Loudness, is it all an Illusion? -Part 1

Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes www.rukes.com 

Loudness, compression wars, dynamic slams, these are all things that modern " dance music " is known for. Tracks are loud and in your face. It wasn't always this way, but that's a story for a rainy day. 

Today I am going to talk about a topic that I've wanted to discuss for a long time.  I've been putting off the discussion because I know no one will like the solution, but more on that later.

What is this topic?

Loudness, are pro tracks really " louder " then your tracks?

If I have 2 tracks, one produced by someone just starting out and one by a vet, I can make them the same " loudness ". They will be at the same levels, but they just won't sound ANYTHING like each other. The vet's track will sound way way louder. Why is that?

Well, ( here is the reason I've avoided this topic )  its because their mixdown...

1. Fills its usable space better

2. Use's " tricks " to make certain elements appear louder

3. Is produced better on every single level.

The last one is the kicker, the reason its "louder" is because its produced better. 

Now this may seem like a no brainier, but I get asked every single day " why isn't my track as  loud " as xyz. 

I like to look at it this way.

You start off at 100% max loudness, perfect Knife Party/Deadmau5/Zedd level mix down. When you open a new project file, you are 100% flawless.

This is where the trouble begins.

As soon as you start adding stuff, this perfection goes down.

Kick drum hitting in the wrong range ? Minus 20%

Bass line clashing with the mid's? - Minus 10%

Over compression on everything- Minus 25%

This stuff adds up, these tiny tiny errors take away from your perfect track. The more errors you have, the less ideal your track will sound. Small things in production make a HUGE difference. I've seen tracks go from meh, to BAM with stuff as simple as a 3-4db boost in the right range.

That's awesome, because it can be a easy fix.

 Not so awesome because if you can't hear the errors, then you will have a very hard time fixing them.

This brings me back to the point I made earlier, I didn't want to write this post mainly as It's not really " helpful ". In fact, so far I haven't shared any info that will help you today. 

Fear not, I have a few tips ( well more then a few ). Look for Part 2 of this article with more tips in the next few days.

10 Small Tricks, to make your tune Appear LOUDER 

1. Panning- Take a non key element and pan it to the side ( typically high/ air elements ) .Doing this can make your track appear louder.This seems so simple, and it is, however it can TRULY enhance the image of your "loudness". Partly due to the fact its panned , but also due to the " High Shine ". WTF is high shine ?

2. High Shine- This is something that I realized one day and it hit me like a ton of bricks. THE HIGH END ( like 10k+ range ) can and will make your track appear louder. It makes your mix sound bigger and more powerful. ( white noise on the drop anyone? )  This seems simple, and some of you may think I am stupid for " learning this " but it took me awhile to put the pieces together. The key to this though, sadly, like everything else is an amazing mix OVER ALL, then also having the track shine perfectly. If only it was easier right?

3. Fake Kick- I call tracks that have super loud ( beaters, top end, smackers) whatever you want to call them " fake kicks ". Don't get me wrong, the kicks are 100% real and powerful, but the TOP parts of these kicks ( 1.5k + ) are loud and high in the mix. This is super typical with bigroom bangers, ( W&W, Ummet Ozcan , Garrix etc) . If you took out, or cut down the high end on these kicks, the track wouldn't sound nearly as " huge " . Since the top part of the kick cuts through the mix so high, it sounds bigger. Great for big room, sounds horrible on some genres. 

4. Narrow your low end- ( Mono ) Typically tracks sound better ( and eat up less headroom ) when you mono stuff UNDER the 100hz to 200hz range. Why such a big range? Because everyone I talk to seems to prefer doing it in different spots. I base it on the track and the elements that make up the bass range. This will paradoxically make your high end sound wider, nifty .

5.  Stereo Separation- FL Studio has a knob right on the mixer channel for this, twist it back and forth and notice the huge difference it can make. A few things to note. Don't go crazy with this. I've told this to people before and they start using it on EVERYTHING. Don't do that, use it as need, as a " helper " on certain elements. Always make the element fit/ sound as good as you can before you start fiddling with this. Typically, I use it on high elements( can work nice on leads, to allow the other stuff to come through the mix better ) . I've noticed that stereo width can be rather hard ( and thus separation ) to judge on headphones, at least for me. If your using can's always check the mix in monitors when able.

That does it for Part 1, will post up 5 more tips in Part 2 in a few days.

Take Away : The mix down is a HUGE BEAST. Really, its simple and complicated at the same time. Small errors add up, but slowly over time you will chip away at these errors. With less errors your track will naturally get "louder ".


Hopefully these tips bring you a few percent closer to your goal.


Posted on September 19, 2014 and filed under Music Production.