join

Saline Dynamics In Loud Modern Mixes

Brandon Drury —  April 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

Bottom Line

No client in rock, metal, trance, or any other “radio” genre is going to let you get away with mixes that aren’t similar in level to their favorite bands.

Low RMS level is a sign of amateurishness to most.  When one song has a pounding kick drum and is “full” and “in your face” and the next song is weak, you have a problem.  Never mind that “weak” in this case is nothing more than a drop in RMS level and never mind the fact that if you did adjust your volume knob the softer song would hit harder.  No one does that.

The Problem

It seems to me that a whole lot of home recorders read about the loudness war and throw their hands up in the air.  Some read about “distortion” and develop a distorted view of the severity of this distortion.  Some take an otherwise good mix and use what sounds like a stereo version of Guitar Rig 4 on their 2bus to get the levels they desire.  (Ouch!)

Other people just accept the fact that their mix will have no dynamics.  I’m calling this “quitter syndrome”.  I think this is a fallacy or at least many home recorders are taking it to the extreme.  While I have heard a few major label recordings that felt really squashed and really boring, this is very uncommon to me. Much of my musical foundation was setup in the mid to late 90s where loud, “dense” mixes starting to become more commonplace.  People who bought new Reo Speedwagon records when they were big hits come from a decidedly less-dense time.  I suspect the latest offerings from Radiohead, Kelly Clarkson, and Breaking Benjamin all sound pretty damn good and none of these seem so squashed that they are moved into the “bad sounding” category by the kinds of people that buy them.

RMS Metering

First off, get yourself an RMS meter like the [URL="http://www.pleasurizemusic.com/es/es/download"]TT Dynamic Range Meter[/URL].  RMS level is probably the one thing that you can’t tell with your ears that is absolutely critical in a modern mix.

Full Blast Choruses

Just because we pretty much have to get the loudest portions of a song up to competition level, it does not mean we have to give up dynamics.  What do I mean?  Isn’t the definition of “loud” that we’ve knocked off all the peaks.  In a sense, yes.  In a sense, no.  We definitely have to get the loud stuff up loud and dense.  So maybe within a chorus we aren’t going to have much variation in level between the first line and the second line, but there aren’t many choruses that don’t stay at doom level anyway.

In the case of a hard rock band, there is zero dynamics on pretty much any chorus.  The electric guitars are high gain and therefore play at the exact same level.  The drums are usually pounding at 100% intensity, which means they have almost no dynamics.  The bass is usually distorted a bit and won’t have any real dynamics.  The singer will be highly compressed.  This is the sound of hard rock music for the past 25 years and it has nothing to do with the loudness war.  This is how a real rock band sounds both live and on recordings.

The only reason people recording rock music (or any other music where all instruments are pretty much non-dynamic) have trouble with getting up to competition level is because their drums are chewing up too much peak level.  I teach how to solve that problem in Killer Home Recording: Murderous Mixing  as it’s way too complex to cover in a web article.  Other than that, typical hard rock music has practically zero dynamics within the choruses.   There is almost nothing lost when going super loud in this case.

Not-Full Blast Verses

The rules (whoever they are) say that if you are hired to mix a Shinedown radio hit, the chorus had better hit at it’s loudest spot in the song at about -6dB, give or take. (Ignore the fact that if you are mixing Shinedown that you won’t need to do the “pretend mastering” yourself.)  It may be more like -7dB or -8dB in the first few choruses, but the monster chorus with all the harmonies and such should be -6dB.  That’s the way it is.

The rules for verses…..no one really has any other rules beyond the usual “musical” rule.  There is no magic number to hit in terms of RMS level.

Ironically, when a rock band plays live in the room, a typical rock song will get quite a bit quieter in the verses.  The drummer may or may not back off, but the the bass player usually does.  The singer does quite often.  The guitars often go clean and are lowered in volume.  It’s common that one of the guitar players drops out totally.

Once we have the chorus on nuke, which we’ve already established is totally natural and not going to hurt anything anyway if done properly, we can let the band be quite soft in these verse.  All we really have to do is make sure the flow from the verse to the chorus back to the verse makes sense.  In my mind, I can’t think of too many times when I DON’T want the chorus to explode.  (There are a handful of songs that don’t rely on the crutch of KAPOW, but they are a minority, unfortunately.)  Since I want the chorus to explode, all I have to do is say, “Okay, the choruses have followed your damn rules.  Now I’m going to do what I want.”

The kids want the choruses to explode so the labels want the choruses to explode.  The only logical way to achieve this if the chorus is on nuke is to make sure the verses are not on nuke.

