 2008

To prevent this from happening in the first place, and to improve the sound of your productions, make sure when you are mixing that all the levels are as close to 0db as possible without going over.

You shouldn't do this. Mix at conservative levels, i.e. not close to 0dB, and then get loudness in the mastering stage. Trying to mix for loudness is asking for trouble.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2008

Thanks to everyone for all of your input. I learned a lot. I had no clue about the loudness war. Hopefully some of my loud - but not TOO loud music - will be up on MetaMusic soon. You all are great! MERRY F'N CHRISTMAS!
posted by Brettus at 9:53 AM on December 18, 2008

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