final levels

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by spinchris, May 2, 2005.

  1. spinchris

    spinchris Guest

    i'm trying to find the right final levels for a alt cd i'm working on. my sound right now is much softer than pro cds i reference, but all my mixes right now are at their maximum before they start to peak.

    should i just leave them at this level and let the listener adjust the volume accordingly, or is there some other technique i don't know about? I was thinking of cranking up the volume and hitting it with a limiter, but i've tried this a bit and it doesn't sound right.

    thanks for any help.
  2. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    That's why a good Mastering house is worth its weight in gold. Don't be tempted to push your mix too high or you'll start losing clarity and limiting can thwack all your dynamics.

    A good Mastering engineer should be able to get your mix closer to a commercial CD without getting flat top nasties. There are some great Mastering houses and some Baaaaaaaaaaad, so try and get a sample of their work before you book a session. Having said that a session with a good engineer won't cost the earth and can make all the difference.
  3. spinchris

    spinchris Guest

    i had a feeling someone would say that. unfortunatly, i'm not serious enough about my band's music to drop any kind of extra cash on this cd.

    i'm finishing my senior year in high school, and the other bands in town pay upwards of $300-400 per song, while i've spent a small fortune on some highly useful equipment and taught myself.

    i know i'm naive, but what exactly would a mastering house do that i can't? are there magic compressors that cost $100000 a pop that boost levels?

    when it comes down to it, aren't the basics just compression and eq? i'm not trying to pick fights with any mastering engineers. i know that many of you have spent most of your lives perfecting this art because you love it, as do i. i guess i'm just frustrated that it will take me another two decades and half a mil to get anything i record to sound like what i want.

    rant. rave. comment?
  4. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Don't take this as a put down, but I think you have answered your own question, dead on.

    It takes talent, experience, and proper equipment to achieve the professional results you are searching for. If you don't possess all three, well then the best solution is to hire someone who does. If you have serious commercial expectations for your project, the relatively small investment in professional mastering will more than pay for itself.

    Since you have already stated you are not serious about this project, then what we are really dealing with is an amateur endeavor. All you have to do is please yourself and maybe some family and friends. Well, all I can say is go to town! Experiment with the gear you have on hand. Keep comparing it to commercial releases you are trying to emulate. Get as close as you can, but do not get discouraged if you can't get the same results. You are not armed with all three of the aforementioned conditions to achieve equal quality. But when you "hit the wall", be satisfied with what you have learned and accomplished from the exercise.
  5. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    mmmmm, what he said.
  6. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    I hate to just "agree" and run... :lol:
  7. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    Actually it will only take a few weeks and a few hundred dollars. [Hint: if you don't have the necessary equipment, farm the mastering out to someone who does]

    Or you can get a brickwall limiter plugin and make your mixes as loud as you want. You should hear a square wave at 0.0 db; Sonic perfection :D
  8. spinchris

    spinchris Guest


    yeah i guess i did answer my own question, but i'm still wondering how a pro would go about doing this. i'm sure all of you pros out there didn't get to where you are today by sending your stuff out.

    did the problem start in the mixes in general where the sound i recorded wasn't loud enough to begin with? or should i just try to learn about this next time i'm recording and settle with what i have now?

    and out of curiosity, do any mastering houses do internships?
  9. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member


    I think you will get a better response if you were to ask a more specific question. Right now you are coming across with somewhat general questions. No one is going to be able to answer (and I paraphrase); "how do the pro's do it?" in a single post.

    I am sure that people in this forum will be happy to help advise you on any one technique you are trying to improve. Try asking a single question at a time and focus it on one narrow issue. Give an example of the song you are working on, a little background on how you arrived in your present situation, what goal you are trying to achieve, and what tools/equipment you are working with. This will give the forum members more food for thought.

    You originally asked:
    So your PEAK level is hitting 0dBFS? This is good because it means you are utilizing all available digital resolution. But you have noticed that your mixes are not as loud as commercial CDs. This is because your AVERAGE RMS level is low (actually it is merely normal, but low in comparison to a commercial CD). To bring up the rms level, you need to reduce the dynamic range (limit/compress). But as you have noticed, this alters the sound quality. Part of that is a reflection of the quality of a given limiter. Part is how the engineer uses (or abuses) the limiter. Often you must re-eq the program or use some other technique so that the limited signal still sounds good. How do you know if it still sounds good? Having good taste and many years of critical listening experience helps.
  10. spinchris

    spinchris Guest

    i really appreciate your input. let me start by saying thanks again, and assure you that i know it's tough to deal with arrogant newbies sometimes.

    my drum recording was a bit different and complicated so i'll leave that out, but i record everything else in this chain.

