Welcome to part 4 of the loudness series. This will probably be the final part of this series for now. I hope you guys have enjoyed reading it as much as I love sharing my love and passion for making better music. We will wrap up this series with some discussion on useful methods that aren’t widely practiced, but can be a tremendous help. Some can be the death of a mix with improper use, too. Let us begin!
Strategic use of clipping can increase loudness due to increased average signal level and the added harmonic content. We all know digital clipping usually isn’t desirable because the aliasing distortion that is caused creates anharmonic tones. There are few exceptions to this. Anything that tends to be noisy such as a snare or cymbals they can typically blend with the noise like byproduct of digital clipping. Strong harmonically rich content such as a piano will sound terrible with the aliasing distortion. However, if you induce analog clipping, magic can occur. Since clipping of an analog circuit induces harmonic content related to the fundamental frequencies, it can be a pleasing non-linear warm result if pushed within its limits.
Another tool we can use in mixing and mastering is parallel compression. If used right it can do wonders for filling a sound with life and added perceived volume. It often gets abused, and it ends up making the mix worse than better. Subtlety is the key to good parallel compression. Just a little bit can go a very long way. A typical setup for parallel compression is to create an aux send as you would for a reverb, etc., then feed it to the track or tracks you want to slam with the parallel compression. As a side note, at this point it’s a great idea to check and make sure your plug-in delay compensation is on. If it isn’t and there’s a delay between the channels you will get nasty comb filtering from the delayed signals. If you feel the need to EQ your parallel channel I highly suggest the use of a linear phase EQ and if you don’t have one, only apply very gentle shelves or filters to help keep phase shift to a minimum. Typical settings on your parallel channel will be a high ratio with a low threshold. This is a good starting place. I like to use a slower attack with a fairly quick release. As always listen until you hear your desired result. There are no rules here. I like to find a release time that pumps with the rhythm of the song. Don’t be afraid to hit 20-30 dB of gain reduction. Now slowly pull the fader up and listen to the magically life and fullness that gets added to the track. Remember to keep it SUBTLE! I recommend you send your parallel compressed channels pre fader to have independent control of the parallel channel’s volume. A huge advantage to proper use of parallel compression is that it can actually make the source sound less compressed overall when blended with the dry signal.
I’ll conclude this series by saying, if you feel the need to use compression on the mixbus, please keep it to 1-2 dB at the max. And use a low threshold with a very low ratio. This always yields the smoothest results. If no pumping is desired it’s a safe bet to start with a release time of 250ms and go from there. Sometimes that magical glue is needed, but if you have the opportunity leave it to the mastering engineer to make this decision. I prefer to use multi-band compression on the mixbus to tighten the low end without affecting the low end. Sometimes I’ll touch the high end to help some stray sibilance here and there. This has the most transparent sound. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! We will have a new topic starting next week. How did you like this series? What’s your favorite way to make “Loud Sound Good”? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.