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Making my beat louder (limiter)

Discussion in 'Studio Techniques' started by Taybot, Sep 21, 2009.

  1. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    i have this beat I made in Logic 8 but it is not very loud. People told me to put a compressor on the master fader so I did that and it helped a little but it's still not close to as loud as my other beats.

    Even compared to the beat I made before this, which I still used Logic 8 for, it's just really quiet for some reason.

    Others told me to put a limiter on the master fader in addition to a compressor but that just made the whole beat sound distorted, so I had to take the limiter off.

    I have to perform with this beat pretty soon though so I really need to figure out how to make it louder. Can anyone please explain how to use a limiter on the master fader to make the whole beat sound louder, without making it sound distorted?

    Or any tricks on how to make this beat sound louder would be much appreciated. Thanks a ton!!
  3. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    There is no quick answer because putting power into music belongs to the art of mixing.

    You can try a guerilla method which needs almost no special knowledge but gives no guarantee that the sound will be good at the end:

    1. Take the Adaptive Limiter.
    2. Set the "Gain" knob to 0.0 dB
    3. Set the "Out Ceiling" to –0.1 dB.
    4. Turn the "Input Scale" slowly up, find a position where the input level is high but without clipping.
    5. Turn the "Gain" up and go as high as you want. The output will not clip but may get distorted. Stop below this point.
    This is brutal and all you can do with a single limiter. It should at least be loud.

    If the sound isn't loud enough, there must be a reason. Maybe you have very low frequencies that just cause voltage for nothing. EQ them out.

    Maybe you have peaks in certain frequencies, analyze the audio signal and tame the peaks with an EQ or with a multiband compressor (like the Logic Multipressor).

    Maybe your RMS is too low and you have to bring up lower levels within the signal first. This is not an easy task and may require a special plugin.

    Maybe you have transients that forbid you to compress or limit enough to make everything loud. Then you can try the Tape Delay. Turn the delay time to zero and raise the level, so that the plugin performs a kind of tape-like saturation.

    If you don't find anything that works, maybe third party plugins like Vintage Warmer, Xenon, Ozone, whatever you have, provide a preset that brings you closer to your target.

    Or ... maybe ... or ... maybe ... or ...
    Listen ... try ... learn ...listen ... try ... learn ...

    It's an art, even if you want it just loud. Fortunately 0 dB is the limit, otherwise our ears and speakers would have been ruined during the last years.

    Btw, part of the art is to shape the sound in the mix, in every channel. The master bus or output are not the right places to make the music sound right.
  4. LivePsy

    LivePsy Member

    Peter, nice post! This is going up on the noticeboard near my Mac.
  5. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Yes thank you very much for that post Peter. I was able to get the volume up louder but I did it a different way because I didn't see your post until now. I used the other limiter, not the adaptive limiter, it's just called "Limiter" and I turned the Gain up to -1.0dB and kept the Release at 2.0ms.

    It worked, my beat is louder now and it doesn't peak, but I was wondering what that actually does? What does the gain being at -1.0dB mean? I have no idea about this and I haven't been able to find any tutorials that explain it well. Thanks very much for your help!
  6. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Works also, the "Limiter" is a rather simple and clean tool. The "Adaptive Limiter" is more powerful, it has a different sound. And it introduces a lot of latency. It is thought for the last stage and after the mix is basically done. Therefore it can be called a mastering tool. Nobody can forbid you to use it somewhere else of course ;)

    The gain setting says nothing on itself, it depends on your signal levels and dynamics. In this case (the Logic limiter) –1 dB just says that you made the input signal of the limiter 1 dB quieter because it fittet to your other settings. The louder the input is, the earlier the limiter jumps in and the less dynamic will the sound be.

    I realize that you do not know what limiters and compressors actually do, I can give you a brief introduction.

    The upper limit of digital sound is 0.0 dB and you cannot change this. It's simply the level where all data are on their technical maximum. Fully on is fully on, there is no way to make it fullier on. Everything above will not come out louder but distorted in an unpleasant way.

