By Craig Bauer
I am personally not a fan of making my mixes as loud as they could possibly be just for the sake of being loud. However, there are times where it’s absolutely necessary to present a mix to a client that is as loud as commercially available mastered tracks. The trick is in how to deliver a mix that is loud without completely destroying the sonics and dynamics that were created in the mix.
So here I’ll offer a few tips on how I go about that by looking at the stereo bus chain on a recent mix. (Be sure to check out the corresponding audio examples at every step in the process).
The real trick in getting mixes loud is to do the compression and limiting conservatively in several stages as opposed to trying to make a single compressor/limiter do all the work in a single stage. Although my set up includes analog gear on the stereo bus the principles are the same for mixing in the box.
Here is the 2 bus without processing.
...and here is a before and after comparison. Read on to learn how to get these dramatic and useful results.
The first step in my stereo bus chain is running the mix through my Vertigo Sound VSM-2 mix satellite. (The vertigo is available as a plugin as the VSM-3). The VSM-2 is used as a harmonic generator that adds true analog characteristic to otherwise digital sounding tracks. However, it is not used in any way to add gain to the mix.
Next in the chain is adding my first stage of compression. Depending on the track, I typically use either the hardware Vertigo VSC 2 or Alan Smart C2M compressor inserted on the VSM2. Since the C2M is essentially a recreation of the SSL G Series compressor, an SSL modeled plugin can work well as does the plugin version of the VSC2. This stage of compression is applied earlier in the mix process. I typically get this in when the basic tracks or rhythm tracks are together and before the vocals.
It’s important to note that this stage of compression is more about designing the sound of the mix more so than simply adding gain. My ratio at this stage typically ranges from 2:1 to 4:1 and I’ll add the appropriate amount of make up and/or additional gain.
In my rig, the output of the VSM2 with the compressor inserted feeds a Lavry A/D convertor which in turn is routed digitally back in to Pro-Tools where I do further processing.
If there is any stereo bus EQ necessary, I will insert one of my mastering grade plugins on the mix bus fed from the Lavry. My go to is either the UAD Precision EQ or Brainworx bx_digital V2. That decision is based on how surgical this EQ stage needs to be and whether or not I want to do any M/S processing. If so, the Brainworx is the choice. I often will do a little bit of stereo widening with the V2.
It’s at this stage where I begin to work on adding significant volume to the mix. So in goes another compressor. My choice here is the elysia alpha mix compressor. This plugin does a great job of preserving dynamics when dialed in appropriately. Again, I go with a relatively low ratio in the range of 2:1 or slightly higher. I also add a fair amount of make up gain at about 3 or 4db or so.
Lastly, to really make the mix loud without hitting “overs” (for client purposes only) I add a peak limiter. For this job it’s the UAD Precision limiter at 3 to 5db of limiting. This limiter has automatic make up gain making it a very simple tool to use. Keep in mind that I always remove this stage in the final mix pass that goes to mastering.
(The Brainworx bx_limiter is a good native alternative which will produce similar results for Step 5.)
With these 5 stages, I’ve managed to make my mix commercially loud and preserved the integrity of the mix to a much more significant degree than using just one single plugin.
Be sure to check out the audio examples!
"From The Cradle" - Cartographer
Produced and Recorded by Francesco Cameli at Sphere Studios
Mixed by Craig Bauer at HINGE studios