At Cosmic Academy, we love dynamic music; in fact, Zack and Taylor personally side with dynamics over loudness in their own tracks.
HOWEVER, there are instances where one might want—or need—more loudness, and that’s what this post is here to help with!
So, without further ado, here are our top 6 tips to increase loudness in your mix!
1. Reduce Competing Elements & Frequency Buildup:
One of the most common culprits we see when we work with our students in the Cosmic Academy bootcamp is frequency buildup and excessive completing elements within their mixdowns. Our mixdowns have a finite amount of headroom, and when frequencies begin to stack on top of each other, we begin to reach that ceiling very quickly and prevent our tracks from being able to reach the loudness we’re aiming for.
If sounds are colliding in your mix, we suggest using subtractive EQ to remove the competing frequencies between elements. It’s also a good idea to simply remove frequencies that are just not necessary in your sounds (low end in hi-hat recordings, for example). These unwanted frequencies do nothing but take up precious headroom in your track.
Sidechain Compression is another tool that can fix overlap of sounds (think kick and bass).
2. Dynamic Control Using Compression
Loudness isn't only based on peak amplitude, but also how long we perceive that level. Transient sounds might have high peak values but very little RMS (perceived loudness) because they don’t hold that loud level over time. We use compression to shape these dynamics, and in return can gain "loudness” without necessarily increasing the peak level that ultimately hits our master compression or limiter. You can think of this concept similar to adding “density” to your sounds.
3. Balance Your Kick and Bass
Kick and bass are two of the loudest elements in a mix! Especially in most electronic music styles, they’re likely to be the loudest. If they overlap, or are just too loud, they eat up all your headroom.
The fundamental of your kick and the fundamental of your bass are almost certain to collide—as such, one of the best tools we have to make sure they can peacefully coexist is sidechain. Make sure to really take a deep dive in to make sure your kick and bass each have enough room each beat to stay out of each other’s way!
4. Peak Limiting & Clipping
Going back to dynamic control, we can use peak limiting and clipping to remove excess peaks on bad recordings, samples or sounds that are too dynamic, and sounds that have excessively loud transients.
By zapping off these unnecessary peaks early, we can save ourselves that headroom before it all rolls up to our group or master chains and gain back that excess headroom while not affecting the perceived loudness of the sounds.
Just be careful with these tools as they can create distortion on your sounds if overdone!
5. Harmonic Distortion and Saturation
Harmonic distortion and saturation are also great tools in our arsenal for adding loudness and density. Saturation adds frequency information across the spectrum, often increasing the perceived loudness to a sound because of that additional frequency content. It doesn't always have to be so obvious, either—try experimenting with parallel distortion and saturation using a send and return routing setup.
We can also use panning to create separation among competing elements within the stereo field. By getting sounds out of the way of others through panning, we alleviate frequency masking and buildup which can add headroom. Adding a bit of width and space will also increase perceived loudness in a mix.