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Frank DeFede

Optimal Final Mix Output

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I thought I had 22 songs recorded, mixed, and ready to release, but I am concerned about the output level.  For some reason, I have gotten into the habit of pushing the level as high as possible without clipping using a Brick Wall compressor.  The mixes sound good, but I brought in  reference tracks of other commercial mixes like Bill Joel, Maroon 5, country artist, etc. and they all seem to be much lower than my mixes.  

I think I may be pushing it too hard.  What is the general acceptable level on the meters?  Most of my mixes are all the way to the top, but without clipping.  Any suggestions are most welcome.  I hate to do it, but I think I may have to remix everything again.

Thanks

 

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I'm not sure you would have to remix them. Just lower the volume by not pushing the brick wall limiter so hard.  You will get lots of answers to how "loud" to make your mixes. Generally, making your mixes loud is the job of mastering and not mixing.

If you are mastering yourself then you should insert you desired reference mixes and pull up a good metering plug-in.  See how your mix compares to the references as far as long time averages as well as how high the peaks are to the average RMS level. Then use your limiter to get at approximately the same average level without smashing too many of the peaks.  There is a whole art to mastering as well as mixing but you should be able to get a decent level out of your mix without it sounding too squashed.

Loudness Unit Full Scale (LUFS) metering gives you some idea of how "loud"  your mix is to your reference as well.

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It's good that you are referencing  a variety of commercial tracks to judge how well you match up.  Especially ones in similar genres.  Gain staging from start to finish is the heart of the matter, always has been, always will be.  Yellow is the new red!

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There's a  wealth of info around about how to avoid your tracks being 'squashed' by Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, etc, and as reginaldStJohn says, LUFS metering is the key.

The Adaptive Limiter which was bundled with SPLAT gives you some limited LUFS info, and there are useful online services which will give you an LUFS summary of your mix for free - such as https://www.loudnesspenalty.com/

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I usually leave -3 dB headroom for conversion to mp3 and other formats.  Conversion can redline a 0 dB track.

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On 5/20/2020 at 4:33 PM, Frank DeFede said:

...  I hate to do it, but I think I may have to remix everything again.

 

Did you keep a pre-mastered set of your wav-files?  Traditionally - and I'm talking since analog recording days - there are three general phases to production:

1) Tracking

2) Mixing

3) Mastering

The idea being, you save (at least) these distinct sets of files so that if you needed to go back and fix your mix or master, you wouldn't have to start completely over -- just go back to the previous saved set.

Of course, if you mastered as you mixed, unfortunately you wrote over older mix files and there won't be anything to re-master.  I'm almost afraid to ask.....

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If your reference tracks are old, you will not hear them mixed as loud. There have too many articles on what's been termed, the 'loudness wars' to post them here, but a simple search will show you that over the decades, music has been produced louder and louder at the expense of musical dynamics.

The problem now is the consumer and the artist. They want loud, because if your track is played against another artist's and there's is louder, consumers will think the louder one is better.

Also, hopefully you're using a mastering plug in or app to balance out all your tracks on the album so your listeners don't have to keep reaching for the volume button.

I fight the loudness stuff. I do push more now than I used to, but I leave headroom. Lastly, if your tracks are too loud, they will sound like cr*** after you upload them and YouTube processes them.

Good luck 👍

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I play jazz, world, fusion and some singer-songwriter ballads ala Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, etc.  I mix my tracks to about -6dB, normalize so the peaks are at -.5 db and then master using Ozone 9 with EQ to taste, compressor (settings vary according to the dynamics in the mix), dynamic EQ (to smooth things out) and the "Maximizer" limiter.  I try to end up with about -14 dB RMS with peaks limited to -.3 dB. 

Bottom line, most of my mastered tracks are right around -14 dB RMS and their loudness is comparable to other similar music on CD or MP3.   The track profile looks like this (its a 7.5 min. song so its a bit squeezed in this window).

Drive Time.JPG

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As said you should not have to remix the songs. You just need to go back open each song and make the changes at your master buss. If your mixes were balanced then you do not re-mix. You re master. And myself this process can sometimes take 4 or five runs throughs until I'm happy with an album. 

My set up is pretty basic. 

I use about 6 sub mix busses mostly to control loudness of parts. It will show me pretty quickly what is clipping or too loud/quiet. 

I too use the BT Brickwall limiter on my master set at  - .04 db. It seems to work 100% for me at that setting. 

I export the file and open in Wave Lab to do last details. One of which is to check the average RMS level which is similar to using LUFS I find around -10 to -12 is good for my material. It holds up side by side with everything else I play.  

If I look at the songs in Wave Lab they will all show a peak of -.04  But the RMS level can vary. So if they are lower I to return to Cakewalk and hit the LImiter a little harder .

If the song is too loud I definitely have to go back and then I reduce the Masters Gain control by the amount I was seeing. 

I could also use Wave Labs gain tool to lower levels and the Loudness Maximizer to add  l but I like to have the CWP file saved with correct levels.  

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Posted (edited)
On 5/20/2020 at 4:33 PM, Frank DeFede said:

 

On 5/20/2020 at 4:33 PM, Frank DeFede said:

I thought I had 22 songs recorded, mixed, and ready to release, but I am concerned about the output level.  For some reason, I have gotten into the habit of pushing the level as high as possible without clipping using a Brick Wall compressor.  The mixes sound good, but I brought in  reference tracks of other commercial mixes like Bill Joel, Maroon 5, country artist, etc. and they all seem to be much lower than my mixes.  

I think I may be pushing it too hard.  What is the general acceptable level on the meters?  Most of my mixes are all the way to the top, but without clipping.  Any suggestions are most welcome.  I hate to do it, but I think I may have to remix everything again.

Thanks

 

Frank, a good target to go by is to be between -12 to -14 LUFS and leave about -0.5 to -0.3 Below 0dB for conversion errors.

Quote

I usually leave -3 dB headroom for conversion to mp3 and other formats.  Conversion can redline a 0 dB track.

Alan, 3dB is a little bit of overkill. 0.5 to 0.3dB on your final master  is sufficient for any kind of conversion errors. If you have a track at -3dB PEAK and you convert to another format and your signal reaches 0dB as you stated, then that conversion program is a POS

 

Edited by CJ Jacobson

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@Frank DeFede - if you're happy with your mixes, and they're not clipping, just export the stereo wav files and check them in one of the many audio checking apps out there.

For example:

The most you should need to do is lower the level of your stereo files. You shouldn't need to remix from scratch.

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So I mix into meters to give me a picture of how hot I'm getting. It really helps until you get used to a certain sound.

There are different thresholds I target depending on the music like -12 or -14. If I want to leave head room then appropriately lower than that.

This makes it possible ease off compressors. appropriately so the limiter only trims a dB or 2. 

Now, if I'm being honest, I usually have a bounce before I'm applying a limiter and I apply the limiter so that I hit my average loudness target. All the songs will then have the same average loudness unless I mean for one to be quieter or louder. It doesn't happen by accident.

If you don't learn your loudness metrics until you have your final export, it's a lot of work doubling back and easing off... then exporting and studying again.

My meter of choice is the RME EBU Meter.

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