    If your average signal level is at –12 dB but you have one single peak that reaches 0 dB, you cannot make the whole music louder because if you raise the overall level you bring the single peak above 0 db and destroy the sound by clipping:


    In the drawing above, the overall level is raised by 8 dB and brings the peak above zero which is forbidden in digital world and sounds terrible. What to do in this case? Basically: make the single peak quieter and turn everything up.

    We have many possibillities to reduce the volume of a particular peak and there are two common automatic ways: a compressor or a limiter.

    A compressor brings the maximum level down by an adjustable ratio. And of course everything below to a certain amount, this is built into the electronic circuit or the used algorithm. You tell the compressor how much it should compress, this is the ratio (1:1.5 up to 1:10 are usual ranges). And you tell the compressor at which level it should jump in, this is called threshold. The lower the threshold, the more of the sound will be compressed, will be quieter.

    Quieter? Oops? ...

    ... yes, compressors and limiters make the sound quieter, not louder! And they make it less dynamic because they reduce the difference between low and high levels. After this process you got room above your peaks and can turn everything louder than it was before. Most compressors have a "Make-Up" or "Gain" knob at their output (!) which is used to make the output volume louder after the signal got compressed.

    A compressor with an infinite ratio is called a limiter. It does not compress by a certain amount but tries to block everything above a certain level, regardless how much compression it needs. The upper level is called the "ceiling". Some very high peaks may however go through due to technical reasons. A limiter that blocks everything at its ceiling level, like a brickwall, is called a brickwall limiter. But even this species can fail for fast transients.

    The drawing below shows what compressors and limiters do, we do not need to differentiate between the two breeds:


    As you see, the peak curve lost height and it was possible to turn everything up by 8 dB without clipping. Everything sounds much louder now, but dynamics are reduced. You either love this or have to accept it.

    I think, now you understand what my quick 'n dirty suggestion in the other post was all about. I told you to set the ceiling to –0.1 dB, just a tiny bit below the clipping point, then turn the input up to the maximum but before clipping, and finally bring the whole sound up and let the limiter take care of the upper limit.

    Compressors and limiters affect the whole sound, not only peak volume.

    There is one thing you should be aware of and this is important in todays music: Look at the two lower green circles in the second drawing and compare these areas to the original sound. You will notice that the average sound at the beginning and the end of the dampened peak are no longer smooth but also pushed down. This is normal and the cause why most compressors have settings for the attack and release time.

    Attack and Release

    Attack determines how fast the compressor starts to compress and release says how fast it lets the sound return to its normal level. These settings have a high impact on the sound. They are creatively used because a long attack time lets you hear the full attack of a guitar string, although the whole guitar is compressed. Attack time can make a snare clashing or dull. Both time settings change the rhythmical feeling, the groove. They can make a tune swinging or pumping or breathing. And – if you set them wrong at a high compression ratio, they punch "holes" into your sound. You may like that or not.

    Limiting without a limiter?

    Manually of course. But if you want to tame your peaks automatically and prefer a smoother sound without "punched holes", you can think about tape saturation instead. The best tool for that is — surprise! — an analog tape machine. But there is also some software available and Logic has a pretty good plugin you can "misuse" for tape saturation: the Tape Delay (turn the delay time to zero).

    The basic difference between a limiter and tape saturation is that saturation does not reduce the level by pushing it down. It's just that the tape refuses to take more than it can and it does it gradually. The highest levels get a bit distorted but in a way we like.



    This was the theory, but before you throw a compressor or limiter on everything and make your music flat, think about the source of an offending peak. Where does it come from, is it intentional or an unwanted effect which you have neither played nor programmed?

    If the high peak level is intentional, you have to think about your music. In a classical piece you might want to leave it is as it is and not make everything louder at all. In a rock tune the peak may be played but a little overdone and although you lose dynamics you would reduce it in favour of a compact sound. In Hip-hop or some electronic styles where "sausage-like" waveforms are usual, you definitely want to get rid of this peak.

    If the peak is not intentional, search for the source. Here are the most common problems and their solutions:

    • Offending peaks are seldom produced by the master channel itself

      If you experience offending peaks in your master channel or output, do not automatically start to fight them there. This can change your whole sound in a way you've never planned. Very likely the peaks are caused by one or several mix channels. If you see bad peaks in your last mixing stage, first go back, find their origin and try to solve the problem there.

