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Mastering help please - how to get even volume levels

So I’ve just completed my first ‘proper’ track on Cubasis and shared with a few friends. One of the comments is that the third section is louder than the first (the second section in between them is deliberately quiet so it is difficult to get a clear sense of how the third section compares to the first).

I’m completely new to mastering and have the Waves bundle in Cubasis.
What is the best way for me to get a good overall view of the loudness levels across a track?

Second question: how do I post a track on the forum so it can be played in the browser? I don’t pay for Soundcloud.

Thanks

Comments

  • I would recommend you use either FabFilter Pro L2 or Toneboosters Barricade with their LUFS/LKFS metering options, as these can give you a very good overview of the levels in your track over time. Basically to do this effectively you need really good metering, and most mastering plugins really suck at metering, with the exception of these two.

    Both of these plugins have 3 different meters that are visible at any one time: showing short-term, medium-term, and averaged (over the whole track) meters. This will definitely help you to see how loud different parts of a song are relative to one another.

    As for SoundCloud you don't need a paid account to post tracks here, a free one is sufficient.

  • Thanks @richardyot.
    Exactly the sort of answer I was looking for!

  • I’ve just realised that I have (but have never even tried to use) FAC Maxima. Will this do the job?

  • edited October 23

    @TimRussell said:
    I’ve just realised that I have (but have never even tried to use) FAC Maxima. Will this do the job?

    No, not in my opinion. It works well as a compressor/limiter, but it doesn't have the kind of metering you're looking for.

  • Before you use limiters and compressors, try and get the mix as well balanced as possible.

    If you keep adding tracks without altering levels or EQ, things will obviously get louder.

    When you add an instrument, you can simultaneously reduce the levels of other sounds to make room. Some sounds might even no longer be required. Muting some sounds might leave more space and not even be noticed as they’re otherwise hidden by newly introduced sounds. Also make sure you’re arranging things nicely by using complimentary sounds and pitch and pan them so they don’t clash.

    You can also alter the eq so that sounds make space for additional sounds. A bit like punching a hole in the spectrum to make space for the new sound.

    Panning is also good to make space for all the tracks and prevent them from fighting for space.

    Lastly, I personally think it’s good for a track to get a bit louder as it builds. I like songs that have dynamics to them.

    Once you’ve got things nicely balanced then it’s good to place a compressor on the master to tame levels and make things more even and then hit the overall mix with a limiter to prevent overloading and also to make everything a little louder so that it doesn’t sound out of place compared to commercial tracks. But not too much. The ‘loudness wars’ had a very detrimental effect to a lot of music, squashing all the dynamics of a track to the point many songs become tedious to listen to.

    Some people like everything to sound totally crushed though :-)

  • edited October 23

    Thanks, again v helpful.
    On the subject of metering, what is the difference between RMS and LUFS? It seems that LUFS is what everyone wants...

    EDIT: I get it. RMS is for winning the loudness wars, LUFS is for more dynamics. Correct??

  • Technically, this is what a compressor does.
    Just add one, to check if this helps in what you want.

    If you still have the different parts or even tracks, as @klownshed wrote, it may be better to simply adjust your mix or make the silent parts a bit louder.
    A compressor often adds other things that you may want to avoid.

  • @TimRussell said:
    Thanks, again v helpful.
    On the subject of metering, what is the difference between RMS and LUFS? It seems that LUFS is what everyone wants...

    EDIT: I get it. RMS is for winning the loudness wars, LUFS is for more dynamics. Correct??

    https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/what-is-lufs-and-why-should-i-care/

  • @tja said:
    Technically, this is what a compressor does.
    Just add one, to check if this helps in what you want.

    If you still have the different parts or even tracks, as @klownshed wrote, it may be better to simply adjust your mix or make the silent parts a bit louder.
    A compressor often adds other things that you may want to avoid.

    Or you could do it the old fashion way?... Record the automation the volume levels..

  • @TimRussell said:
    So I’ve just completed my first ‘proper’ track on Cubasis and shared with a few friends. One of the comments is that the third section is louder than the first (the second section in between them is deliberately quiet so it is difficult to get a clear sense of how the third section compares to the first).

    I’m completely new to mastering and have the Waves bundle in Cubasis.
    What is the best way for me to get a good overall view of the loudness levels across a track?

    Second question: how do I post a track on the forum so it can be played in the browser? I don’t pay for Soundcloud.

    Thanks

    As others have mentioned, before throwing something like a compressor on the mix, you should use your volume faders to make adjustments to your parts -- particularly as instruments come in and out of the mix. Also, understand how each part contributes to the dynamics. There may be individual parts whose dynamics are out of control and need active fader adjustments or compression.

    Inexperienced engineers often rely on compressors and limiters in ways that yield even dynamics but muddy mixes.