I find that with most tracks, if I’ve got the 2bus compression and limiting going to town and the choruses are where I want them, the verses will be WAY too loud.  It’s always this way on a rock song where the guitars stay big and monstrous in the verses, but I find that the clean verses are WAY too damn loud in this state.  What’s the solution?

Dynamics – Fake it!

Grab the automation and start pulling tracks down.  Keep the choruses the same, but pull those verses down as low as makes musical sense to you.  Do this with drums, bass, guitars, vocals, or anything else you need to create the KAPOW factor on that next chorus.

When you get this right, dynamics is no longer a musical issue.  We haven’t taken a band and neutralized what they do.  For all intents and purposes, we have simply presented them in the fashion that is expected by bands in 2011.

The Distortion Side

Now any 2bus limiter used aggressively is going to have an effect on the mix.  If you turn the thing up to ridiculous (kinda like trying to drink 4 kegs of beer in a night) then yes, the mix will definitely distort.  If used in the way your favorite recordings use it, you won’t hear that much change.  There is always a little something lost, but that’s just the way it is.  The same can be said for your favorite recordings, too.  They  also lost that little something with the brickwall limiting.

The beauty of the 2bus limiter and especially the 2bus compressor is they kick and scream and holler when you use too much.  There is no second guessing whether you over did it. YOU KNOW IT!  I wish all effects in recording land were that easy to distinguish.  I wish reverb would just distort all to hell when you crossed the magic line.

Conclusion

We may have to make the loud parts pretty freakin’ loud and undynamic, but this doesn’t mean we can’t make extremely dynamic recordings.  Get in there and create the dynamics if you have to!

Saved Comments


Nanowire – 04-28-2011, 11:48 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great article, great link there for the meter. I’m gonna try what you describe here. Thank you.

lmont’s Avatar
lmont – 04-28-2011, 12:01 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Nice to get some more relevant pieces on this loudness topic. Its here to be dealt with regardless of what side one takes. For many jobs it will come down to an”I don’t care if you agree, can you do it?” I may have my opinions but it is a tool that I do want to master. Thanks for the meter link…

doom_Oo7′s Avatar
doom_Oo7 – 04-28-2011, 12:38 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

‘Kay but how does this apply to some typical extreme metal songs where there is not really any chorus or verse or anything and it’s like “WHARR who who who WHUARRSH” (can be the vocal or guitar or bass or drums point of view ) from 0:00 to 3:45 ? =D

teaforce’s Avatar
teaforce – 04-28-2011, 03:15 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

I’m trying it too. Makes sense. the choruses can’t be big if the verses are too

moleunion’s Avatar
moleunion – 04-28-2011, 05:52 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

I have the RTAS version of the TT Dynamic Range Meter that I got from brainworx a bit ago… anyone know where to find or have the offline version for mac?

na118′s Avatar
na118 – 04-28-2011, 07:06 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

This was my favorite part of the Murderous Mixing book, something I have NEVER thought of before and it would have taken a long time to figure it out. Nice article

the evil’s Avatar
the evil – 04-29-2011, 02:24 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

‘Kay but how does this apply to some typical extreme metal songs where there is not really any chorus or verse or anything and it’s like “WHARR who who who WHUARRSH” (can be the vocal or guitar or bass or drums point of view ) from 0:00 to 3:45 ? =D
i thinks that s gonna be more in the song writing. there can be other things like, just bass for a few bars, using single guitar then come in with 2, have just lead parts over verse, then riff parts over chorus or vice versa. you can stop the drums for a section or half time them, double time them, or just the kick or just snare change from high hats to crash ride for things like breakdowns. with fast intense music it is a bit more difficult to give the same dynamics as you would to a power ballad, but it can be done. but the whole point of that stye of music is to be loud and in your face. more subtle things are like automating the volume down a bit for the verse sections and then raising it for the chorus, other things like panning effects and such could be used.

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 04-30-2011, 04:03 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Kay but how does this apply to some typical extreme metal songs where there is not really any chorus or verse or anything and it’s like “WHARR who who who WHUARRSH” (can be the vocal or guitar or bass or drums point of view ) from 0:00 to 3:45 ? =D
There’s no reason to force music. Many full blown rockers don’t let up. That’s okay and if it works musically, there’s no need for it. Dynamics is a gimmick in terms of song writing, in my opinion, and is generally used when the melody alone isn’t “enough”.

The bigger issue here is allowing the music to breath the way it “wants to”. This requires tapping into the song and having a vision for it, not just grabbing faders. You’ve got to define the problem before you can find the solution. When, in your head, you hear natural dynamics, those still need to be there even if the chorus is nuked.