    • Two instruments play in the same frequency range at the same time, they build up and the summed signal produces a high peak.

      (note the order of the suggestions ...)

      Change the arrangement. Don't let them play that loud simultaneously or let them play in different octaves.

      Use volume or filter automation to bring the peak volume down. An elegant and very musical way is fader riding (you need a good fader and quick fingers for that).

      Check the EQ's and readjust them to bring the two instruments a bit apart.

      Make one or both of the sounds quieter by EQ, dynamic EQ or multiband compression (perhaps with automation).

      Try to flip the phase of one instrument (for drums the whole drumset). If this helps, check the whole song because a similar build-up could now occur in another place.

      Edit the waveform, make single peaks quieter.

      Use a compressor or a limiter

      (As a side-note: Panning can help to bring two peaking instruments apart but don't forget about mono compatibility.)

    • You have very low frequencies which deliver high levels but are not audible.

      Check your low range with an analyzer and look for frequencies below, let's say, 30 Hz. There might be some bass, kick drum or a synthesizer, but 15 Hz are definitely not audible on a common sound system. They can however produce remarkable voltage and must be suppressed. With an EQ, use a peak filter if it is just one frequency and a low shelf or low cut if your low bottom end is generally too dense.

    I hope this short description helped you to understand the basics of compression and limiting.

    If you want more information in understandable form, get the book from Michael Stavru: Mixing with your mind.

    It contains many tips and tricks for recording and mixing. You have to order it directly from the author, via the website. It may contain a lot you do not need for your music but tells about the most common and some less known techniques. Alone the chapter about setting up compressor's is unique and worth the money — it will save you days of your live sitting in front of knobs and turning them in a random manner ;). The book is available in English only.


    Hey, admins! ;-)
    Doesn't this thread rather belong to "Studio Techniques"?
    There is very little of Logic in here.
  7. Markdvc

    Markdvc Administrator Staff Member

    Actually, given the dimensions of and sheer amount of info in your post, we should maybe have a "Peter's Studio Bible" Sub Forum. In the meantime, yes, Studio techniques it is :)

  8. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Well, those who can do it just do it. Those who cannot, teach it.

    (I expect to get beaten for that. Ouch, I see Pete coming already, steaming rage, gotta hide somewhere ...)

    You know, I composed, arranged, mixed and mastered the post, I am not responsible for distribution :D
  9. Zoshiguy

    Zoshiguy New Member

    As a long term LUGer, (though only a very occasional writer) I really appreciate Peter's contribution and I'm glad it was in the "general" section of forum. I might not have caught it otherwise. I'm still getting used to the new format, and I'm glad to see that there is still a lively, friendly give and take going on here.

    I've finally gotten to the point on the engineering side where I actually understand everything Peter wrote, and can appreciate the details without saying "Huh?"

    The tape delay technique makes it worthy of "general" discussion. Never tried it, but will soon.

    Thanks Peter and everybody at the LUG!

  10. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Yes thank you very much for all of that Peter. I copy and pasted it into this word document I have that I occasionally reference and I will probably also buy that mixing with your mind book.

    I was just wondering, when only one fader is peaking, should I put a limiter on the master volume or on the fader for that one sound that is peaking? I think those diagrams you posted show the results of putting a limiter on the master fader, but wouldn't it work to just put a limiter on that one fader that is peaking? Then, you could still raise the master volume up and it seems to me that you wouldn't affect the song as much.

    Sorry if you answered that already I guess I just forgot what the answer is. Thanks again for your help!
  11. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Normally you want to solve a problem at its origin. So yes, go back to this single channel and look what you can do there. This is not necessarily a limiter because working on one sound or an instrument group opens a broad range of possible solutions.

    The simple diagrams don't show specific usage, they just try to describe the effects of changing volume and pushing an audio signal partially down.

    Absolutely right.

    Thank you for bringing this up, I added it as a new paragraph to the suggestions in my long post, with the headline Offending peaks are seldom produced by the master channel itself.

    Here is an exaggerated example: You have drums, bass and a voice. In your master channel, the snare peaks. Now you insert a limiter in the master and the snare is forced to stay within the allowed range. But the kick gets pushed down too, losing the connection to the bass. The cymbals are too loud now, because snare and kick went down. And the singer gets suppressed in the loud parts because his level was near the snare. You hit him on the head for no reason. You had better worked on the drum group.

