Got a really noob question here that has been driving me nuts forever. After producing for 5 years, watching various loudness tutorials and honing my skills, I am running into the following issue. My well mixed tracks do not sound as loud as my references no matter what I do.
I follow proper gain staging, where I mix everything low, never clipping my plugins, I carefully cut the frequencies where needed (specifically making room in lows and mids for other elements to shine, use VolumeShaper, LFO tool, panning, filtering and just simply having elements out of the way). I compress and compress properly, I do have the understanding that if I am compressing, I need to be at the same loudness/RMS as prior to compressing. I also don't mix and produce with ton of mastering plugins on the master, except clean limiter doing no GR really just as a safety net and I do have Insight to see LUFS against other reference tracks.
Here is my biggest dilemma and it is driving me insane:
If I am happy with my mix and I simply crank up the volume on my audio interface, it sounds full, clean, punchy, loud and just how other PRO tracks sounds, but as soon as I apply for example some slight clipper, minor EQ and limiter and push my mix to match LUFS that of a good track, I either get distortion or the same LUFS but when played back to back with my references in the studio or car, it is 25% quieter. I have tried all sorts of combinations of rolling off 120hz and below on side EQ on master to get more headroom, taking the kick/bass down, various combinations and orders of comp, clipper, limiter etc, but nothing gets me the results that I am looking for....only if I simply turn my mix up loud on main master knob on the interface.
What in the hell am I doing wrong? How can I achieve the printed loudness on my export???