Final mix levels- pre-mastering

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Bhennies, May 31, 2004.

  1. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    Hi...please excuse my newb question ( I checked the archives).

    I have greatly increased the quality of my mixes over the past couple of years, as well as the levels of my individual tracks (I usually process with the Waves L1 limiter to bring up the levels) but my mixes still sound "soft" (after dither and noise shaping) when compared to commercial tracks no matter what I do. When I try to fix this by applying an Ultramaximizer to the stereo master to bring up the levels, the mix seems to fall apart- the snare and bass drum get sloppy, and the hihats lose their crispness and clarity. Is this a sign of levels being too low at the source, or is most material that you receive for master "soft" like this and I'm just ill-prepared to do anything about it at home (a job that should be left for the mastering engineer)? Essentially, can this be fixed, or is this a fundamental flaw in my mixing / tracking technique? THANKS!

    p.s. I have good gear, and a decently treated-room so that's not the problem.
  2. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    This is usually a result of over use of the L1 or any kind of limiter for that matter. In order for something to have punch, there has to be a peak and a valley. The attack of a sound gives you the punch. by using the L1 on your tracks, you are basically reducing the attack. Then by using it on the stereo bus you are basically eliminating any attack that was left. So now what you have is a mix without any peaks so now you have no punch. The L1 is a peak limiter and that's what it does. A compressor is what you need to be using instead of a limiter. you can adjust the compressor to retain more of the attack and your mixes will in turn be more dynamic and punchier if it's not overused. If you want the volume of a track to be louder, then raise the fader. If you want your mixes to be loud and punchy then you have to limit your use of a limiter. A basic rule of thumb is to never use the L1 in any stage of tracking or mixing. After you've printed your mixes and you want to experiment with making them louder, then try using the L1 to raise the volume without destroying your mix, But don't expect the same results as the big guys. It takes many years of experience and very good dedicated gear to get those results. A loud punchy mix is a combination of many things and not just a peak limiter, in fact it's the least important element in the chain. In the meantime, don't use the L1 during tracking or mixing. You'll regret it down the road.
  3. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    Thanks a lot Michael, I really appreciate your reply. So in effect, I should try and get things as hot as I possibly can on the way in (which I already do, but it's tough when you record yourself), and you're saying it's ok to raise the fader above 0 dB on individual tracks? What about normalization, or limiting so that you don't eliminate any transients or peaks and valleys (bringing up the highest peak to 0 db)? THANKS!

    p.s. I guess I'm also wondering how low-fi groups that record at home end up getting a commercial sounding-release when they put out their record---I know for a fact that many artists record in an extremely lo-fi situation where I'm sure there isn't much attention paid to levels. How do they achieve the final outcome?
  4. iznogood

    iznogood Guest

    maybe a good mastering engineer? (y)
  5. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    So all hope is NOT lost? As much info as Michael gave me, I was pretty dissapointed that I'd never be able to get good sounds at home. Maybe I'll just need to get a mastering engineer to demo one of my tracks so I can A/B it.
  6. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    If your working in the 24 bit domain, then level is not as important. in the 24 bit domain you have a dynamic range of 144db which is a lot. So recording as hot a possible isn't going to effect the final outcome of the mix. if you just record at a good level without clipping, you'll be ok. You can raise the level of the faders as long as you don't clip the output or the bus. It takes a lot of practice and experience to get a mix to sound good. It then takes a lot of experience and practice and good gear to get a master to sound good. I would concentrate on one thing at a time. Record it nice and clean should be your first priority. If you can accomplish this well, then everything else becomes easier. Once you have everything recorded nice and clean then you can begin the process of mixing. Forget about loud. Don't think loud, think good. Use your volume knob if you want loud. Mix until it sounds good, again forget about loud. Once your mix sounds good (loud doesn't equal good), then and only then do you dive into loud. If you find that you cannot retain loud and good, then look into someone else mastering your mixes. It's not as simple as plug it in and crank it up. You have to take one step at a time if you want it to come out good. And you have to get it out of your head that recording loud is going to make it good. It's going to do nothing at all. A snare drum recorded at full level or 1/4 the level on a 24 bit system is going to sound the same and it's not going to translate any better at any level you record at.
  7. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    Thanks a lot! Yes, I always work in 24 bit domain and yes, my mixes are sounding quite good to be honest. The only problem I'm running into is final output, but I know that there is no way I can master at home- I'm probably already pushing the capabilities of my room just in the mixing stage. Mastering, in my opinion should certainly be left to the pros- that's why whenever I meet someone with a home studio who says they can master my tracks, I'm very skeptical. What you just said was very helpful- my initial question was really asking whether or not a mastering engineer can take care of "loud" so that I can concentrate on a good mix. Thanks-----

