Maximizing the loudness of a mix begins at the sound stage rather than the mastering stage. By using the full potential loudness of individual elements, the producer is able to give the mastering total control to drive the limiter at a higher threshold without distortion. It’s worth mentioning that Electronic Dance Music artists are constantly trying to find ways to get their mixes sounding louder without scarifying dynamics, and experts offer some great processing tips.
People enjoy music, and several studies suggest that people are more likely to enjoy melodies at higher volumes. When these results came about, many sound engineers tried to find ways to achieve the loudest audio levels possible, within their own software and hardware restrictions. After several attempts, they realized that the only way to accomplish this was to sacrifice dynamics. This loudness war gave birth to the art form of getting a specific mix to sound loudest without distorting. In order to achieve this, several effects, such as saturation, compression, limiting, and equalization are required.
First things first, saturation. Saturation is capable of making a sound louder because it can create a denser waveform with a wider area under the curve. The additional harmonics are able to make sounds feel fuller without increasing the overall level. It’s worth mentioning that digital saturators mimic the effect of running tape too hot, so when sound engineers recorded and mixed on tape, running too much audio signal into the tape would add harmonics and compress the dynamic range.
Compressors are devices that are capable of reducing the dynamic range of an audio signal by reducing the gain as the input signal crosses the specific threshold. It’s worth mentioning that the strength of this reduction is determined by the ratio. Also, time parameters, such as attack and release, determine the speed at which the compressor activates once the audio signal has passed through the threshold. By compressing the audio signal, the user is able to control the sound fluctuations without decreasing the loudness of the mix, so these sudden peaks don’t have an important impact over the total sound volume.
Limiting is an audio effect that is capable of achieving full potential out of a specific sound. Limiters are able to stop an audio signal from passing a certain threshold. When the limiter is pushed too hard, the sounds will be distorted. In order to avoid this effect, it is essential to compress the signal beforehand. Distorting peaks can be avoided by feeding a stable signal into the limiter.