In this tutorial, we'll talk a little bit about some techniques on how to make your mixes reach their loudest possible potential. While the 'loudness war' is one that cannot be one, it is always good to try to make sure that your mixes don't sound small and depleted when played next to a big budget record. It isn't always easy, but here are some pointers on how to do this.
First, let's talk about a few basic things that a lot of home studio owners tend to over look. One thing that I see from a lot of amateur studio users in their mixes, is that they have a lot of overloading channels in Pro Tools and don't try to remedy the situation. Every time that a track is overloading, you are getting some distortion and it is a good idea to limit this as much as possible. For example, if you have a compressor on a track that has the make up gain too loud, simply turn it down to a level that it will not overload at. While you might want to have your tracks reach their maximum volume level, overloading your tracks isn't the way to do this and you should always be conscious of this!
So once you have all of your levels in place and aren't overloading (which is a constant struggle), you should make sure that your overall level isn't clipping as well. Simply add a master fader to your track or use some sort of plug-in metering to do this. A lot of times a single track could be overloading the entire thing, or sometimes a combination, but it is important to make sure that you aren't clipping on the master fader. One way to do this is by using compression, which will talk about in the next step.
Probably the best way to keep your signals sounding loud without overloading them is by using compressors and limiters. One thing that I usually do is compressor the entire drum set by sending it to an aux channel. This allows me to boost the volume while keeping it in check by the limiting the volume that it will reach. I tend to do this for most of the instruments within the mix, of course if we are talking about rock and pop. Sometimes I will even touch up a signal ever so slightly just to make sure that the level doesn't get too much. The more that you can make your tracks sound louder while maintaining a maximum output, the better off you will be in overall volume.
In addition to using compression in the mix, limiters can also be quite helpful. I tend to mostly use a limiter on the master fader, but they can definitely come in handy for individual tracks as well, especially on a drum bus. Limiters will allow you to crank up the overall level, while setting a strict point that it will top out at. All mastering engineers will use some sort of limiter, but if you are mastering at home, a limiter is an absolute must.
One thing that I really want to hit home with this tutorial is making sure that in your effort to make your mixes louder, you don't over do it and overload. To me, it is better to have a mix that is lower in volume but doesn't distort. Even if you aren't hearing it all, if your meters are overloading there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. I know that most people are only after making things louder, but in the end you will be much happy with as clean a mix as possible. Don't sacrifice sound quality for loudness!
While getting your mixes loud is never easy, I hope that these tips will help you understand a bit better on how to do it. The main thing is that you get your tracks recorded at the proper level so you have enough room to work with..