    p.s. where in NYC are you located?
  8. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    You should be a little skeptical about home mastering. I don't know too many home setups that can produce the kind of results that an established facility can. Not saying that they can't be good, just not as good. (not knocking home setups so don't everyone get bent out of shape. I started with a home setup a long time ago so I know what they are capable of doing).
    9 out of 10 projects I get, the levels do not approach "0". In today's music, the typical dynamic range of a mix is about 15db if your lucky. With a 24 bit system, you have so much room to play with that waisting any brain power on the level you print at is waisted energy. As long as your mixes sound good to you, loud can be achieved. If you print your mixes, leave off the limiters. You can always add them later but you can never take it off once it's printed unless you recall the mix of coarse.
    There could be several factors that are keeping you from getting the desired level and you may not even be able to hear them on your system. So if your having trouble, then you might find it useful to go to someone. They can point out problem areas and help you achieve a better result. Just hearing your mixes mastered will make you become a better mixer.

    I'm at Broadway and Houston in NYC.
  9. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    Hi...I forgot to ask one thing (or I think I asked but no one replied). Is it ok to use the L1 limiter to bring up the peak individual track levels to 0dB ( limiting- more like normalizing) on tracks that are low in volume? This way, I can get a better mix without putting a limiter or maximizer on the stereo bus? Thanks...
  10. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member


    It's up to you what you want to use as long as you feel it improoving the mix.
    If you have the slightest doubts then stay away from it.
    Don't normalize or touch any faders/anything in PT if you can avoid it.
    Depending on your AD/DA it can be better to go analog with a track through a pot to turn it up/down and then digital again instead of touching the fader in PT.
    Regarding the L1(or L2 if you have it), then do yourself a favor and test the overall sound of the mix with the L1 and without it.
    Please do this test several times to find out what is best for you.
    And if you are in doubt of what to do then don't use the L1, or just make 2 versions of the mix.

    Best Regards
  11. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Loudness is a very subjective thing. Some tracks can seem louder because of their frequency content, some tracks can seem louder because of the instrumentation, some tracks can seem louder because of the way the material is written. People want to have everything loud and sometimes it is impossible. You cannot easily take a ballad with an acoustic guitar and a singer and make it as loud as a death metal track with multiple electric guitars, drums, very loud very distorted singing. It theoretically could be done but WHY?

    Lots of times the ear perceives loudness as the difference between soft a loud which is why a lot of the new music being written starts off with a very well recorded very low level acoustic track and then switches into some very loud metal music. It is the contrast that catches people by surprise and makes the ear think the difference is more than it really is.

    In mastering we are dealing with what the ear perceives and there are a lot of tricks that can be used to fool the ear into thinking that it is hearing something that it is not.

    One thing to notice is after listening to music at very high levels for long periods of time the ear "shuts down" because it is trying to protect your hearing and you lose some of your aural acuity. If you want to do an experiment listen to some loud music for a while (even a half and hour) then try and equalize an acoustic track. When you listen to it later after your ears have come back to normal the track will sound too bright and too bass heavy because your ears were shut down when you eq'ed it. If you do too much listening to loud music your ears can become presently damaged and you can lose your hearing all together. This is the reason why a lot of boom cars sound the way they do after listening at insane levels the person's ears have shut down and they need more and more bass and treble to make the music sound "normal"

    If you want the ultimate level on your mixes use some contrast to enhance them buy not putting "the pedal to the metal" the whole time and allowing the music to breath and to recover so you can make a contrast when you introduce more compression into a different part of the song.

    I am working on a project in house right now that was very well recorded and very well done. The three people wrote all the songs a recorded them. They did a very good job and now the mastering is bringing out the music in a very nice way. Some of their songs are acoustic and very mellow, some of them are at death metal levels and if I tried to make them sound the same the acoustics stuff would not sound good. I demo'd the overcompression to the band and they agreed that the contrast was what they were after and NOT to have all the songs at the same level as they first suggested.

    If you want music really well mastered then take it to a pro. If you want to learn about what the mastering engineer is doing then attend the mastering session when your stuff is mastered. There are no secret ways of doing mastering it is just a lot of experience and having the best tools and monitoring setup for the job.

    Best of luck....
  12. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    Thanks guys. I do NOT plan on mastering at home. My studio is decent, but in no way able to substitue for a mastering facility. The reason I asked about the L1, is that sometimes, I find that an individual track, say a synth strings stereo track, has been recorded a little soft, and needs more volume to stand up against the snare. This is the situation I was wondering if it's ok to bring up the levels without any limiting of overs. Thanks though, I think I got my answers.

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