Those who have been working in music industry for several years are very familiar with the term “Loudness War”. This concept has recently become obsessive despite active protests and many arguments against it expressed by song mixing service engineers. The basic idea is simple – something that is louder seems greater to the listener and makes a bigger emotional impression on the human ear. That’s why music producers literally rain down the powerful sound on us, as it rushes from the speakers from all sides. And the nightclubs have made a practice of keeping the volume faders at maximum to shake the walls and to make the visitors’ chests vibrate.
However, despite all these trends in the music production industry, there are objective technical limitations on the volume of the track created during mixing. As the hardware isn’t able to exceed those limitations, the producers are now trying to reach the maximum subjective perceived loudness of the track. There are several known ways to “crank up” the volume of your track. They are no secret at all, but the intended effect will be accompanied by some rather unpleasant consequences, which can ruin the final sound of the track. This article will tell you about pros and cons of different approaches. You will also learn why you shouldn’t make the mixing engineer push the volume limits of the hip-hop track you sent to the studio, despite the loudness war demands.
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2. Duration is the key to the volume
Here’s another problem for you. There are two identical sounds with a volume of 65 dB, but one of them lasts for 7 ms, and the other one lasts for 40 ms. Which one is louder? The answer is the second one, of course. We are talking about the subjective volume, as heard by our ear. Between the two identical sounds, we think that the longer one is louder. This fact is ubiquitously used in hip-hop mixing and mastering, particularly in sound compression. So, since the hardware has a volume limit and there’s always a temptation to crank it up even higher, the compression becomes a solution, because making the sound louder means making it last a little longer. By suppressing sound peaks with a compressor, the engineer changes the dynamic pattern of the musical instrument, so the parts that faded quickly now sound more distinct and… a little longer! That means the subjective volume of the instrument will be higher.
In addition to that, the compression (and/or limiting) provides a better audibility for the texture and tone of the instrument, makes it sound more dense and punchier, which only improves its overall attractiveness. This is particularly true for hip-hop, because this style is all about the punchiness! In this case, you simply can’t do without compression, because the natural kick has a rather short attack that lasts only a few milliseconds and has a quickly fading body. Compression changes everything, as it adds sustain during mixing and strictly limits the attack. As a result, we get a rich powerful bass drum that has a soft, barely audible attack, but a strong tone and character. But the main thing is that it’s noticeably louder!
You also might be interested to learn how to mix vocals to rap/hip-hop beats.
3. Louder sound is mellow sound
If the volume fader is already cranked up, the compression is already applied, but you still need to make the sound louder, then filling it with frequency content may be your way out.
Those who have been providing edm mixing tips for several years know that there is no sound louder that the white noise, which contains all possible harmonics played almost at the same volume. The natural sound of any instrument contains these harmonics as well, but their balance is completely different. As a result, during compression, the distortion fills the instrument sound with the “bulging” harmonics and gradually brings its characteristics closer to the white noise.
That’s why distortion is another way to increase the volume during at mixing. It adds some temper to the sound, fills it with additional harmonics and sometimes literally revitalizes a boring sound. It really becomes indispensable in mixing hip-hop music, where a certain degree of roughness and asperity of the sound is encouraged. Hip-hop sound isn’t normally smooth, so distortion is a great way to add some carelessness to the sound, which is typical for this genre. And the second advantage, as we remember, is an increase in the volume of the mix elements. However, this method should be used wisely by all engineers, as the excessive distortion can become annoying and irritating for the listener. And we want our track to attract the listeners rather than scare them with unnecessary distortion and constant buzz at every kick and bass hit. It couldn’t be any worse!
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Despite the fact that loudness war has become the norm in music industry, which has been supported in almost every mixing vocals tips for several decades, I would still give priority to the melodiousness and quality of the sound, rather than its quantity. I strongly believe that the final listener has the right to decide how loud his favorite song should be, and make a choice by simply turning the volume knob. If the track was overcompressed in the attempt to achieve an insanely high level of volume, the resulting distortion can’t be fixed. The mixing engineers should remember that people who dance in the nightclubs ask the DJ for new tracks because they like the music and the inspiration he added to the sound. They don’t enjoy the music simply because it’s loud. And if the idea of maximum volume by means of compression and distortion goes against the music itself, I would definitely choose lower volume and original quality. Besides that, music and sound are subjective, and the studio clients often simply want their track to sound as loud as the new song of their idol, regardless of the details. That’s why loudness war simply turns into an imitation of the leader, without any specific music goal. On the other hand, if we give up just a couple of decibels, we will get a punchy track that sounds more natural and has a more interesting and richer low end as well as a magnificent groove. Don’t you think that should be the main goal of hip-hop mixing and mastering? :) For help with projects you have please check our affordable mixing services prices.