C-11: Advice Needed to Avoid Verse-to-Chorus Volume Increase Blowout

(Below is a simplified description of a broader issue that can be applied to more than verse-chorus such as bridge, etc., but it will work for this question.)

I’m working on a chorus that introduces a couple more instruments preceded by a reverse cymbal announcing that the chorus is fuller and more powerful.

But as I try to find a good balance between the underlying melody of the verse that flows into the chorus and the additional sonic presence, and once I’m satisfied with the chorus mix, I go back and let it play from the verse…

… the chorus is way too loud.

So I lasso the louder tracks and/or use their group/fx tracks to bring down the loudness, but then they don’t sound the same – there is a loss of presence and power if not proportionality between the new instruments and mix.

So it’s quieter and not a blowout, but there’s a loss of the “it” factor, the thing that was exciting to arrange and hear that made the chorus pop.

So I go back and re-balance the chorus mix just to end up… too loud again.
It’s like getting stuck in mixing hell.

Q: What tools or plugins or approach in Cubase should I use to avoid this probably all too common issue? The simpler and most direct way/s would be best.



Use Volume automation, please.

This is a multifaceted problem with many factors involved so I’ll try to offer a few pointers.

1.) What do you mean to loud? Are you talking about clipping your Masterbuss or is the perceived loudness to high? If clipping is the problem, make sure you are gain staging your project from the go. Set the levels of your track so that the loudest part of the song does not clip and has around 3 - 6 db headroom minimum.

2.) I recommend using a vu meter like the one from Klanghelm. You can get it very cheap. A vu meter will not only display peaks but also consider eq balance and rms. If you chorus is only 2-3 db louder than that should be ok if you really want some contrast between verse and chorus.
If the meter schows differences over 4 dbs it could indicate a lack of balance: Maybe there’s too much bass in the chorus.

3.) Use compression. Even though I’m not a friend of it, many engineers will use Compression on the Masterbuss, letting the compression be driven a bit more in the chorus, though the difference shouldn’t be huge as far as compression amount.
A bit more compression in the chorus will result in more rms, which we perceive as more loudness.

4.) Eq balance. Make sure, that when you add a lot of elements that the eq balance is right. Do you have 4 channels in the chorus that have a lot of energy in the bass frequencies? If that’s the case, learn to balance these. Set priorities for which instrument should contain most of the low end. Clean others up using highpass filters. For instance a Bass in a rock track needs most sub 100hz frequencies. Your Guitars however may benefit from a highpass filter depending on he sound.
Try a cutoff of 60, 80, 100 or maybe even 120hz to free up room for the bass and kick drum.

5.) Panning. Learn to place your instruments in the stereo field. Kick, snare, bass and lead vocal usually sit in the middle while guitars, pianos and synths can be panned hard left and right.

6.) Use automation. Learn to balance the levels using automation. This usually needs to happen after compression. Got a guitar sound that doubles in loudness in the chorus? Use automation to even out the difference to a satisfying result.

7.) Last, learn from others by referencing mixes you like and admire. Listen for Eq, Compression, Panning etc. and try to find out, what these engineers to differently.

Hope this helps.

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@Musician88 - Thank you for your detailed reply, and I’ll study it in the coming day or so - it’s bedtime time for me. I’ll try to respond to your suggestions if need be.
But I can already say that I’m not a fan of compression either, for I’m old school (I was a teenager in the early 1970s and grew up on prog rock, and so I lean in to create that kind of music, which tends to be layered).

@Martin.Jirsak - I already use automation on every track, such as Volume, Pan, and Bypass when needed. Every FX/Group has its Volume automation, though I try to keep those as close to neutral as possible.

I might be off my rocker, but some tips I’ve learned in my journey. This age old problem - Squeezing a lemon through and opening the size of a melon. In days gone by this was never a problem - We embarrassed dynamic range. We loved it when the chorus explodes. Since music got louder and louder, we left little to no headroom for that explosion to happen.

Think the K-System from Bob Katz is the best approach. Pick the dynamic range you want before you start mixing, and then work towards that. K-20 for movies or orchestral scoring, K-14 pop music, K-12 hard compression, broadcasting audio.

Basically it boils down to, you selecting -20dB for your avg loudness of the mix, then allow yourself 20dB of headroom for dynamic changes.

