How to Make Mixes Sound Big
The level of perceived loudness in your music can make it more exciting, more engaging and more driving. Loudness is not quite as simple as it may seem on the surface, however, and there are some points that generally need clarification.
Peak Levels Do Not Equate to Loudness
It’s possible to have a track with peak levels brushing up against 0 dB and to still not have it sound very loud. What’s more important to loudness than peak level is average level. Loud mixes also tend to have a generous spread across frequency ranges and to have less range in terms of dynamics.
To determine the actual loudness of a track, you’ll need to take a look at the loudest peak level in the track and the average, expressed as the RMS (Root Mean Square) power of the track. Various tools can provide you with this information.
The Role of Compression
Compression can be used to reduce the peak levels of the loudest sounds on a track and to bring up the average level. If you bring down the peak levels by 1 dB, for instance, you can bring up the other sounds by that equivalent amount. It’s important to not reduce the peak values and increase the lower values so much that you end up flattening out the entire mix. This results in a mix that is dynamically uninteresting.
Limiters can be used for a more intense effect, but these require that you have short attack times. Some audio tools are preconfigured for working with the loudness of a track.
Alternately, you can keep the peak levels on your track as they are and bring up the average level of the track. This may create more work in the mixing stage, but there is much that can be done to ensure that the track retains its dynamic interest and doesn’t become loud, but flat.
Good mixing makes it easier to increase the loudness of a track. Eliminating discrepancies in the sound is vital to this. Remove any frequencies that take away from the quality of the mix and your end result will sound louder, punchier and more sonically interesting.
When assessing your work next to that of professionally produced tracks, be aware that there are other processes that those tracks are put through and that they may not provide good or useful references for making assessments of your own work.