    If a part of the song seems to quiet, the issue is usually something to be solved by adjusting fader levels rather than by throwing on a compressor/limiter.

  • Yes I don’t plan on just shoving some limiter onto the track to stop certain bits getting too loud. I was more interested to know what is the best way to identify significant changes in loudness that might be more difficult to detect by listening alone.
    With compositions that have a longer duration, and a greater dynamic range, it can be very hard to tell how loud a section at the 1 minute marker is compared to a section at the 9 minute marker, especially if a lot of stuff has happened in between, purely by listening (or maybe it’s not that hard and I just need more practice!)

  • @TimRussell said:
    Yes I don’t plan on just shoving some limiter onto the track to stop certain bits getting too loud. I was more interested to know what is the best way to identify significant changes in loudness that might be more difficult to detect by listening alone.
    With compositions that have a longer duration, and a greater dynamic range, it can be very hard to tell how loud a section at the 1 minute marker is compared to a section at the 9 minute marker, especially if a lot of stuff has happened in between, purely by listening (or maybe it’s not that hard and I just need more practice!)

    You probably need more practice. Your ears are more important than any tools--absolute volume is less important than how it sounds. Watching the meters will give you a good reference, too. Looking at the waveform of the mixed audio will also give you a good overview.

  • @TimRussell said:
    Yes I don’t plan on just shoving some limiter onto the track to stop certain bits getting too loud. I was more interested to know what is the best way to identify significant changes in loudness that might be more difficult to detect by listening alone.
    With compositions that have a longer duration, and a greater dynamic range, it can be very hard to tell how loud a section at the 1 minute marker is compared to a section at the 9 minute marker, especially if a lot of stuff has happened in between, purely by listening (or maybe it’s not that hard and I just need more practice!)

    This goes back to what I was saying in my original reply, you need a plugin with decent metering. Here is a screenshot of FabFilter Pro-L2 using it's LUFS Loudness meter in Infinite mode (which basically keeps the entire track in the main display rather than scrolling past). The line through the middle shows the loudness at any given point in the track, so you can see precisely where the levels are in all parts of the song:

    So even though this is a very dynamic track with hardly any limiting being applied, I can see that the choruses are consistent in their loudness levels for example, and even though the loudest parts of the chorus peak at around -11 LUFS, the track average is -14LUFS so streaming services (for example) won't be turning the volume down.

    It's well worth getting acquainted with Pro-L2, it's an amazing plugin. ToneBoosters Barricade is almost as good, but the display isn't quite as clear and easy to read, however it's much cheaper so there is that.

  • edited October 24

    @TimRussell said:
    With compositions that have a longer duration, and a greater dynamic range, it can be very hard to tell how loud a section at the 1 minute marker is compared to a section at the 9 minute marker, especially if a lot of stuff has happened in between, purely by listening (or maybe it’s not that hard and I just need more practice!)

    Just skip between sections. With your track playing just jump between the sections

    Listen to see if you can hear much difference. Try and work out what elements sound louder. You can use an analyser or level meters to double check.

    You may be finding that you have way too much bass going on somewhere in the mix that you can’t hear on your ‘phones or monitors.

    If you are listening back to monitors in a room, frequencies can cancel each other out when they bounce off walls (and also add together to make them appear louder). Bass has very low frequencies that require space and well tuned room to mix properly. Make sure you don’t have any instruments in your mix with lots of low end energy you can’t hear. If you can’t hear it you can’t mix it.

    If you are Listening back on headphones, try cutting all bass levels on the master at about 50-60 Hz and see if that makes any difference. Try again at 70hz. Keep going until you notice the bass being cut then back off a bit. Then try listening to that mix on different systems and see what your friends think

    There really is no substitute for trying. Make lots of mixes and listen back on lots of systems.

    Just don’t change too many things for each mix or it will be hard to know what effect each small change has.

  • @richardyot Do you mean that soundcloud's algorithm is based only on an average value ?! So I can record something very loud with then a very quiet part then very very loud again and, if the average is -14db then it won't be penalised?

  • @cuscolima said:
    @richardyot Do you mean that soundcloud's algorithm is based only on an average value ?! So I can record something very loud with then a very quiet part then very very loud again and, if the average is -14db then it won't be penalised?

    SoundCloud doesn't do this but the main streaming services do. Spotify aims for -14 LUFS, YouTube for -13, and iTunes for -16.

    So yes, it means that if you have a very dynamic track with some parts that are loud and other parts that are quiet, as long as the average is within the accepted range the track will not be turned down in volume.

    On SoundCloud there is no volume normalising, so the above does not apply.

  • Iv been good not buying apps but bought Fac Bandit to add over Volca drum ( is better ) and TB Barricade as was tired of seeing clipping. Also were using Replicant 2. So I thought I were safe ( because of a limiter ) but there must have been a software clash or something as everything suddenly went super high and distorted.

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