Make sure you are not fighting a master buss-compressor. Best tip is don’t use one. Use it once your are satisfied with your mix. Bus compressor don’t allow dynamics to happen. Simple as that. They make stuff sound full and powerful, but you can do that in a mix too. Mix Bus compression does not work for me. Because I love dynamic music. If you ever played in a band, standing next to a real drummer - Please try to mix a song sounding like that… It is explosive stuff man.

Mix Musically, with dynamics - Then worry about the master.

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You might also want to consider where you are routing various Tracks. For example maybe route all the instrumental backing Tracks for the verse to a Group Channel and all the ones for the chorus to a different Group. Then it is easy to adjust the relative balance between the two.

I think there are no easy answers to this question. There are things you can do to make the chorus seem ‘bigger’ without it bring much louder, but there will always be some kind of compromise.

You can increase the stereo width during the chorus - by panning the new instruments quite wide in the mix, the sound will expand. Creating matching sounds on both sides of the stereo field is very effective (eg double tracked guitars).

You can increase the reverbs / delays during the chorus, to create a sense of a bigger space, and decrease them during the verse,

You can boost low and high frequencies in the mix during the chorus - this simulates the effect of playing the instruments harder, especially with drums.

You can increase the velocity of midi instruments and decrease the volume to compensate.

You can strip some elements out of the verse to create more of a contrast with the chorus, so reducing the verse rather than increasing the chorus.

@Rudi007 , @raino and @RichardTownsend - Thank you for your also detailed replies - all great points. I’ll be starting with the basic K-System suggested by adjusting all the meters to reflect K-12 to K-20 since my stuff is somewhere between rock and orchestral.

I feel like a newbie at age 67 for having a good ear and some instinctive but not schooled talent (I can’t read music - a kind of “math block”) since I started making music at about age 16, this whole mixing mastering issue proves the point that talent isn’t enough. One has to apply science and some discipline in setting things up from that start of a project.

Fortunately I’m early enough in mine to go back to and re-set things up so as to minimize if not avoid the headaches I’m running into.

Last but not least, I’ve found some decent primer videos on some of the basic of the K-System and beyond for anyone else in similar situation as I am:

(Cubase) Mastering Made Easy Session 3 – How to set up meters in Preferences to reflect one’s chosen Db protocol.

F9 Using K Metering for better mixing and DAW Workflow - K-System + other tips, more in depth… Done in Logic, not Cubase, but the principles are the same across DAWs.

How to Customize and Configure the Different Meters in Cubase - Not sure what version of Cubase - done in 2018 so recent enough - similar to the first video but some additional Mixer Console options that look very useful IMO.

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Thanks for posting the video links you’ve found useful - I’m sure others will as well.

One other element that’s easy to overlook when we get focused on the audio engineering is how important the musical arrangement is to all of this. Choices here can make all the difference between mush & clarity in the mix.

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@raino - Absolutely, arrangement matters, hugely.

There is a yin and yang balance to music. Aside from the mixing-mastering issues of this thread, I keep running into what many of us musicians can to easily fall into - overproduction and the resulting muddy results.

I’m a staunch believer and when in the right space, pretty decent at the “old fashioned” value of melody. But without the structure of a good arrangement, even the coolest melody will sink.

The way I blow it is that impulse to improve by adding more, when the “less is more” rule applies just as much in music as it can in other areas of life. Or as the saying goes, “the space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves.”

There are tons of examples of musicians who know and apply this, and to use two examples from part of my particular stylistic leanings (progressive to “concept” rock if not slightly film soundtrack style so to speak), both David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Vangelis are masters at simple but effective use of phrasings in their own different ways.

Gilmour can play fast when needed, but the way he arranges his notes honors the space between them too - long sustains that almost literally breath, which adds emotional layers. Vangelis (not so much his choral period IMO) is a master at the very yet effective simple melodies that build on themselves.

Last, while not into classical music per se though I was exposed to it through the records my mother had early on so it has influenced me a bit, the thing I’ve observed is that when one breaks down even the most complex symphonies, they are really made of a lot of small, very simple riffs so to speak that then evolve into and as others.

Point being that simplicity is actually at the root of all good music. Be it a basic 2 or 3 chord song or as a crescendo prog rock or orchestral piece, all sink or fly on the underlying structure or arrangement.

Put another way, bricks are very simple things, but what one can build with them can vary in style and size from the most humble to the grand and everything in between.

I still feel like a beginner bricklayer - lol.

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