The Loudness War: How To Avoid Being a Casualty

I wanted to start by addressing a very common and persistent problem for many music producers and that is mixing and mastering your music WAY to loud. I know everyone wants that big "in your face sound" but remember you can't have real loud without quiet.

This problem is an industry wide phenomenon and it's been evolving for a very long time. It boils down to the thought that the louder the music is, the higher the quality appears to be and that logic is what fuels the Loudness War.

It's a trap for young producers who are still developing their mixing and mastering skills. They get stuck in trying to get that “professional sound” by compressing the shit out of their music. It's unfortunate because focusing on loud destroys the dynamic range and the dynamic range is what creates life in a mix.

I wanted to take some time today to talk about mixing, setting up your board, finding a starting point to mix, and giving yourself enough head room to master your track.
There are some great tutorials on Youtube regarding music production. Probably one of the best starting spots to learn how to mix and master comes from watching Into The Lair. The guy that does those tutorials is Grammy Award winning mixing engineer Dave Pensado.  You will learn a lot from him.

Now the first step to getting a great mix is setting up your board. Make sure every instrument and sample in the music has it's own mixer channel. Once every sound is sent to an individual channel, then send groups of related sounds into buses to control the loudness of entire groups of instruments.

For example, drums have a lot of different parts going on at once. You have a kick, snare, hi-hats, crashes and toms sent to individual channels. You mix the drum sounds to the point where they sound great. Then you take each individual channel and send it to a single Bus channel. Doing this allows you to adjust the entire volume of the drums up or down to fit comfortable in the mix.

This video shows this process very well, so if I lost you with my description hopefully this video helps clear that up.

Now that you have your board set up, the next thing to getting a great mix is finding the starting spot.

In my opinion there is a way to start a mix so you can have plenty of headroom to master. The answer is in the meter.

Look at the meter you are using in your DAW. More then likely it is a peak meter. You want to change your meter from measuring peak to measuring RMS. What an RMS meter does is measures the average loudness instead of the peaks.

In Fl Studio you can do this by using the Wave Candy plugin. Put Wave Candy in the master channel and change the meter mode from peak to RMS. Use the prominent instrument or lead sound and adjust the volume until the sound measures -18 to -20db on the RMS meter. Once you have your prominent sound around -18 to -20db you can start to mix all the other instruments around it.

You will find it’s not a perfect but it will give you a great starting point with plenty of headroom to master.

Some Useful Mixing Tips

  • Check Hi-End with the volume turned down on your monitors.
  • Center Bass and Kick
  • Listen to your Mix in the Car
  • Use Reference Tracks
  • Cut Reverb on sounds below 350Hz
  • Listen to your Mix from another room
  • Take Ear Breaks
  • Sleep on a mix and listen fresh in the morning
  • Learn the sound of your monitors. 
  • EQ everything
  • Don't overdo compression and crush your dynamics.
  • Give yourself +5db of Headroom to Master 

*Make sure not to use the default sound driver on your computer. At least download the free ASIO4ALL driver.  It will make a huge difference.

I hope this helps. Feel free to add some of your own tips and techniques in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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