    It is seldom as dramatic as I try to put it and the result can be quite good if you choose the right limiter for the master and use it properly. But it is better to control the dynamics within the mix than trying to repair them on the last stage.
  12. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Ok thanks. It's actually my kick that is taking it over 0db. I have worked on the EQ for that kick quite a bit and, although EQing it helped, in the end I added 2 limiters: one on the master fader and one on the kick fader.

    Ha it solved the problem, but I bet there is a better solution, by using only one limiter.

    I think I'll remove the limiter from the master fader and see if I can make the kick still sound loud, with only a limiter on the kick fader. If you have any suggestions on how to make a kick still sound loud without going over 0db that would be fantastic.

    Either way, thanks again for all your help!

    ps. Is it ok to just add and remove limiters? Or does it mess up the sound of the song to constantly be adding and removing limiters, compressors etc. Thanks again.
  13. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Pull the output fader down and turn your monitors up. :)
    (This wasn't really a joke but rather a method. Worth another discussion.)

    Regarding the drums, no, I cannot help you with drum sound. You may want to open a new thread and ask for drum processing, here are many fantastic people who can make fantastic drum sounds below and above 0 dB.

    It may mess up your overall picture of the song but technically it is ok. Plugins do not alter the stored audio data, they just do some math on the fly.
  14. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    After initially reading your post I fixed my song by putting a limiter on the master fader. Then I realized that is the wrong way to fix it. I spent the past hour trying to narrow down which sound is making it go to the red and I'm baffled.

    Without the limiter on the master fader, The Out 1-2 always peaks. Everything is soo quiet but it still peaks. Of course everything isn't quiet when I turn up my big monitors but the output 1-2 is turned down so much that I know when I move it onto my laptop, the MP3 will be super quiet.

    No faders for the individual sounds peak, just the out 1-2 fader. So it must have something to do with how the frequencies blend together. They obviously can't blend without the song clipping. I think I'm going to give up on this song, use the version I made when I originally thought I fixed it, and move on.

    On my next beat I will closely watch every sound as I build the song to make sure nothing is clipping. I figure that is the best way to do it, since you say the way to fix a song isn't by going to the master fader.

    I'm still wondering something about adaptive limiters though. What's the difference between the input and the gain? All I can understand is they both seem to increase the volume.

    Furthermore, on the regular limiter (not the adaptive limiter), there are 2 other things: Lookahead and Release. I understand what release is it must be how quickly the limiter gets reduced but what is Lookahead?

    Oh another thing I thought of. Is it your opinion that you shouldn't put a limiter on the master fader to increase the volume of the overall song? And that you should be able to make it loud enough just by working with the individual faders? I have friends who always put limiters on the master volume. For example, one friend always uses the L2 limiter which is something fancy you can buy I think but I thought that is common practice? Doing this stuff to songs as part of the final process. What is your opinion on that?

    Once again, thanks for your help!
  15. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Sounds like too much low end somewhere. You can't hear that on small boxes. What says the analyzer?

    The input is a kind of trim knob. You need it when the input signal is very high or very low. In this cases you would not have a workable range for the gain knob. But you should not go above zero on the input.

    If you walk along a road and wait until the bus hits your face it is too late to jump away. You have to look ahead. Many plugins have a lookahead because they need time for processing. But I don't know why it is sometimes adjustable since latency is not really a matter while mixing.

    No this is not my opinion. The master channel is a correct place for a limiter. But you should not fix problems there when their origin is somewhere else. There are no rules, you can limit in any channel you want. The last limiter in the last channel works on the whole song.

    Btw, if you give your mix to a mastering engineer, don't limit in the last stage. He does not want you to remove much of the dynamics before he got a chance to do this. He knows better, give him some room to work.

    For your music this is very difficult, I am not sure if it is even possible. But not every style of music needs or wants limiters.

    This is perfect, there are some limiters available with a really good sound. But I think your friend would not put it in the master channel if his mix had a problem. And this is what we talked about.
  16. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Oh another thing I thought of. Is it your opinion that you shouldn't put a limiter on the master fader to increase the volume of the overall song?

