In this article, we are going to have a look at 11 best ways to make music mixes louder without clipping and distortion.
With these techniques implemented, you will get a loud mix free from any clipping or distortion.
Get your project ready because we are diving right in!
But first of all, let’s see what is the principle behind getting loud audio mixes.
The Concept of Dynamic Range
In simple terms, the dynamic range from the loudest or highest peak in an audio signal to that of the lowest or quietest audio peak(in dB).
You’ll get an idea about the dynamic range from the given image. Notice the difference between the loudest peaks and soft, low signals. The ratio between these is what we call the dynamic range.
But, don’t focus much on the technicalities here.
The first step in getting the audio mixes to sound loud is to bring these peaking transients down so we can work efficiently with them. Else, this will create a lot of clipping effect when you apply a limiter straight to it.
These tips will allow you to control the peaking transients while still maintaining the audio harmonics.
11 Best Ways to make music mixes louder without clipping or distorting the signal
Here are top tips to make your music mixes louder without clipping or distortion.
1) Gain stage
It is best recommended to gain stage of your audio levels before mixing. This will allow you to avoid premature clipping and distortion.
Check your audio levels and bring down the fader on those signals running too hot or indicating a red signal.
One of the widely used gains staging strategies is to bring all the audio tracks to a peaking level of -18 dB on the volume fader. Read more about it here.
This is one of the best places to start the mixing process. However, don’t get too obsessed with the values.
The goal is to prevent clipping and leave enough headroom for mastering.
2) Equalisation (EQ)
The most common mixing tool i.e. an equaliser plays an important role in creating loud mixes.
Here are few equalisation tips to make music mixes louder.
1) High / Low Pass
For this, let’s analyze the frequency spectrum in the above image.
In any spectrum, you’ll find different bands and regions that help to tame sound in a certain way. But, most engineers forget to filter the part below 20 Hz and above 20 kHz.
It is important to filter these regions because they consume a lot of energy in a mix. Also, these frequencies are not audible, so there is no harm in removing them from a mix.
2) Don’t High / Low pass Everything
In the last section, we discussed the importance of filtering specific frequencies out of a mix.
But you do not need to high or low pass every single track in the mix. Doing so will suck the energy and life out of the song.
Instead, for EQ’ing effectively, use different frequency bands to increase or reduce the problematic regions’ frequencies slightly.
Moreover, listen to the song as a whole while Equalisation. This will help you to get an idea of what a piece needs.
3) Dynamic EQ
Another great technique is to use dynamic Equalisation. A dynamic EQ acts somewhat like a compressor for taming a specific frequency region.
When a sound track crosses a certain threshold, the dynamic EQ gently tucks it back in. Hence, making a mix sound richer and fuller but also controlling the dynamics.
This method helps the song retain its natural flow. It also gives any mix engineer more significant control over the song dynamics.
3) Using Compression the Right Way
Turning up the compressor for transient control helps with controlling the dynamic range.
A compressor is one of the best dynamic control tools. It helps bring down the loud peaks and the weaker sections in an audio file.
Moreover, using an audio compressor properly is vital to get louder mixes without clipping.
Here are a few compressor tips to get louder mixes and dynamic control.
1) Setting Attack and Release times
The first tip is to use the correct compressor settings. It largely depends on the music genre, but I suggest starting with the below-mentioned settings.
The best way to give a shape to your mix is to put a compressor on the master fader for mix buss compression.
Here are the settings for mix bus compression. Use these settings to glue together your mix and make it sound cohesive instantly.
- Ratio: 2:1 or 4:1,
- Threshold: Turn the knob to get a gain reduction of 2-4dB,
- Attack: Slowest eg, 20-30ms,
- Release: Fastest eg, 0.1ms,
- Make-up gain: 2 -4 dB;
These settings offer a great starting point for transient control.
2) compressing individual tracks
After applying the light to medium mix buss compression, it is a great idea to compress each track individually.
Moreover, this will help each track to stand out on its own and sound loud.
I have watched multiple mix engineers apply compression individually to control the dynamics of an audio track and its overall range.
This will help your mix sound fuller, richer, and louder. Also, this step is great for applying analog warmth to a mix.
3) Compressing Audio Busses
Once all the individual tracks are compressed, arranging them into busses and groups provides even more dynamic control when you apply compression on these busses.
The trick here is not overly to compress these busses but to get even extra control over the signal by applying soft compression with a slow attack and fast to medium release times.
These three tips alone will get you to make your mixes louder and richer without distortion.
4) Serial Compression – One after the other
Another great technique for transient control and to maximise the loudness of your mix is to use serial compression. This is one of the best techniques to make beautiful and loud mixes.