This article was basically saying that the rules say that only the loud stuff has to be loud even if you have to fake being quiet on the other portions of the song.

I think another issue is that I found some of these dynamics in the current contest song to be near-objective. Basically, I can’t imagine why anyone would argue that the bridge should be the same volume as the choruses on musical merit. It’s obvious to me that they weren’t thinking in terms that even allowed them to attempt such dynamics OR they were thinking “loud as possible” and not “intense as possible”.

Brandon

miccimiao’s Avatar
miccimiao – 05-01-2011, 11:17 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Thumbs up, absolutely great read!

It wasn’t part of “murderous mixing” though, I believe.

Somebody mentioned, there is another article of yours, where you talk about a similar approach, but doing it on the mixed-down track.

I guess I’ll have to look up for that.

Up till now, I neither had a good feeling about giving up dynamics, nor do I like completely squashed shit. But man, this sounds like really really good stuff.

You should build an army Brandon

DCrippa’s Avatar
DCrippa – 05-02-2011, 11:59 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Very good tips thanks! I’ll keep this in mind for sure.

BenJaMan’s Avatar
BenJaMan – 05-04-2011, 04:08 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

i usually will find the part of the song that should sound loudest and set that level, and then mix all other parts so it has the natural ebb & flow you expect for music – the chorus cant be [ relatively ] big if everything else is big . but as brandon points out

RMS level is probably the one thing that you can’t tell with your ears that is absolutely critical in a modern mix
great lil’ tool thanks for the link

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 05-06-2011, 12:30 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

It wasn’t part of “murderous mixing” though, I believe.
The concept of “Saline Dynamics” is a combination of the automation (particularly the guitar solo section and psychologically manipulating the listener) and the chapters on loud mixes.

i usually will find the part of the song that should sound loudest and set that level, and then mix all other parts so it has the natural ebb & flow you expect for music – the chorus cant be [ relatively ] big if everything else is big . but as brandon p
Exactly. You just happen to say it in 1/100th the words.

mgraham70′s Avatar
mgraham70 – 05-06-2011, 03:50 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by brandondrury View Post
Dynamics is a gimmick in terms of song writing, in my opinion, and is generally used when the melody alone isn’t “enough”.
I have to respectfully disagree with this statement… at least as a general statement. I can see that being the case, generally speaking, for some songs or even certain genres. Which, I could see the relevance of this being brought up in the wake of the recent mixing contest. However, there are times when dynamics are a calculated and crucial part of a composition. Most obviously in classical, jazz or progressive music.

You can call it a “gimmick” but, in my opinion, it’s just as much of a gimmick as a distorted guitar or synthesizer. Hell, even amplifiers are “gimmicks” to a certain extent. Why not… when melody alone isn’t enough, crank it! (By the way, for the record, I’m a rock/jazz/funk guitarist and drummer.)

The point I’m trying to make is that we are all guilty of using our “gimmicks”, whatever they may be. I prefer to call them “tools” and dynamics (in writing) is a tool that I like to use.

Now, before anyone thinks that I’m pissed off and attacking Brandon for his statement, I’m not. I generally find wisdom in Brandon’s perspectives and this blog is no different. I found this article very useful and informative. His tips, for achieving loudness, will go in my toolbox, for sure. I wish I had this info before the Puke 1 contest.

Brandon’s statement just brought up some thoughts that I’ve had for a while. Ultimately, I feel that it’s unfortunate that we, the industry and musicians have adopted the “well everyone else is doing it so why don’t we” attitude about making it loud. It seems a bit ironic to me, that we (engineers, producers and musicians) often jump through flaming hoops to improve the quality of our arsenal of gear… yet, just for the sake of “one-upmanship” (or at least adhering to the trend) we will willingly sacrifice the larger dynamic spectrum for more simple volume.

Yes, I do live in the real world and I do realize the “business advantages” of the loudness trend, with respect to “mainstream/radio” music. Which is why I’m glad to know Brandon’s tips for achieving loudness, without having a “totally” squashed and lifeless result. When loudness fits the bill for the project or when it’s demanded of me, I will likely use those tools. I just wish that more dynamic but quieter mixes weren’t mistaken for unprofessional or weak. But hey, that’s life, isn’t it?

I just wanted to speak my piece on the subject.

Thanks, Brandon, for the interesting and informative article.

Bradley D’s Avatar
Bradley D – 05-11-2011, 06:20 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Exactly. You just happen to say it in 1/100th the words.
Even shorter yet… LOUD ONLY SOUNDS LOUD IF THERE IS SOMETHING TO CONTRAST IT.

If the whole mix is loud, then it’s not loud because if the listener turns it down then it’s not loud anymore is it? If the mix is dynamic the loud parts will always be portrayed as loud no matter what the volume is set at on the listeners stereo.

