Mastering a song with musical dynamics: ppp to FFF

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by JohnTodd, Mar 19, 2014.

  1. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    By dynamics, I mean the type that musicians play, from soft to loud.

    So how do I get that rock punch when the track has soft verses and loud choruses? On the chorus it's all good, I just set my compressors, etc., and the meters kick.

    But on the verses, it's all below the threshold. Can't lower the threshold on the verses without squashing the loud choruses.

    I'd love to post samples, but I'm under an NDA. :(

  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Volume automation would be my first tool to use, not compression. Also, you could automate the inputs of your compressors, or the gains of the tracks.
    A thing that could'nt be fix is if some instruments sound different because they were played softer, ex: a snare that was littly play won't sound the same but I think it might be good after all.

    Btw, I would keep a dynamic difference between the verse and the choruses, it keeps the music alive !!
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    It's not an easy thing to get right. So much depends on the song itself, and you should really go with what the song is telling you to do. I remember that for one of my "big" numbers that had intimate verses and huge choruses, I recorded the lead singer using a different microphone for the verses from that in the choruses and a different mouth-mic distance for the two. It had the result of people asking me "What's that effect you used for the verse vocals?", when it was mainly the difference between a dynamic mic and a condenser mic.

    However, to fit in with standard pop and rock conventions, I used volume automation (rather than compression/expansion) to bring the verse levels up, and this gave the whole song the needed lift and punch. It's surprising what the ear will accept as normal if you get the detail right.
  4. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Sounds great. So basically I'd be evening out the actual volume levels (somewhat) with automation, simply bringing the verses up without affecting transients. I'd do this in my mixing DAW (Cubase).

    Then I'd just do regular stuff to the mix in my mastering software (Wavelab).

    And this works because the instruments still retain the "softly played" sound on the verses. They aren't really louder in the technical sense, they just have the volume turned up. So the delicate cymbal and snare work still sounds delicate, etc.
  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Yes, but if you feel you want to bring the instrument level up as well, don't bring it up as much as the vocal in the verses. In this way, the vocal stands out more over the backing during the verses and can wallow more in the backing during the choruses.

    A professional job of level adjustment can be "invisible" to the ear when done well. If you can find other commercial examples of intimate verse/strong chorus songs that you like the balance of, take a really close listen to the dynamics and level of the vocal and backing. It's surprising what is apparent even in a track that you think you know if you listen to it with a different hat on.
  6. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    This is the core truth of mastering. You can't force a mix to be something it can't be. If you want the end result to have less dynamics then it should be mixed that way.

    Personally I would probably push for leaving the dynamics in the song if that's the way it was mixed. Besides, if the LUFS thing catches on you'll be ahead of the game.
  7. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    OK, I read an explanation of LUFS. Can you give me a 2 sentence explanation my musician brain can comprehend?
  8. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    The playback system will detect the average level of songs and automatically adjust them to be similar. Loud songs with no dynamics will be lowered so they will no longer have a competitive advantage over more dynamic songs, and the dynamics of the more dynamic songs will mostly be retained instead of crushing them up to the level of the loud songs as is currently done on broadcast radio.
  9. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    AWESOME! How do I order? :)
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    push faders up during verse. pull faders down on the chorus'. repeat to the end.
  11. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    OK, I tried it, and it works! Thanks guys!

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