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How to get super loud pop tracks?
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OwensDrumming
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12th December 2012
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How to get super loud pop tracks?

I'm having trouble getting maximum volume out of my pop tracks. I'm using a limiter on my master bus and whenever I push the threshold, it distorts. I've tried using them in series and that does the same thing. Are there any tricks to get maximum loudness like you hear on today's music? I've tried several limiters and the same thing happens. Am I using the plugins wrong? Thanks.

P.S. I'm primarily using a Massey L2007 limiter. I love that thing. It's so musical.
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saturation/clipping
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Hard limiting individual tracks and groups during mixing process.
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Originally Posted by MainTime View Post
Hard limiting individual tracks and groups during mixing process.
I limit my busses. I route the output of all my tracks to master busses (bass tracks to a bass master bus, drums to a drum master bus, etc.) and I limit those. Then I send those to a submaster bus. After that, to my master fader. I'm only turning the threshold up to around 3db for all of the master busses (individual instruments, then submaster, then master) and I'm still distorting.
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Probable use two limiters with different release time.
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Probable use two limiters with different release time.
Should the first one have a longer release time than the second? Or vice versa?
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This is the 600 million dollar question. It's a combination of technical know how and gear, in both areas of production, mixing and mastering. I've been doing this for 25 years, and i still get stumped every now and then, usually because the record is what it is. There's no magical settings on your limiters. But generally speaking, the faster the release, the more distortion that might be introduced into the chain. Multiple limiters is also not always the answer, especially in mixing. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not....getting the drift. Good luck.
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Originally Posted by engmix View Post
This is the 600 million dollar question. It's a combination of technical know how and gear, in both areas of production, mixing and mastering. I've been doing this for 25 years, and i still get stumped every now and then, usually because the record is what it is. There's no magical settings on your limiters. But generally speaking, the faster the release, the more distortion that might be introduced into the chain. Multiple limiters is also not always the answer, especially in mixing. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not....getting the drift. Good luck.
I almost always use the "normal" release setting on the Massey L2007. I think that automatically sets the release depending on the threshold and the signal coming in. That's what Massey recommends. What limiters (hardware or software) do you use?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
I'm having trouble getting maximum volume out of my pop tracks. I'm using a limiter on my master bus and whenever I push the threshold, it distorts. I've tried using them in series and that does the same thing. Are there any tricks to get maximum loudness like you hear on today's music? I've tried several limiters and the same thing happens. Am I using the plugins wrong? Thanks.

P.S. I'm primarily using a Massey L2007 limiter. I love that thing. It's so musical.
Send it to someone who sits in a room and does that 6 days a week?
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Read about, and take notes from Brian Gardner.

PS Quality loud mixes originate from the mix, making the mastering process that much easier. The mix engineer didn't slap on limiters in series..

Series compression, at the mastering stage can help once in a while depending on the track, and knowing the general theory behind each compressor.
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Originally Posted by greggybud View Post
Read about, and take notes from Brian Gardner.

PS Quality loud mixes originate from the mix, making the mastering process that much easier. The mix engineer didn't slap on limiters in series..

Series compression, at the mastering stage can help once in a while depending on the track, and knowing the general theory behind each compressor.
The mixes sound great. I'm not sure why I'm having this distortion problem. I'll try compressing my individual tracks more. Should I throw a limiter on all my tracks after I've tweaked them with EQ, compression, etc.? Thanks
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Tell you, when I have one of those huge pop tracks lots of vocals, big drums and walls of guitars, it seems like the more limiting and compressing I do, the smaller it sounds. At first it sounds great, but I come back a week later and listen and everything sounds like it's being strangled. It never seems to sound as loud or big as a record professionally made on a big budget with a mastering engineer.

The problem is, everything seems to sound better with some compression. It fools you. When you don't have any comp on anything, and suddenly put some on the bass, it sounds better. Then you do that with the vocals, the acoustics, the heavy guitars...finally you start limiting and maybe compressing the 2 mix. So now whenever there's a big bass note or bass and kick or anything with impact, you hear everything get "grabbed," etc. So you start backing all the comp off here and there, and now it breathes better, but isn't as punchy or loud. Hair pulling time.

Truly is in art. For me it's better to do as little as possible and leave it to the guys with the great rooms, great gear, and above all, the experience.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by greggybud View Post
Read about, and take notes from Brian Gardner.

PS Quality loud mixes originate from the mix, making the mastering process that much easier. The mix engineer didn't slap on limiters in series..

Series compression, at the mastering stage can help once in a while depending on the track, and knowing the general theory behind each compressor.
Yes, for real. You have to mix it for loudness if you want that shit to sound solid. It's possible to clip a super dynamic mix and squash the rest of it against a limiter's threshold to make it sound loud, but it's still gonna sound like squash.