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 05-12-2011, 11:48 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

The point I’m trying to make is that we are all guilty of using our “gimmicks”, whatever they may be. I prefer to call them “tools” and dynamics (in writing) is a tool that I like to use.
To be “guilty” of a gimmick, it has to be something negative. I guess “gimmick” has a negative connotation, but I don’t think so. This is more of a philosophical position than anything. Most home recorders avoid the “cheesy”, while I look for musical excuses to embrace it.

With that said, dynamics in the conventional quiet to loud arrangement is not something a lot of great songs need. Maybe a better way of saying this is some songs don’t explode and you never notice the difference. A lot of the 80s pop songs I’m big on don’t explode (a lot do). Tina Turner’s “What’s Love?” has dynamic vocals but nothing goes KAPOW…not like Heart’s “What About Love?”.

Some view that every song SHOULD go KAPOW. That’s okay, I guess, but that means that some of my favorite songs are “wrong”. I think a better view is every song CAN go KAPOW.

Ultimately, I feel that it’s unfortunate that we, the industry and musicians have adopted the “well everyone else is doing it so why don’t we” attitude about making it loud.
If a recording existed in a vacuum, I’d say it wouldn’t matter. When you can’t hear a song over the noise of a car engine, there is a problem. When you listen to 46 songs at a party and yours comes on and you can’t even hear it, that’s a problem. I think these objective-type hurdles are one of the reasons that Loudness has become the norm and I don’t see how rebelling against it is going to due any good for the laymen ultimately buying the product.

When the day comes and a random guy who bought a local band cd comes up to me and says, “Dude, your recording is WAY softer than every other cd I own”, then I say, “Cool, huh!” and they say “Totally!!!” we may be on to something. I don’t see that happening any time soon. Most consumers think a recording is broken or “old” if it’s too quite.

I just wish that more dynamic but quieter mixes weren’t mistaken for unprofessional or weak. But hey, that’s life, isn’t it?
That sums it up. None of us like having to make undynamic or even less dynamic mixes. Reality doesn’t allow for it. When that changes, I’ll be there.. Until then, I’m just going to play the game and let the music do the talking.

fatastro’s Avatar
fatastro – 05-28-2011, 10:17 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by brandondrury View Post
There’s no reason to force music. Many full blown rockers don’t let up. That’s okay and if it works musically, there’s no need for it. Dynamics is a gimmick in terms of song writing, in my opinion, and is generally used when the melody alone isn’t “enough”.

The bigger issue here is allowing the music to breath the way it “wants to”. This requires tapping into the song and having a vision for it, not just grabbing faders. You’ve got to define the problem before you can find the solution. When, in your head, you hear natural dynamics, those still need to be there even if the chorus is nuked.

This article was basically saying that the rules say that only the loud stuff has to be loud even if you have to fake being quiet on the other portions of the song.

I think another issue is that I found some of these dynamics in the current contest song to be near-objective. Basically, I can’t imagine why anyone would argue that the bridge should be the same volume as the choruses on musical merit. It’s obvious to me that they weren’t thinking in terms that even allowed them to attempt such dynamics OR they were thinking “loud as possible” and not “intense as possible”.

Brandon
I think as engineers, once in while we should step-back a few paces and remember that every one has, and has always had, a volume/attenuation control. They also possess the psychological ability to tune out anything unwanted, like a mental attenuator. We may want to be, but we are not audio Gods. We are limited by subjective client reasoning and trendy fads, just like any other business. Somewhere there’s an automotive mechanical engineer who has designed a more efficient way for fuel to be consumed in an internal combustion engine, but corporate was hot on hybrids at the time, so it went completely unnoticed, even though it makes no sense to us. Welcome to the recent past and beyond, Gentleman, the world scarcely cares any more about audio-file philosophy than it does about humanity.
j-

adamr316′s Avatar
adamr316 – 06-09-2011, 10:46 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Wow, I just had a nice long post typed out but for some reason this bitch of a forum logged me out.

Anyway, here’s the gist. Educate your client about loudness killing dynamics. Hand them Metallica’s Black album as a reference of a good loud album. Bob Katz K-system is kool.

Level Practices (Part 1)

Level Practices (Part 2) (Includes the K-System)

Keep your mixes clean if you are going for loud. The cleaner the louder.

The plug-in Slate Digital FG-X with peaks at -10dB -9dB RMS is a good goal to aim for.

If your clients absolutely demand loudness and don’t care about their music sounding like Shinedown’s choruses, fuck it, smash away.

 

Brandon Drury

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
join

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply