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Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

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Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby ITHertz » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:59 am

Hi Folks,

I'm currently mixing a song that has a "quiet" Intro - just a vocal and some synth pads. The song then transitions into a "loud" Chorus.

What I'm not clear about is how to handle the quiet Intro in terms of mix levels?

If I use the song's Chorus as my benchmark upper level, how much quieter (in dB) can the Intro be before it becomes "too quiet"?

Also, if for example the Intro is 6dB quieter than the Chorus, will this get levelled out by any of the broadcast/distribution processes?

What about mastering - does it have a role in setting the overall loudness of song sections?

Cheers,

Chris
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Jack Ruston » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:41 am

It’s entirely up to you. It depends on the genre and how you want it to translate in different environments. Some people like to make a quiet intro pretty loud, so to speak, but it’s also common to make it almost frustratingly quiet so that the listener cranks the level, and gets their head taken off when the track comes in properly. Mastering can even this out. But I’d suggest you take a position on this yourself, make it right for you, and if you get the track mastered, indicate to the Mastering engineer that you like that established relationship.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby The Elf » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:55 am

This isn't a technical decision, it's a creative one, so it's really just down to how you want to present the music.

Much of the time quieter sections of the song will have quieter recorded parts, and there's not much needed to get something that naturally flows - at other times they may need a little help. If you find yourself making huge volume cuts you may have to ask yourself if the arrangement and performance are supporting the aims of the song too.

It's all genre, audience and intention-driven decision making, really.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Zukan » Fri Feb 02, 2018 8:22 am

Actually Chris, that's a damn good question.

The Jedis have answered it perfectly but I would like to know from the broadcasting dudes if there is a prerequisite for referenced levels within a mix.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby ITHertz » Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:52 pm

Thanks for the answers!

Just a couple more things I'd like to raise:

Is there a point at which the level difference does become a technical issue - i.e. a section is so quiet that background noise in the listening environment (e.g. a car) becomes a problem?

Also, I don't think you want listeners turning up the volume during a quiet intro and then blowing their speakers/ears when the chorus kicks in! So at what point is the difference too much?

I'm interested in hearing from anyone who's faced this issue - what did you do?
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby CS70 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 1:37 pm

ITHertz wrote:Thanks for the answers!

Just a couple more things I'd like to raise:

Is there a point at which the level difference does become a technical issue - i.e. a section is so quiet that background noise in the listening environment (e.g. a car) becomes a problem?

Also, I don't think you want listeners turning up the volume during a quiet intro and then blowing their speakers/ears when the chorus kicks in! So at what point is the difference too much?

I'm interested in hearing from anyone who's faced this issue - what did you do?

No more than anything else in your song, unless you use a nonsensical low level (i..e one which wouldn't work in relationship to the rest of the song). The listener will have an amplifier with a level control, either at home or in the car. Up to him to crank up if he wants.

What the initial level affects a little is the relationship with the rest of the song, especially if the low intro is long enough to allow the listener to raise the volume.. As Jack says, is a neat trick to keep the intro low-ish so that the listener increases the volume a little and when the level goes up it's more punchy, but if you exaggerate, you may really annoy him!

A good reference for me is to imagine the song performed.. how louder would the loud section be if you were to sing/play it onstage? I used that idea in my band's latest song, which employs the "low start" trick (see https://youtu.be/P3w0_VYpQHI on Youtube if u like).. There I spent a little time trying various relationships before I landed on the one there, which is fairly similar to how we play it live.

Depending on what you choose and the style, you may also want to revise a little the reverb level.

But within a quite wide range, it's just taste.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Brian M Rose » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:01 pm

Classical music has always had a high dynamic range. Think of the contrast between Mars and the closing of Neptune in Holst's Planet Suite.
At our Community Radio Station I tend to run everything little 'cold' on my classical music show. That is all part of the original performance. It seems to work.... I don't want very loud passages going into studio compression. In any case it seems to sound fine when I go to 'Listen Again' on the internet.
I've noticed that much pop music has very little dynamic range as in in any case already quite compressed to make it sound louder. But not all - some does indeed rely on performance rather than 'the loudness war' .
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:48 pm

