Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
Mordolm
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Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Mordolm » Mon May 16, 2016 3:19 pm

I have a certain issue that I've been struggling with for quite some time; and that is, for some reason that I have not been able to identify yet, my exports and even Live sets are unbelievably quiet compared to a commercial release, or even songs that I hear on SoundCloud or pretty much anywhere. I have been producing for almost 4 years now, and have just sort of lived with this, and strangely enough, the tracks I made 2 1/2 years ago were a hell of a lot louder than they are now, with close to no mixing or mastering done at all, besides a limiter. I have upgraded equipment since then, and am currently working with an Apollo Twin with Genelec 8040's on a 2015 iMac.

Is it possible for my audio interface to just not allow me to get as loud as anything else? Perhaps I installed drivers incorrectly, or it just isn't working with Ableton properly? I'm at a bit of a loss here, unfortunately. I've checked settings in Apollo's Console, and am quite sure I have Ableton set up properly.
I've also run a test where I brickwall limit one sound up to 0 db, and it is still no where near as loud as anything else, which doesn't make sense to me at all.

I'm just hoping it is something really obvious, though that is pretty unlikely. I hope somebody can help out! :|

Tarekith
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Tarekith » Mon May 16, 2016 4:02 pm

The soundcard shouldn't have any effect on the digital file itself, that's all handled in the DAW. Are you doing any mastering at all to the tracks before you export, or are these raw mixdowns?

Mordolm
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Mordolm » Mon May 16, 2016 4:24 pm

After I complete a track, mixdown and master it, the end result is never as loud as it *should* be. I suppose that makes sense; that an external piece of hardware wouldn't interfere with digital files, but does that mean I'm simply not mixing or mastering well at all?

What is strange is that my work from a long time ago is loud, if not as loud as commercial stuff, with no signs of digital distortion in the end mix. However, I was using different equipment, but evidently that shouldn't affect it.

I've never been a fan of the loudness war, but would at least like to, for once, be able to make even a sound that could at least compete with other tracks.

Tarekith
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Tarekith » Mon May 16, 2016 4:33 pm

Can you post one of the tracks you're having issues with? Or send me a PM and I'll tell you how to send it to me. Happy to take a look at it for you and see if there's anything wrong with it.

Mordolm
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Mordolm » Mon May 16, 2016 4:36 pm

Certainly!

This is something I finished recently.

https://soundcloud.com/zomiofficial/zom ... test-entry

Tarekith
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Tarekith » Mon May 16, 2016 5:46 pm

Certainly doesn't sound that quiet to me, at least not in a way that wouldn't be competitive with most music in terms of loudness. What kinds of songs are you listening to that makes you feel this is super quiet?

Mordolm
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Mordolm » Mon May 16, 2016 6:16 pm

This, for instance: https://soundcloud.com/barelyalive/bina ... abaremixes

The crisp, and loud nature to it. Now, I can tell there is a lot of distortion, but not dis pleasing to the ears.
Just comparing to my track on SC and theirs, mine isn't that loud, but honestly there are probably so many possibilities as to why that may be an issue, and it's hard to identify.

jlgrimes
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by jlgrimes » Mon May 16, 2016 8:58 pm

Mordolm wrote:I have a certain issue that I've been struggling with for quite some time; and that is, for some reason that I have not been able to identify yet, my exports and even Live sets are unbelievably quiet compared to a commercial release, or even songs that I hear on SoundCloud or pretty much anywhere. I have been producing for almost 4 years now, and have just sort of lived with this, and strangely enough, the tracks I made 2 1/2 years ago were a hell of a lot louder than they are now, with close to no mixing or mastering done at all, besides a limiter. I have upgraded equipment since then, and am currently working with an Apollo Twin with Genelec 8040's on a 2015 iMac.

Is it possible for my audio interface to just not allow me to get as loud as anything else? Perhaps I installed drivers incorrectly, or it just isn't working with Ableton properly? I'm at a bit of a loss here, unfortunately. I've checked settings in Apollo's Console, and am quite sure I have Ableton set up properly.
I've also run a test where I brickwall limit one sound up to 0 db, and it is still no where near as loud as anything else, which doesn't make sense to me at all.

I'm just hoping it is something really obvious, though that is pretty unlikely. I hope somebody can help out! :|
Some things I would look into:

1. Are you limiting your tracks enough (or using wrong type of limiter or using incorrectly). What is the RMS level of your tracks after you limit? Is it a higher or lower RMS level than a typical commercial reference track? It will probably help to read up some on this.

2. Frequency distribution in mix. Very low frequencies that most speakers can't produce, or even muddy frequencies that aren't contributing much to the musicality of the mix robs headroom. Cut a lot of these frequencies out and you should be able to get your tracks even louder. Does your mixes sound muddy, or unfocused or imbalanced?

3. Maybe nothing is wrong with your mix and you just tend to pick very loud reference tracks (which might not necessarily be great mixes).

4. It might help to get your songs professionally mastered. A good mastering engineer might even give you some critique of your mix telling you some things you should correct in the mix before mastering. They will probably understand the loudness aspect better than most as well.

Tarekith
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Tarekith » Tue May 17, 2016 7:19 am

Listening to your track compared to the reference, it sounds like your's is a touch more bass heavy. Since that's where a lot of the energy is in a song, that's one area that might be limiting how much volume you're able to achieve. Maybe try backing off a bit around 50Hz, which might let you push the mastering limiter a bit more if you really feel the need to.

