5 Solid Tips To Make Your Mix Louder
You’ve just finished your mix on your DAW. Before publishing it, now you need to make your mix louder or at least, ‘commercially’ louder.
This process of trying to make your music ‘commercially’ loud is known as mastering.
However, mastering isn’t all about making your music loud. Mastering is also a process that ensures that you mix sounds good on different audio systems. Think about how your music would sound on a small radio or an iPhone speaker.
The truth is, your audience probably don’t listen to your track with top-of-the-end studio monitors. Instead, prepare to find your audience listening to your music on their phones, in the car, on their laptop speakers, etc.
So put simply; mastering is a process to ensure that your music not only sounds commercially loud but sounds good on the common playback platforms, each with their limitations.
Lucky for you, we’ve prepared 5 solid tips that will help you make your mix louder. Unless you have a huge budget for your production project and can send your mixes to a mastering engineer, these loudness mastering tips will help you get your mix to commercial levels.
Peak Volume VS Perceived Volume (RMS)
Most amateur music producers only look at peak volume as their loudness indicator. Don’t worry if you’re one. Trust me, I spent my first few early years only looking at peak volume, and then wondering why my mix sounds so much softer than other commercial tracks after exporting it.
The problem is the peak volume does not indicate the average loudness of your track. Your mix might be peaking at the 0dB level, but if the average loudness (RMS) is low, then your song isn’t going to be perceived as loud.
You need to understand the concept of perceived volume when mixing. A louder commercial track isn’t actually louder; it’s just perceived by your ears & brain that it’s louder.
A simple way to increase the perceived volume of your track is to simply increase the RMS volume of your mix. RMS stands for root mean squared, which level meters would mean the measure of average volume. And increasing your RMS level would also directly increase your perceived volume.
- Most commercial music try to achieve RMS levels of between -9dB to -3dB
- More expressive music like jazz or classical music do not usually get mastered to such high RMS levels.
So with that in mind, let’s move into the tips for mastering loud music.
1. Using Submixes when Mixing
Using submixes when mixing can change the way your mix sounds.
A submix is a technique where you send a few tracks (usually with the same sound timbre or group), to a bus group. For example, if you’re mixing a DnB arrangement, you could send all your individual drum tracks, from the snare, hi-hat, kick, etc. into a drum submix.
With the submix, you can then use a bus compressor to further glue the tracks together to make them louder & more controlled.
When working with multiple drum tracks, group them up together after mixing them and begin mixing them with the rest of the arrangement with sub mixes. So eventually, you’ll be creating a few submixes of different instrument groups.
This would give you more control over your overall mix, ensuring no transients go unnoticed while ending up with you, being able to push the overall mix volume louder as well.
2. Cutting out Frequencies You Don’t Need
An instrument or audio track might sound full on its own, making you feel reluctant to cut out frequencies. Cutting out frequencies of some instruments in your mix might make them sound weak and thin, but what really matters at the end of the day is how your overall mix sounds.
For example, you might find one of your lead synth to have lots of bass frequencies. Do you actually need those bass frequencies there if you already have a bass track doing its job? Probably not, so cut the bass frequencies out from the lead synth.
Instead of muddying up your mix by mixing multiple instruments with the same frequencies, you could cut out frequencies which are fighting against each other. As you carefully cut out these frequencies, your mix becomes more evenly balanced & you also directly give more headroom for your mix to be louder.
Power Tip: Some producers have the habit using an 80Hz low-cut filter on every track, except if it’s a bass track.
3. Make Use Of Your Pan Pots & Wideners
A common mistake made by many newbie music producers is that they forget to use panning when mixing. Panning your tracks creates a soundscape for your mix.
Create a mental image of a band playing in front of you when mixing. Where is the guitarist standing? If he’s standing to the left, pan the guitar track a little to the left. What about drums? Each drum part should he slightly panned left or right to simulate a realistic drum placement.
I’ve used an example for mixing a band mix, but panning is also essential when mixing for EDM music. Without panning, your instruments & tracks are all positioned in a straight line. This causes some instruments or vocals to get buried in a busy mix. So instead of having every track fighting for the same space, pan them away from each other.
Additionally, most master mixes can benefit with the use of wideners. It could be tempting to turn a single widener knob at the mastering chain, but always use wideners sparingly. Using too much widening can cause phasing issues and cause your music to sound thin. Instead, look at using wideners for certain frequency ranges only rather than widening the whole track. For instance, I prefer keeping most of the bass frequencies in the middle and only widening out the upper frequencies, for example, widening hi-hats or the high end of vocal tracks.
4. Use Dynamic Processing Plugins
You’ll find yourself working against the clock sometimes, and in this situation, you’ll be thankful you’ll have good sounding dynamic processing plugins in your DAW.
This does not mean that you can’t mix, master & make a track sound louder using stock plugins that came with your DAW.
However, sometimes working smart is the way to go and this means you’ll have to invest in some specialised plugins that do the job better. You’ll be surprised to find how much time you’ll save when using good plugins, not to mention the better sound quality you can achieve with them.