Serial compression is a method in which you put two compressors in an audio chain. This method allows a great way to apply dynamic control and add a bit of analog character to the mix.
Additionally, you can squeeze a little more loudness from your mix something we wish to get in our mix.
A great advantage of serial compression technique is that the compressors do not squash the audio aggressively. However, it is quite normal to use one of the two compressors for aggressive compressing.
5) Multiband Compressor
Multi-band Compression is another great way when it comes to dynamic control compared to traditional compression. It offers a great way to get music mixes louder without clipping.
The whole principle behind multi-band compression is to control and tame the dynamics using different frequency bands. It can help the mixing engineers to bring energy and life to a mix.
You can fix different frequency bands allowing more control over transient shaping and loudness control.
Moreover, this type of compression is highly suitable on mix busses and master bus.
6) Group Limiting
Group limiting is handy, especially when you want to control the peaking transients from a buss processing.
It helps to control the dynamic range of a bus unit and makes the mix sound more cohesive.
However, do not push the group limiter too much, or the mix will sound crushed and unnatural. Try not to reduce more than 1-2 dB when using group limiters.
Group limiter reduces the workload of mastering limiter by clamping any unwanted transients.
7) Mix into the Limiter
Another evolving technique that the mix engineers adopt is ‘Mixing into Limiter.’
In this technique, you put the mastering limiter on the master fader and mix your way into it.
This method lets the limiter do the heavy lifting and is a much safer way to get louder mixes that do not clip or distort.
To use this technique, leave enough headroom by properly gaining staging a mix and then set up the limiter to increase the loudness of the music mix progressively to find the sweet spot.
I have used tons of mastering limiters, and the most versatile of them are Oxford Limiter by Sonnox and Pro-L by Fab-filter.
A piece of advice is to remove the mastering limiter before sending the mix to the mastering engineer.
9) Analog vs Digital Clipping
Audio clipping is not always bad. Let us look at two types of clipping to understand this thing.
It can be broadly classified into two types:
- Analog Clipping,
- Digital clipping.
All the mix engineers take great care to avoid digital clipping as it can cause the audio to behave unnatural and distorted. Digital clipping makes the signal harsh, fuzzy and abnormal.
On the other hand, analog clipping is far more different, unique and desirable in some mix scenarios. Such clipping comes out of analogue hardware units and analog VSTs.
Soft Analog clipping shaves off the transients of a signal or audio in a much more pleasant way than digital clipping.
Try analog clipping using an analog tape machine like cassette by waves factory. Hear the sound as you slowly increase the signal clipping amount.
8) Good Monitoring speakers & headphones
Also read: Best studio monitors for mixing audio!
For this, I suggest investing in a good pair of studio monitors or headphones. I like to mix on studio headphones and switch the mix back and forth between studio headphones and monitors to see how my mix reacts on each system at loud volumes.
Related: Best studio headphones for mixing!
It helps to notice any clipping or distortion effect that may be happening behind the scenes.
If you want to master the mix loudness, listen to the song in the car stereo system and phone speakers to get the feel of the mix loudness on different systems. This way, you can compare your mix to find imbalances.
10) Monitoring the Low-end
The low-end portion of a mix consumes the highest energy compared to the mids and highs.
Due to these reasons, monitoring and mixing the low-end spectrum becomes crucial as any mixing mistake would cost the track’s loudness. This is especially true for beginning mix engineers.
My advice would be to analyse the low-end region of a track using Metering plugins. Looking at how well your low end sits with mids and highs is an absolute must to squeeze maximum loudness out of any mix.
Here are a few checkpoints for low-end mixing.
- Filter the FX plugins,
- Filter out the unnecessary low-end,
- Use Multi-Band compression for low-end, controlled dynamics.
11) Plugin Chain
Here is another tip on how to get your existing music mix louder without clipping. I have saved this one for the last as this tip is a real game changer for newbie and beginner mix engineers.
Plugin chain is often under looked and people forget its importance in making a mix louder.
Here is an example of plugin chain that will make the compressor work harder than usual. Notice how the signal is first compressed and then equalised to remove unwanted frequencies.
A better alternative would be to first use the EQ to remove unwanted frequencies and then compress the tamed signal. Doing so will allow the compressor to work much better as compared to the first scenario.
Lastly, I would recommend checking and making the life of a plugin easier by putting it in right order. This skill will come naturally but always analyse the situation beforehand.
In conclusion, I hope you liked our article on making music mixes louder without clipping or distortion.
These are some of the best tips and techniques you can include in your mixing process to get the louder results instantly.
Incorporate these tips over a range of your music mixes and see them increase the loudness level.