You Mean Loud Can Sound Good?! – Part 1

I’d like to thank modern technical
engineers and their incredible skills to produce compressors & limiters that we can pull the knobs off of them to make
our meters stay at 0dBFS almost transparently. We are now capable of turning our mixes and masters into gorgeous sounding productions
that are reminiscent of nails on a blackboard or any Metallica record. I’ll let you pick your poison!

Alas, though! There is still a chance that a loud mix and master can be achieved without it being the
kiss of death. Over the course of 3 or 4 different posts on this topic I plan to discuss how we as mixing and mastering engineers
can skillfully craft our music into warm, full, and LOUD, yes LOUD products rather than distorted inter-sample peak fests!

In the first part of the series I’d like to discuss frequencies and how our ears translate them. If you don’t know your Fletcher Munson curves this is a good place to start this journey. The way our ears perceive frequencies and greatly influence how loud we think something is. Our ears hear the
flattest frequency response between 80-90dB SPL. Anything 1Khz and below is relatively flat within 5dB or so give or take some. Once
we get past 1K it gets a bit more interesting. Let’s take a look!

The resonance of our ears have a natural response to the 2-6K range. We are very
sensitive to this range. As soon as we pass 6K it trails off quickly by nearly 20dB when we get to 20K. So, when someone
(engineers starting out… I was one!) mixes with a lot of high-mid range content such as this because it sounds upfront and
aggressive… Yeah! I like that!… It will end up causing our listeners ears to bleed. I don’t think this was our goal! If we use
this this knowledge to our advantage, though. We can use gentle complimenting boosts in the range to make our mix louder without
losing an ear!

The other part of frequencies and how they contribute to what we hear is the energy of the frequency spectrum. Low frequencies naturally
create the most energy. As we travel up the spectrum it drops off at a rate near -3dB per octave. If you look at a veteran’s
frequency analyzer on the master buss you’re guaranteed to see a well balanced gentle slope as you look down from 60Hz to 20KHz. If
you try and make your mix a flat line… I hope God heals your ears! It’s true brightness can pull something forward in the mix,
but humor me on your next mix. Instead of boosting 2-6K range with a bell curve on that lead vocal or guitar part reach for the
shelving EQ and give it a sparkly lift in the 10-12K range. Another added benefit of using a shelving EQ rather than a bell curve is
that it creates less phase distortion by the nature of it’s design. This can help preserve the sound source’s integrity. I promise the
end result will sound more pleasing to your ear. Most importantly it will to the listener of your music!

I hope this has shed some positive light for you as the introduction to this series. In the weeks to
come we will dive in to other topics including dynamic range and tools and processes such as using multi-band compression &
parallel compression effectively rather than negatively. We will also discuss how to use harmonic excitement to our advantage.
Somewhere in the midst of all this we will learn how to utilize meters to effectively make sure the change we make are panning out
as we planned!

By MattButler

Matt is a tracking and mixing engineer at Backporch Studios and Pathway Studios in Tennessee. He and his father run a music business called Butler Music Group in Nashville, TN where Backporch Studios is located. He is also a talented multi-instrumentalist who gives private lessons from home. He prides himself in being a technical geek and has a passion to help the community of MixCoach in any way he can.

3 comments

  1. Hi Matt My favorite topic DR! Thanks for posting. And there
    is another “loudness” beside the loudness of a song. This one
    regards live gigs. Loudness in relation with the room size. A great
    curve could also be made to use and learn from for those who
    falsely think a “building destroying dB” makes a concert better.
    Any study on that, if you have or can find, would also be worth a
    post.

  2. Thank you Joseph. I’m glad to see someone get something from it! Makes it all the worth while!

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