Super tight and controlled dynamics throughout the whole mix--I do limit bass and drums in the mix. When I produce pop or hip-hop tracks, I only have to knock off between 2 and 4 db with a limiter to get commercial loudness.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
I almost always use the "normal" release setting on the Massey L2007. I think that automatically sets the release depending on the threshold and the signal coming in. That's what Massey recommends. What limiters (hardware or software) do you use?
You ever follow a recipe on how to cook something, and it still turns out like crap. It's the same thing with recording, mixing, and mastering. You really have to just spend the time getting your feet wet. This is not an easy gig, and something that you can learn from a forum.

i will often use the Sonnox Oxford Limiter, Flux Limiter, or Fabfilter Pro. And i'm pushing maybe 1-2 dB of gain reduction. I get the bulk of my energy from my analog loop. I use plugins, and sometimes internal clipping can be better, but i find the analog domain to be more forgiving.

Maybe you're leaning to heavily on your limiter for volume. But if i had to guess, your distortion is coming from a buildup of too much energy, probably in the low end or lower mids. Try cutting and go from there.
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This question gets asked at least twice a week so I suggest doing a search. While you're searching, you'll notice that also at least twice a week, somebody's complaining about how horrible "loud" masters always sound. Also, if you really want it to sound especially bad without being able to get it "loud", follow the advice of some here and use a limiter on individual tracks or use lots of compression. Trying to make individual tracks loud or making the mix itself loud leads to a wimpy, distorted master that isn't "loud". Also, saturation & clipping adds distortion by definition. Not that "loud" really matters any way because you have absolutely no control over the listener's volume. I put "loud" in quotation marks because again, the listener will just turn down your master to where it is comfortable. The more compressed and distorted your master is, the more it irritates the listener, so they keep the volume even lower.

Any way, the mixes I find easiest to get "loud" with minimal audible distortion are the ones that respect the headroom of the system and put sound quality first, not sheer levels. If you put levels first, you cannot have good quality, end of story.
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Originally Posted by wado1942 View Post
This question gets asked at least twice a week so I suggest doing a search. While you're searching, you'll notice that also at least twice a week, somebody's complaining about how horrible "loud" masters always sound. Also, if you really want it to sound especially bad without being able to get it "loud", follow the advice of some here and use a limiter on individual tracks or use lots of compression. Trying to make individual tracks loud or making the mix itself loud leads to a wimpy, distorted master that isn't "loud". Also, saturation & clipping adds distortion by definition. Not that "loud" really matters any way because you have absolutely no control over the listener's volume. I put "loud" in quotation marks because again, the listener will just turn down your master to where it is comfortable. The more compressed and distorted your master is, the more it irritates the listener, so they keep the volume even lower.

Any way, the mixes I find easiest to get "loud" with minimal audible distortion are the ones that respect the headroom of the system and put sound quality first, not sheer levels. If you put levels first, you cannot have good quality, end of story.
I have my mixes sounding great with some headroom but it seems that no matter what I do I'm getting distortion. Nothing is clipping. I have my mix pretty loud too.
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Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
I have my mixes sounding great with some headroom but it seems that no matter what I do I'm getting distortion. Nothing is clipping. I have my mix pretty loud too.
You are probably too bass heavy (think "Fletcher Munson" if you want it "loud"). Fast limiters and compressors distort low frequencies more than highs because of their fast release times.

Also check to make sure there are no subsonics or DC offsets sapping your energy. If it adds nothing to the sound filter it out (HPF).
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Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post
You are probably too bass heavy (think "Fletcher Munson" if you want it "loud"). Fast limiters and compressors distort low frequencies more than highs because of their fast release times.

Also check to make sure there are no subsonics or DC offsets sapping your energy. If it adds nothing to the sound filter it out (HPF).
The thing is though, my cymbals are distorting. Those aren't exactly low frequencies! I'll try that though.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
I have my mixes sounding great with some headroom but it seems that no matter what I do I'm getting distortion. Nothing is clipping. I have my mix pretty loud too.
My initial thought is that there is an eq imbalance going on. Too much energy taken up in certain frequency ranges that is causing the limiter over-react/distort. If you need to do more than around 2db of limiting and your drums are fairly controlled, then it would suggest an eq issue. Try putting an eq on the master bus with a one db bell cut and sweep through the low mids to mids, if you have balance issues you should be able to find the area where the track opens up a little and becomes perceptibly louder and the distortion is less.

From this you should then be able to work back and find the problem within the mix and fix it.
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Originally Posted by engmix View Post
I've been doing this for 25 years, and i still get stumped every now and then, usually because the record is what it is. .



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OwensDrumming: this is all just speculation unless you can post the tracks or provide a link, preferably WAVs. My guess would be that some straightforward mix adjustments, pre-loudness enhancement, may help. Feel free to send the tracks direct to me if you'd prefer to avoid the glare of a public forum: I'll be glad to advise if I can, there would be no charge or obligation.

