Matching Loudness

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???

Generally multiband limiting or compression can help upping the volume with less distorting. Waves Multimaximizer is good.

The Quality of the limiter can make a big difference on loudness vs Distortion.

I really like the Fabfilter one. theres some good presets for different material.

Sometimes group limiting or compression can work too… have say 4 groups… Drums, Bass, Synths, FX then apply some comp and/or limiting on the groups. before you do more on your master.

Ultimately its a balance between sound and volume. also these days… youtube, Spotify etc. all use Loudness metering… which lessens the need for really loudifying your tracks… although for DJing youd still want it to compete with other tracks.

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Phil. Have been watching your tutorials since 2007. Thank you so much for the reply.

Here is the thing. I do bus, I do compress and gentle limit my individual channels, busses, and use only high quality limiters. For example, Ozone 7, Sonnox Limit, Fab Filter limiter, the results are the same. I love my mixes without any limiting and master processing (just by pushing volume up on master interface), but when I compare them against commercial counterparts, they sound 25% quieter, weaker and something isn’t right. So, what could I do? I understand you can tell me to send it to a mastering engineer, but #1 I don’t see why I would not be able to master it myself given that my mix balance is good as I know it by just cranking the volume up. #2 it is expensive and I don’t also get the results I am looking for versus the commercial (or good indie music). So what am I doing wrong? Is it possible to send you some material for comparison/hire you for a small coaching session and see where exactly I go wrong. I can watch 1 million tutorials and follow directions, my ears are trained but I cannot get the results I am looking for.

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I remember asking pretty much the same question several times over the years in various music communities. My mixes still sound meh but I don’t think it’s not anymore so much a problem of the mastering chain but more of the single tracks I’m feeding into it and how well they I prepared them to play their intended role in the mix.

Now I’m using pretty much the same mastering chain:

  • Equalizer to cut everything below 20hz or 30hz.
  • Bx control to make everything below 240hz mono or up to 400hz
  • Waves Api 2500 to compress everyhing a bit and most tutorials I saw say you should have a bit of simple compression before applying the heavy tools
  • Ozone 7 multiband compressor to lift the stuff up a bit
  • OTT with soft settings to I don’t know why but Deadmau5 does it, so it must be good for something
  • Fabfilter Pro-L to make it loud
  • Waves Ultramaximizer for the last db

Then for house or techno I add meldaproductions mtransient because Deadmau5 says it makes your kicks sound kicky and I trust him. The $99 for his masterclass must be good for something although half of this course is listening to him saying the word “shit” and complaining how much he hates the style of music he is famous for. And for not so modern stuff I add some tape saturation (Fabfilter Saturnm, Izoptope Vintage Tape or one of these psp audioware plugins) to make it sound bad because not so modern stuff sounded bad.

Overall I still have no clue what I’m doing but it somehow works. As said, I see the real problem for me in the single tracks. It’s so easy to make a song loud but it’s a pain in the ass to make it sound balanced and working together. And the mentioned phenomen of a mix sounding super good until you add the mastering plugins - I know it very well and also think that this is not a problem of the mastering chain, it only reveals the problems in the single tracks that were already there but were hidden by the lower volume and plenty of imagination.

Hi…these are ‘loudness units’ and are designed to indicate a perceived loudness to a track. Hard limiting these days is frowned upon as an old ‘loudness war’ technique and is now only used to (as it should do) catch the high peaks in dynamic audio. RMS is no longer an indication - it’s been superceded by checking your LUFS metering.