Kim Lajoie's blog

Everything louder than everything else

by Kim Lajoie on March 14, 2011

Are you trying to make everything louder than everything else?

Maybe you’re constantly frustrated that all your sounds aren’t coming through with the clarity that you want. Or you can’t decide what level each sound should be at. Or maybe you sometimes feel like you’re chasing your tail:

  1. Turn up the drums. Now the bass is too quiet, so turn that up
  2. Now you can’t hear your pads, so they come up too
  3. Now the vocals are drowned out, so bring them up too
  4. Now your drums aren’t punching through any more, so go back to step 1…

It’s a common beginner’s mistake. You’ve lovingly crafted each sound, so of course you want every sound to be heard clearly and appreciated by your listener. The problem is that most mixes don’t have enough space to feature every sound (the exception is very sparse mixes that only have a handful of instruments).

What your mix needs is focus. You need to swallow your pride and make some hard decisions. Some sounds must be placed in the foreground, other sounds must be placed in the background. In most kinds of music, the vocals, drums and bass are in the foreground. That’s all. Other sounds sit behind them, and may be partially masked by them. I’ve written about this before – it’s called depth.

What if you still want to draw your listener’s attention to your lovingly crafted background sounds? You can do this be having pauses or breakdown sections in your music. This is where some of the foreground instruments are not playing, allowing the listener to hear the sounds behind them in more detail.

-Kim.

7 thoughts on “Everything louder than everything else

  1. Rich says:

    excellent point(s)!!

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Rich
    Thanks! How long did it take you to realise that not everything can be huge and upfront and beautiful?

    -Kim.

  3. I just had a realization about this the other day while mixing a new track. It’s hard, but true. Thanks for the reinforcement!
    -Bill

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    @William Fields
    It certainly is hard at first – because it feels so counter-intuitive. Even more so for people who play in bands, because they become used to hearing themselves louder than everyone else!

    -Kim.

  5. Rich says:

    of course, as a purveyor of bagpipes, I would naturally EXPECT to be louder than everything else..

    🙂
    R

  6. Jonny says:

    Kim is there harm in using plugins like Ozone to give songs a big boost?

  7. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Jonny
    There are a number of ways of answering this. The short answer is: Of course. These tools always ‘harm’ the audio. Your responsibility is to achieve the sound you’re after, while doing as little harm as possible.

    Keep in mind that the further down the production pipeline you are, the less creativity you have, and the greater responsibility to do less harm. For example, early in the pipeline you might be recording guitars or synthesisers. This is the front end – you might legitimately choose to use drastic EQ or distortion to ‘harm’ the audio in order to achieve the sound you want. At the other end, however, you might be finalising a mix or even mastering – it’s not appropriate to use the same tools or same approach as you did when distorting your synths or guitars. Here at the back end, even a 3dB tonal adjustment can be dramatic.

    This blog post (“Everything louder than everything else”) is not about mastering, it’s about mixing. And Ozone is a suite of tools that are designed for mastering (or processing your mix bus, at least). At this point, it’s too late to solve any problems caused by the balance between the instruments in the mix. You should try to get this balance right *before* you progress to any finalising or mastering.

    -Kim.

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