Obvious as it may sound, it's unlikely you'll get the material as loud-but-clear on your own as a pro ME will (see Huntley Miller's earlier post): I've been mastering since 1995, have spent a significant amount of time working with and thinking about loudness and its up and downsides, and still feel there's more to learn.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
I limit my busses. I route the output of all my tracks to master busses (bass tracks to a bass master bus, drums to a drum master bus, etc.) and I limit those. Then I send those to a submaster bus. After that, to my master fader. I'm only turning the threshold up to around 3db for all of the master busses (individual instruments, then submaster, then master) and I'm still distorting.
The thing that strikes me about this post is how how ends in "and I'm still distorting". A more fitting reaction would be "so of course it's distorting".

You gotta' either be much kinder to your sonics if you don't want distortion, or you have to stop caring that the song distorts. You can't beat it to death and lament that it is battered.

If you want it cleaner, try more manual volume adjustments of individual notes and less processing. Manually set the volume of every note on every track if you have to.
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The thing that strikes me about this post is how how ends in "and I'm still distorting". A more fitting reaction would be "so of course it's distorting".
In recent threads, all of a sudden the concept of compression seems forgotten. Compression in series? Who bothers with that? Let's just go for the throat, directly to limiting...and more recently limiting in series! as the "trick" to loud masters.

Owens if you have your mixes sounding great then as suggested maybe post a final mix and mastered mix here?

Also, as mentioned by Wado, do a search here. All the time people ask why their masters aren't as loud as commercial masters by ME's with years of experience. And the rest of the people are complaining about loud masters and how they were ruined in the mastering process, often by inexperienced users.
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Compression is usually associated with slower attack and release times, even if the same unit can handle both duties.
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Make the mix sound and feel good. With good balance and energy. That might be fairly loud, or not. Don't worry about the dB unless you have to send it off to someone at a label for approval .

Once you get the feel how you want it, send it to a professional mastering engineer that works on songs and albums you like the sound and feel of. Doing your own mastering is like trying to rebuild the engine in a car with one adjustable wrench and no training.
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Originally Posted by OwensDrumming View Post
The mixes sound great. I'm not sure why I'm having this distortion problem. I'll try compressing my individual tracks more. Should I throw a limiter on all my tracks after I've tweaked them with EQ, compression, etc.? Thanks
If the mixes truly sound great, meaning not just on one monitor but on all ... and you now what "great" is for your style ... then you are in need of a real mastering engineer. It's that simple. Or you can spend weeks messing with it, and not do as well.

A great ME can make a great mix loud in a good way ... in about 20 seconds. Great mastering means a new room/monitoring and some simple gear for the job, usually just some balancing eq and analog clipping of a high headroom AD (class A often). In the right hands this is easy work.

Limiters and other loudness tricks as mixing advice is scary, there are only a handful of people in the world with the monitoring and skill to pull off that kind of mixing style ... most will do more harm than good. Distortion is cumulative and limiters at mixing make it very hard to limit later without death to the vibe (unless you are a Jedi). So you are really walking a fine line to assume you can do "loud" better at mixing with many limiters than mastering with overall eq and one great limiter on a GREAT mix.

Turn up the volume knob and enjoy mixing, that's my advice. Fear is not an energy we want to hear in music, ambition neither. Love of music is the name of the game.

The worlds best mixer with Limiters is probably Tchad Blake, and he's using them for musicality ... not to be loud.
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If the mixes truly sound great, meaning not just on one monitor but on all ... and you now what "great" is for your style ... then you are in need of a real mastering engineer. It's that simple. Or you can spend weeks messing with it, and not do as well.

A great ME can make a great mix loud in a good way ... in about 20 seconds. Great mastering means a new room/monitoring and some simple gear for the job, usually just some balancing eq and analog clipping of a high headroom AD (class A often). In the right hands this is easy work.

Limiters and other loudness tricks as mixing advice is scary, there are only a handful of people in the world with the monitoring and skill to pull off that kind of mixing style ... most will do more harm than good. Distortion is cumulative and limiters at mixing make it very hard to limit later without death to the vibe (unless you are a Jedi). So you are really walking a fine line to assume you can do "loud" better at mixing with many limiters than mastering with overall eq and one great limiter on a GREAT mix.

Turn up the volume knob and enjoy mixing, that's my advice. Fear is not an energy we want to hear in music, ambition neither. Love of music is the name of the game.

The worlds best mixer with Limiters is probably Tchad Blake, and he's using them for musicality ... not to be loud.
Good advice, congratulations on the Grammy Nominations as well!
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Mix at low volume. If it sounds loud and present at low volume, well it will sound loud and present at loud volume. As has been mentioned, it's all about "perceived loudness." People turn to compression for loudness---NO!!!! It's all about frequency balance. Those super-loud mixes sound good because the compression is only used when needed. If you can't push your 2buss limiter into the -10/-8 range without it still sounding pretty good, your mix is the problem. Hard limiting/compression will only accentuate the frequency problems inherent in the mix.
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