    Yeah I realized this today at work. You were telling me to fix any problems at the source, but it is fine to put a limiter on the master fader at the end. That's good news for me because that's exactly what I did to fix my song. I put a limiter on the kick so nothing would peak, and then put a limiter on the master fader, so the volume of the whole song increased.

    Sounds like too much low end somewhere. You can't hear that on small boxes. What says the analyzer?

    Oh this is what you were talking about earlier when you wrote that I may have very low frequencies which deliver high levels but are not audible. I think that might be what I'm dealing with. If not here then I'm sure I have dealt with it on past beats.

    Would you mind telling me how to check the analyzer? I have no idea how to do that, is it easy?

    Also, this is a silly off topic question but I figured i'd ask. I'm just trying to bounce my song out as a wav file. I thought the way to do this is choose PCM, WAVE, 16 bit resolution, 44100 sample rate. Unfortunately this gave me something other than expected. I think it gave me a whole new logic session of the same song, or something. I just want a wav file of my beat so I can use it to perform. I know how to bounce it out to MP3 but not WAV. That would be cool if you could tell me how to do that. Ok thanks alot!
  17. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Perfect. You got it.

    You have the Logic Multimeter as a Plugin, but only for stereo channelstrips. If you are in a mono channel you can send the signal to a bus for metering. Start to use it with the bar graph display first, this tells you more than the other one. Compare its display to professionally mastered pieces of music you want to make yourself.

    There are some freeware analyzers available, one of it is the Inspector.
  18. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Ok thanks I will start doing that analyzing but also can you help me with my issue of bouncing a song to a wav file? I was hoping this would be easy but for some reason I'm struggling with it.

    I went to bounce, chose PCM, Wave, 16 bit, 44100 and then clicked bounce BUT it didn't give me what I expected. I want a regular wav file that I can perform with. Instead it gave me something different. I think it was a new Logic session because when I clicked it, it started to open a new Logic session, instead of just playing a wav file.

    The thing is, I have to perform with this beat and I don't feel comfortable using it if it won't open in iTunes. iTunes is such a basic program and also that is what I use to do my sets. I have always been able to play wav files in iTunes, which is why I'm confused.

  19. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Sorry, I don't know the problem you describe.
  20. Eli

    Eli Senior member

    When you double click on an audio file created in Logic, it will launch Logic and create a new project with the file in it. This is normal behavior. Audio files are not meant to be double clicked on to be opened. They are meant to be played or referenced from within an application; like Logic or iTunes. If you want to play it in iTunes, open iTunes, and then add the audio file to your iTunes library. But don't double click on it to "open" it.
  21. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    Ok I'm sorry to bring this thread back up ha but I had 2 questions. I learned a ton of stuff last month about limiters and I thought I knew it all....until I started working on a new beat.

    I finished this beat and am trying to put a limiter on the master fader but there are no inserts on the Master channel. What happened? Is there something I may have hit to eliminate all inserts on the master fader, or is this how the master channel normally is and I just now realized it?

    So I decided to put my limiter on the Out 1-2 fader instead. I figured that would work.
    I get the concept, the limiter makes everything quieter, so I can turn up the out 1-2 fader but how high should I aim to have the out 1-2. I know it obviously shouldn't go into the red, but should I have the thing at 0, or a little bit below?

    I'm just kind of confused because I finished a beat and managed to have the output at 3.9 without it clipping. I thought it would sound fine but then I was heart broke when it still wasn't loud on my laptop speakers. Not nearly as loud as my friend's unmastered beats.

    So I went back in, put a limiter on the Out 1-2 and set the gain at 5.5. I know this has been described before but I'm just wondering, what does that gain at 5.5 mean again? Trust me I have read everything posted in this thread in depth I'm not just breezing over everything. The gain at 5.5db, what does that mean exactly?

    Sometimes I get confused because people mention "input" when they talk about limiters, but there is no input on this limiter in Logic 8! Only Gain, Lookahead, Release and Output Level. There is Input in the Adaptive Limiter I realize, but I'm not trying to learn that limiter. So what does the Gain mean exactly??

    Thanks as always!

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