General question about waveforms and "loudness"

Bit perplexed as to why commercial releases sound tons louder than stuff I’m working on, so I thought I’d investigate a bit:

I bounced the tune I’m working on and imported it into the project on an audio track, and for comparison dropped next to it: some extremely loud drum and bass, a track by Steve Earle, and something from “La Oreja de Van Gogh.”
Results attached:

Questions are, does a wave twice as wide = twice as loud? Also, is the fatness of the waves here (covers some fairly disparate genres) indicative of how commercial releases generally come on CD, or is this more indicative of the fact that they’re MP3s?

Would appreciate some input :slight_smile: Thanks very much in advance :wink:

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 11.52.41.png

Commercially released music has been mastered, hopefully by professional mastering engineers. They’ll use various tools to increase loudness (and loudness and absolute level are different things). So, it’s quite normal for a mix to be less loud compared to a mastered track.

You have to be careful when interpreting waveforms as they are simply representations of what a signal will look like after the stream of samples have been reconstructed into an analog waveform. It won’t be precise.

Having said that you can draw some conclusions, namely that the waveforms that look like your “compare” examples will be quite a bit louder than the fourth track from the bottom in your screenshot. Twice as loud? Probably not. It’s hard to measure the visuals, and if you want to measure the audio itself you’ll need a tool (plug-in) to do so.

Not sure what you mean by “fatness” as opposed to “width”, but I’m guessing when you say “wide” you mean up/down, or vertically, and when you say “fatness” you mean mean that it doesn’t look like a squiggly line but instead like a “block”. It’s really sort of looking at a similar thing. If you zoom into your own mix sufficiently it’ll get “fatter” as well, and that’s why it’s a bit misleading to look at waveforms this way sometimes.

Either way, it doesn’t have anything to do with wavs versus mp3s. If anything I’d say it’s the result of dynamic processing.

Thanks :slight_smile: I installed Voxengo’s Span and tried to use the L1 limiter to match the levels - at about 17db of gain I gave up, the levels on my mix were still below the compare1 track but the limiter had smashed the sound to bits - I guess this means that I can afford to bring the levels of the individual tracks in my mix right up, my main concern is hitting the red light on the clipping meter of the master bus. If I limit the individual tracks prior to the master is that going to help me get the overall mix volume up without clipping, or will it still sum to the same amount? I’m kind of reluctant to put gain on the master bus because doing that or mixing into a compressor can cause serious headaches in getting the balance right…

Sorry, that was unclear, old habit of trying to not use the same adjective twice too close together - I meant width. Thanks very much for the help by the way, appreciate it :slight_smile:

Re: not MP3 vs WAV - that’s really good to know, thanks - I was thinking it might be the result of the compression that MP3 uses.

The two concerns with levels are a) going too hot into some plugins, especially those that emulate analog gear, because they then distort, and b) leaving your DAW and hitting the converter too hard, clipping the signal on the way out.

If your level is very high going into your master you should be able to just lower the fader and that should take care of it. You may have to check the signal flow to be sure, but I’m pretty certain that takes care of a signal that’s too hot. And of course, if it’s only a few dB then you can use a limiter instead.

Making the individual tracks louder will make the mix louder. There’s a difference between high level signals and what we perceive as loudness though. “Loudness” is related to our perception and one can’t just look at a peak meter and always figure out if something is louder than something else. So, it’s about more than peak levels. Limiting the dynamic range and/or creating more harmonic content will make it feel louder. I recommend you simply focus on reading up on mixing for now, learning how not just to mix but make it a bit louder if that’s what you feel is needed.

Well, some like to mix into dynamic processors on the master, but others (like me) don’t and instead turn them on after the mix is close to done. So, you can mix without them, and then “switch hats” and treat the master bus as the place for mastering, adding processors as needed. That way you get to mix without feeling that you’re facing a processor that pushes back at you, but you still can ‘master’ afterwards.