What's your typical mastering chain involve in terms of processors/plug ins?

dented42ford
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by dented42ford » Tue May 17, 2016 11:57 am

Your track has two major issues:

Too Much Low End: You seem to love the bass. There is nothing wrong with that, but you have to be very careful when working with bass-heavy material. The issue is that low frequency information requires more energy for "equivalent" volume than high frequency information. This has the counter-intuitive effect of making tracks with an inordinate amount of low frequencies seem quieter for the same overall volume level and dynamic range than a track with more information in the midrange and highs. This is because the human ear is much more sensitive to midrange information than low end information - and the excess of lows before the limiter makes the midrange seem recessed by comparison, when volume matched to a track with similar energy quantity.

The solution is to either create really sparse tracks with a lot of separation - this is the "Hip Hop Trick" - or to manipulate psycho-acoustic tricks to make the bass "appear" bigger than it is - this is the "good mastering trick", and is essentially what the "Bass Enhancer" plugins, such as Waves, do.

Too Much Dynamic Range Before Limiter: This is a more insidious problem, but is largely related to the first one. You don't seem to have used much dynamic range compression before the limiters, letting the limiters do the heavy lifting on "making the track loud". This is not the best way to go about things!

Generally, the best way to increase perceived volume without "sucking all the life out" is to use many different stages of relatively minor compression throughout the mix. (This is especially important for midrange instruments in a bass-heavy mix.) In other words, instead of trying to get the whole track louder by limiting the hell out of each track and then the master, try multiple stages of less extreme compression (~2-5db MAX) instead.

IMHO, the best way to do this is to "buss" similar sounds together. You compress each individual sound just enough to barely hear it working. Then you compress each buss - collection of instruments sent to a "sub-master" track - so that you can barely hear it there. Then you do the same on the master track. Then you add the limiter, which should have a lot less to limit at this point!

Another advantage of this technique is that it lets you do some neat side-chaining tricks - and no, I don't mean "side-chaining" in the "house-pumping" manner. Basically, it lets you use certain elements to control the emphasis of other elements by frequency range - so you could, say, subtly emphasize certain elements without any obvious pumping effects by side-chaining clashing sounds to them. The most obvious application is to emphasize vocals - this is what side-chains were invented for in the first place, way back when - but once you get your head around the technique, it has numerous creative applications!

A word of warning about using this sort of multi-stage dynamics treatment (otherwise known as good mixing acumen, but I digress): The lower the frequency content, the less effective compression becomes! Low-freq content is, by definition, at a lower "wavelength" than higher frequency content. Due to the first thing I mentioned - the frequency masking effect of extreme lows - the more you compress the lows, the more they "disappear" in the mix. It is best to try to keep the lows as dynamic as possible, to retain maximum punch in the area it is most effective. Go nuts on the highs, and be a bit careful in the mids, but be very conservative in the lows. This is, of course, just a rule of thumb, but it is a very helpful one!

Shift Gorden
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Shift Gorden » Tue May 17, 2016 2:21 pm

Very interesting, dented42ford. Thanks for posting, mate.

Stromkraft
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Stromkraft » Tue May 17, 2016 11:53 pm

dented42ford wrote:
Generally, the best way to increase perceived volume without "sucking all the life out" is to use many different stages of relatively minor compression throughout the mix. (This is especially important for midrange instruments in a bass-heavy mix.) In other words, instead of trying to get the whole track louder by limiting the hell out of each track and then the master, try multiple stages of less extreme compression (~2-5db MAX) instead.

IMHO, the best way to do this is to "buss" similar sounds together. You compress each individual sound just enough to barely hear it working. Then you compress each buss - collection of instruments sent to a "sub-master" track - so that you can barely hear it there. Then you do the same on the master track. Then you add the limiter, which should have a lot less to limit at this point!
Oh, yes. Very well put.
Make some music!

owlmerlyn
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by owlmerlyn » Wed May 18, 2016 3:15 pm

Nicely put, dented42ford

Tarekith
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 18, 2016 6:25 pm

Not to come across as giving conflicting advice, but multiple stages of dynamic reduction doesn't always give you the loudest master. It's definitely something I use a lot (and I'm glad limiters like DMG's Limitless offer this internally in one plug in), but there's times I've found it backfires too. Trying to limit an already heavily compressed signal can occasionally lead to distortion a bit earlier than if you were just dealing with a limiter and dynamic signal. Depends on the track, limiter, etc and all that, but thought I would offer that suggestion in case you're still having issues getting the volume you need.

Most of it seems to be sparse arrangements and a really tight low end balance IME, when you get get those right a lot of the heavy lifting later on is much easier/forgiving.

Stromkraft
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Re: Tracks are quiet, even limited to 0 DB with no dynamic range

Post by Stromkraft » Wed May 18, 2016 9:16 pm

Tarekith wrote:Trying to limit an already heavily compressed signal can occasionally lead to distortion a bit earlier than if you were just dealing with a limiter and dynamic signal. Depends on the track, limiter, etc and all that

Most of it seems to be sparse arrangements and a really tight low end balance IME, when you get get those right a lot of the heavy lifting later on is much easier/forgiving.
All good observations of course.

I think what I believe about multiple stages of compression are that you do each of these out of different reasons. On the tracks I use the compressor more as a character shaper than something just for volume, fitting it to other tracks, the busses for gluing stuff together to make their members like one and possible something similar in the master if needed. This way I don't trash my lines and keep them breathing I think.

Only very late in the chain do I focus on volume and shaping the whole with a limiter or similar.
Make some music!

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