ITHertz wrote:I'm interested in hearing from anyone who's faced this issue - what did you do?
I have a couple of tracks that I'm currently working on that start with just a guitar or guitar/voice and then move to a full band. I've taken / am taking slightly different approaches with each according to the nature of the song. One has a fairly strong opening vocal that then drops out when the rest of the instruments come in, so I've mixed this fairly loud to balance the transition. The other, more relevant to this discussion, has a sustained opening guitar/vocal bit before the other instruments come in, and it's supposed to be a bit quieter and more, well, intimate I guess. So here there's a much bigger step - I couldn't give you any hard and fast numbers I'm afraid because it's still in progress. I don't tend to look at max or min levels much when I'm mixing (other than making sure nothing's clipping obviously) but I do keep an eye on loudness to make sure I'm keeping a sensible dynamic range every now and then.
Fundamentally, I guess I'm aiming for a enough dynamics to make it interesting and (bringing in CS70's point) credible* but without having to touch the volume control to make it comfortable listening.

* I'm recording real instruments so having an acoustic guitar drowning out the drums isn't going to sit well with me. :)
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Watchmaker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:27 pm

I have several tunes that start out softly (and end with a whimper) and I often fall back on the slow build technique. For example a solo guitar or acapella intro, second go round adds some ambient inst or Bvox that builds dynamically into the next part w/e that may be. Level wise I just try to be faithful to...yup, the performance. If it's a bit off in mixdown, then I'll bump it up to where I think it sounds great. Far more interested in how the emotional content of the song carries.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:46 pm

Jack Ruston wrote:Some people like to make a quiet intro pretty loud, so to speak, but it’s also common to make it almost frustratingly quiet so that the listener cranks the level, and gets their head taken off when the track comes in properly.

One aspect of this relates to placing tracks on an album (for those oldies like me who still think of grouping songs together into a cogent whole before releasing them into the outside world ;) )

There's nothing more annoying than putting on an album whose first track starts really quietly and then gets louder and louder, as this makes it difficult for the user to set their preferred volume.

So I always makes sure the initial track starts fairly quickly at a reasonable level, so if later on (either on the first or any subsequent tracks) either a quiet bit or a loud bit put in an appearance, they do so in context, with no nasty surprises for the listener.


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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:49 pm

Another approach to Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs is not to significantly drop their level, but instead to switch the sounds or effects during this section so that it 'appears' quieter, perhaps with whispered vocals rather than sung ones, or delicately played instruments at only slightly lower volume levels, and possibly with more compression so the quieter bits can be heard more clearly.

In other words, the quiet section can still be heard, even in difficult playback environments such as radio playback (where dynamic range may perhaps need to be kept comparatively low), but it's still fairly obvious that you 'intend' for it to be perceived as quiet ;)


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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby Dave B » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:55 pm

+1 for Martin's comments. More often than not, it's the arrangement that is 'quiet' rather than the pure volume.
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby CS70 » Sat Feb 03, 2018 4:30 pm

Dave B wrote:+1 for Martin's comments. More often than not, it's the arrangement that is 'quiet' rather than the pure volume.

Yes my impression is that’s what most people think about.. there’s less going on so it’s quieter, and you often need to balance it.. so often it becomes the louder bit of the song I guess :D
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Re: Mixing Quiet Sections of Songs

Postby LakeWave Music Lab » Fri Feb 09, 2018 12:43 pm

ITHertz wrote:Hi Folks,

I'm currently mixing a song that has a "quiet" Intro - just a vocal and some synth pads. The song then transitions into a "loud" Chorus.

What I'm not clear about is how to handle the quiet Intro in terms of mix levels?


Hi Chris,

as someone already pointed out, this is a marginally technical but very important artistic decision. There is no "right" or "wrong" in artistic decisions, there are taste, style, coherence, goals etc.

But I'd really like to point out something I consider pivotal: this is one of the cases that better show the huge importance of communication between artist(/performer), producer, mixing engineer and mastering engineer. Everyone of these guys could impact such a kind of artistic choice, and it is mandatory to define which goal to follow, starting from the beginning and coherently going down to the end. Misunderstandings could be dangerous here.

Rock on!

Giovanni @LakeWave Music Lab
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