Five secrets to making your mix louder

Don’t dismiss this post yet! Even if you’re in the ‘more dynamics’ brigade, these tips will give you clearer mixes that suffer less in mastering. That means better-preserved dynamics and higher fidelity!

For those of you who really do want your mixs SUPER LOUD, this tips will let you push more volume without your sound turning to mush.

  1. Go easy on the bass. That includes sub bass, kick and melodic bass. It always tempting to turn them up, but the low frequencies really use up a lot of headroom (high peak level for the same perceived volume). The more headroom your audio needs, the less you can push it in mastering and the worse it will sound when it’s pushed hard. First try to compare your bass levels with commercial reference songs. Listen carefully to the level of the low frequencies in comparison to the rest of the spectrum – you might find there’s less than you initially thought! Also consider saturating the kick or the bass.
  2. Saturate those peaks. Take a look at your mix bus peak meter to see if any tracks are ‘poking out’ of the mix – often it will be the kick or the bass. Used carefully, you can use saturation to reduce the peak level of your kick or snare tracks without reducing the perceived volume. Often peak level reductions of 6-9dB are easily attainable without adversely affecting the audio quality. Limiters are usually not so useful here because they’ll tend to change the sound too much.
  3. Embrace the background. Push some instruments further to the background. If you try to put too many sounds in the foreground you’ll end up with an indistinct mush. This indistinct mush will quickly become even worse when you apply heavy limiting in mastering. Instead, try to identify the three or four most important elements of the mix (typically the snare, kick, bass and lead synth/vocal). Be bold and push everything else to the background! You’ll get a mix that’s more focussed and more powerful.
  4. Leave your stereo widener at home. Stereo widening tricks might be fun to play with, but they’ll rob your mix of punch and power. If you want those foreground sounds (snare, kick, bass, lead) to hit as hard as possible, stay clear of any stereo width manipulation. Some subtle widening is sometimes useful for special background effects, but remember – if you do it, do it in moderation.
  5. Be careful of the lower mids. The region between 100Hz and 1000Hz is the cause of many troubles. It’s very easy to put a mix together that has a lot of mud build-up in that area. To get the ultimate clear mix, get brutal with an EQ! Make some big dips in the lower mids for all background instruments, and make sure you don’t have any excess lower mids in your foreground instruments. You need to keep some lower mids, because that’s where your body and thickness comes from. Here’s a secret though – a mix with body and thickness only needs a few foreground instruments to have that body and thickness. To put it another way, a few fat foreground instruments makes for a fat mix. A lot of fat instruments makes for a flabby mix.

With these mixing tips you should be able to get a few more decibels of clarity in mastering!

-Kim.

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  1. These are some great tips. I had realized that my songs always end up being limited either by a loud bass (which sounds great but lowers the overall volume) or a lack of clarity in the low-mid frequencies. Everything seems to have a rightful place there, but you gotta cut something right? :)

    Great website and useful tips; will be checking this out.

    • timizero
    • March 30th, 2010

    just want to ask a noob question here…what tool u use to saturate peaks? using EQ or limiter? sorry for being a noob..
    anyway this is such a good article especially for a person who just started with mixing..so thanks alot for sharing this kind of information

  2. Saturation can be done with a dedicated tool (there are many saturation plugins to get your started). Some other tools (such as limiters or compressors) also have a saturation feature.

    Read more about saturation here:

    http://kimlajoie.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/what-is-saturation/

    And here:

    http://kimlajoie.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/limiting-vs-clipping/

    -Kim.

    • timizero
    • April 1st, 2010

    Thanks for the reply

    • Dangerrat
    • May 11th, 2010

    Got a question to the point one: I also noticed, that the bass on commercial tracks is reduced, yet percieved as powerful, but in a controlled way. How do you reduce the low frequencies in the kick and bass? Do you use a lowcut or shelf or maybe boost the highs? Or do you first use the volume fader and then cut/boost accordingly? I tried all of the above and I’m still not completely satisfied with my bass levels.

  3. @Dangerrat

    Getting the low frequencies right is a subtle balance, and it’s not easy. It’s not a matter of low shelfs always being better than high boosts, or anything like that. What matters is the experience to be able to listen to the sounds in the mix and determine the best tools for the job.

    No magic bullet – just keep working at it and you’ll get better.

    -Kim.

    • 3ee
    • January 6th, 2011

    Hi Kim,
    I think it’s a good idea to give more feedback on your posts since I begun rereading almost all them that are advertised on your “The best of 2010″ post.
    Aldough the title gets you thinking this post is about mastering, it’s all mixing tips, the kind of mixing I usually do right before mastering.
    Very good post, short, clean and on target as usual!
    I would like to add to tip #3 “Embrace the background” as it’s not that simple to just put everything else into the background. The background itself has what I refer to as “levels of detail” that means in short terms that the background has a foreground as well as other levels that if not assigned corectly wouldn’t feel right.
    Automation (especially dynamics) will help get the levels alive. (I know, I know… sometimes borring stuff).
    In some cases you will be amazed if you mute the main (3 or 4) elements of the track on how much work there still could be done in order to get that “master piece” we are all aiming for.
    And really, the main elements will be soulless if the background elements are missing.. so, more love for them pls! ;)
    Cheers
    3ee

  4. @3ee
    I agree about the background. Often it’s useful to go beyond the simple foreground/background dichotomy and think about multiple layers of depth.

    -Kim.

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