Here are three good mastering plugins that are worth checking out:
Made simple for seriously quick mastering or just to bring out the shine & power of tracks, Boost is aimed for producers who do not want to meddle with too many dials & knobs.
Don’t be fooled with its seemingly simple interface. Boost offers high-quality sound processing and can be used as an insert plugin in a single track channel, bus track or master output. Boost adds multiband compression, 4-band equalization, stereo enhancement, brickwall limiting and clever filters that filters out inaudible low frequencies to make space for a fuller, louder and wider mix.
Dialling through the presets will give you a great idea of the plugin’s capability. I’ve found success using multiple instances of Boost on individual tracks as well, given that it uses only little CPU processing.
The smartest feature about Boost, where it automatically polishes your mix with minimal effort is also its weakness. Because its made to be simple, this also means tweaking options on the plugin are limited. For example, you can’t individually control a single EQ band, which makes Boost not a one-stop solution for mastering, but more as an additional plugin to get that extra sound push.
One of the best and easiest to use digital mastering plugin out there in the market, iZotope Ozone gives you all the tools you need to master your mix into commercial quality, volume, and power.
Ozone will use a fair bit of computing power because of all the tools that come with it. So if you’re on an older system, your computer might start glitching if you simply use it at the end of your mix output. Instead, bounce your tracks and then use Ozone on a single track.
My favourite sound module in Ozone is the Maximizer module, which is great in pushing more volume from your mix. You can even choose the sound character from ‘transparent’ for more intricate music like classical scores or go ‘hard’ for pumping music like EDM anthems.
I personally feel the basic Ozone 7 version is enough for most mastering use. Ozone 7 Advanced gives you 3 extra vintage plugin modules – vintage tape, vintage compressor and vintage EQ, that adds rich saturation to your tracks. But if you already have some vintage modulation plugins, coupling them with the Ozone 7 Basic should be good enough.
I strongly recommend iZotope Ozone to anyone who wants to do quick or in-house mastering work.
One of the most important aspects of creating a well polished and loud track is equalization. Unfortunately, too many producers do a substantial job in EQ-ing and mixing every track together – usually due to the lack of experience or just because they don’t know which frequencies to cut.
This is where frei:raum comes in. It comes with 3 EQs built in, each one of them doing a different job.
SmartEQ allows the plugin to ‘listen’ to your sound source and learn its frequency characteristics. The EQ smartly figures out the frequencies to smoothen out and then applies it, automatically boosting or cutting out offending frequencies.
Then there’s the Proximity EQ module which allows you to adjust the spatial feel of your track. This can be used to increase the natural sound of your track or to reduce the reverb of your track. For example, if you have a drum track, you could use Proximity EQ to make remove the reverb of the drum track, making it sound closer to you and also making it sound more powerful as you cut off the reverb.
The last EQ module is the Entropy EQ, a sophisticated EQ that allows you to adjust the frequency response of tonal and atonal components. The entropy EQ is one of its kind. Imagine being able to EQ the pluck of a double bass string and the sound the string produces separately. For example, you could decrease the highs frequencies of the double bass plucking sound while retaining its tonal component with Entropy EQ.
5. Understand Dynamic Range
The last tip is probably one of the most important yet. Many music producers have the misconception of making their tracks as loud as possible during the mastering stage.
The truth is that the most musically exciting music pieces are usually ones with good dynamic range. Dynamic range refers to the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of your track or mix.
As mentioned earlier, loudness is just perception. When we listen to a quiet moment in a music piece, our ears automatically adjust to the dynamics. We then perceive the music piece to be loud when the loudest moment in the music piece plays. A music piece with little or no dynamic range feels tight and tiring to listen to.
Your job here when mastering is to ensure that you have a good dynamic range in your music. How much dynamic range you implement into a mix is largely according to your taste and mixing style. There is no one golden rule when it comes to mixing dynamic range effectively.
While electronic and pop music tends to have less dynamic range as compared to classical, film score or jazz music, it’s still important to have a music track that has an effective dynamic range, so to bring the audience on a ride, listening to it.
Make listening to commercial music your 2nd habit and observe how other producers play with dynamic range when mixing & mastering. Alternatively, if you are a more visual person, get a metering plugin like K-Meter to monitor your tracks or simply use a stock metering plugin in your DAW.
In my opinion, don’t be too critical about the levels you see when mastering. Instead, think about the indicator levels as guidelines only and trust your ears more. Cross-reference your tracks with other commercial tracks which volume or mastering quality you want to match.
Mastering music is considered an art & you’ll get better as you master more tracks. Although, I must warn you, that mastering is usually done by professional mastering engineers in a carefully treated studio using multiple specialised audio systems for A/B referencing.
But it’s not impossible to do some digital mastering using the many plugins we have on the market today in your home studio or bedroom studio.
What plugins or techniques are you using to master your music currently?