    berh mic200 tube preamp
    berh autocom pro compressor/gate
    aphex aural exciter (biggest waste of $300)

    for vocals i use a shure ksm27 cardioid condenser.

    this is probably going to venture more into mixing and recording, but just in case anyone has any feedback...

    i guess i've never really paid too much attention to getting the maximum volume during recording for guitars. i've only heard a few things about dbFS and RMS and all these terms so i'm pretty hazy on what they exactly mean (i'm going to buy bob katz mastering book soon to solve this).

    if i recorded guitars so that the sample was a low volume, but then raised it inside my mixing program, is it not the same as if i would have recorded with a higher volume to begin with? i think the answer is yes, so my follow up question is should i make my input volume as high as possible without it peaking? is this what i should shoot for during recording?

    as for my situation now, i think i'm going to leave the mix at a lower volume and let my listeners adjust their volumes accordingly.

    thanks again for all the help, i really appreciate it.
  11. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    The level you record something at in no way results in the final mixed level. You have faders (or virtual ones) to raise or lower the volume of a give track. I would try to tackle one thing at a time and not everything all at once.
  12. spinchris

    spinchris Guest

    thanks for all the advice again. and i have to apologize for this thread. i'll be sure to ask some more relevent and conversation inspiring questions next time.
  13. lucey

    lucey Guest

    you did okay ...

    the thing your need to get what's called 'competitive levels' are good mixes from good tracks. if you focus on this, it can be mastered up to a reasonable standard.

    but even horrible mixes of good performances can be mastered into release level work. last year i did a first-time engineers homemade record and he was later signed to Bjorks label. his mixes were dark and messy but they had a MUSICAL INTEGRITY. he was not looking for level and he used no eq in mixing the phase was all there and i could go nuts to save them. i earned a co-producer credit from the deal so everyone was happy.

    if you spend all the mixing time focused on level, the mastering will be crippled and the end result will be hurt. focus on good performances recorded well and good mixes. recording is a 3 step process: performances recorded well, mixes that suit the style, mastering that takes it higher.

    If the mixing is trying to make up for the tracking, or the mastering is trying to make up for the mixing ... it's just not going to knock you out.
  14. Retaw

    Retaw Guest

    What everyones had to say here is relevent but dosn't seam to be giving any indication as to how a home use can boost their sound to at least come close to commercial cds. This problem plagued me for some time as i do a fair bit of work for small time people who for them i'm "it" and so i need to be able to give them something presentable. Haveing a cd that has to get turned up real loud on their system is not presentable.
    go to
    I highly recoment this. If your after a quick fix, its got a whole list of presets including 2 for a cd master and will give u dramatic differences in mear moments of using it. It also can get fairly involved so if you want to get into it and get the exact sound your looking for then it can do that to. Enjoy
  15. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    They way I approached it when I started out, was to make it sound good. The better i got at making it sound good, the more I was able to raise the level and still have it sound good. I'm sorry if I can't think in the opposite way. Make it loud first then work backwards to make it sound decent. I feel that it's something that you have to work up to, not down to. How much damage are you doing if you hit stun, then try to make it pretty. In my mind, it's best to make it sound as good as it can, then inch up the volume until it starts to sound ungood. The better you get, the louder you'll be able to make it.
  16. spinchris

    spinchris Guest


    thank you!
  17. mixandmaster

    mixandmaster Active Member

  18. dotokuji

    dotokuji Guest

    Wow! zilla, you really come across like an asshole - no offense, and not to put you down.

    the kid is in high school, good for him that he's trying to make music, and ask questions. that is how you get better and cultivate those 3 qualities you so pretentiously referenced.

    so here's my 2 cents:
    IF you're tracking digitally, which from your post is not clear, aside from being VERY careful with reverb (in either instance), i suggest you set-up auxilliary channels to which you can send individual tracks to. for instance, send your drum tracks to an aux channel (very important).... send guitars or keys to another channel and so on. this gives more control with your overall mix levels and can significantly boost the volume. keep your master fader at 0.0 db! your aux channels should be <0.0 db.

    good luck and keep on making music!
  19. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Well, I certainly don't have any control as to how you perceived my post. I can say that I was not trying to be an exit orifice. But you are correct in that I did added a hint of "sting" to my reply. Sorry if feathers were ruffled.

    But, as far as helping him with his questions and cultivating qualities: Did I not encourage him to learn and experiment? Did I not address his original posted question? Did I not also try to steer him to ask more direct questions so that we all could provide more direct answers? I feel I was being genuinely helpful. But maybe my writing style gave a different impression.
  20. dotokuji

    dotokuji Guest

    i agree, you were trying to help.. and i apologize for the language.
    peace -

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