How do you make a track louder without spoiling the mix?

Dear Anyone.

So I’ve got all my individual instrument tracks balanced. I’ve listened to the whole thing and it sounds nice - but overall too quiet. But if I start turning the individual tracks up, even if by the same amount on each track so (hopefully!) they’ll stay in the same relationship to eachother, just louder - it don’t work. They start crowding eachother out.

If I turn up the out buss and slap a limiter on it, it works - sometimes. Other times, WITH limiter on the out buss tracks start crowding eachother, even though I’ve not touched the sound level of the individual tracks, just put a limiter on the out buss; the moment I bypass the limiter on the out buss the track sounds nice to me again - just too quiet!

I’ve gota real dead basic setup. I’m disabled, can’t play anything, I just use a notation DAW, one track, one sound. (Quick Score Elite Level 2!) So it’s not like there’s 100 tracks going on, usually it’s about 10 tracks and some of those are just layering other sounds to give 'em depth. Usually when I try raising the overall sound levels they’re the ones that cause the probs., they start getting too prominent, too ‘obvious’. Before the sound level’s raised they’re doing their job, just making the main sound sound richer - you don’t ‘hear’ them but if you turn them off you notice the difference in the main sound.

Yet - I DO get the track sounding nice, to my ears, just too quiet. How do I bring the overall level up and keep all the tracks sounding nice with eachother, like they do when the overall level’s way too quiet?

When I look at that question it looks like a nutty question to me but I don’t know how else to put it. Nicely balanced (to me, dunno about to you experts!) is just too quiet. Raising out buss level and slapping on a limiter works SOMETIMES, not all the time by a very long way.

If it helps - I THINK this should be telling me something but I’m missing the message - if you listen to a similar track with Windows volume at the right level for that track, then listen to my track with Windows volume turned up way louder, I can’t hear a lot of difference in the mixes (OK, not saying I’m as good as they are but you know what I mean!) But surely - correct me if I’m wrong - turning Windows volume up is the same as turning the out buss level up in my DAW, no? So why does turning Windows volume up NOT make the sounds sound like they’re crowding eachother out, but turning the out buss level in my DAW up DOES!?!

What aren’t I understanding in the above?

Yours puzzledly


There are a few potential factors here. The first is equal loudness contours. Depending on the level at which you listen to your mix, it’s going to sound balanced differently.

At low levels, low-end content will be perceived as much louder than midrange content. As you increase the overall level at which you listen to your mix, the difference in perceived loudness across the frequency spectrum becomes smaller.

One of the tricky things about mixing is creating a mix that sounds balanced when played quietly and loud. Most people recommend mixing at a quiet level because it typically translates well when you turn it up.

Mixing at a loud level can result in surprises when you finally turn the level down since you’ll perceive a wider dynamic range across the frequency spectrum.

The particular issue you’re running into is a bit puzzling because most people run into the opposite problem for the reasons I mentioned.

To conduct an accurate A/B test between your mix and other mixes, pull a reference track into your DAW and route the track directly to your speakers, bypassing your stereo bus. You can do this in Ableton by setting the track’s output to “Ext Out”.

Now you can toggle between your track and the reference track by switching the reference track’s solo button on/off. If you can get your mix to sound on par with your reference in this context, render it out and call it a day!

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