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Exploring loudness and mixing

From: Audio Post Workflow with Final Cut Pro X and Pro Tools

Video: Exploring loudness and mixing

Overall loudness of your mix is both a hot topic and a confusing one at best. The short answer to how loud you should mix is, well, it depends. In this movie I'll guide you through a few techniques to monitor and control the overall levels of your mix, so it'll sound right wherever it gets played. To see how loud our program volume is, let's make a Master Fader, type Shift+Command+N and choose Stereo > Master. A Master Fader is like a final level control and meter that our entire mix gets sent through.

Exploring loudness and mixing

Overall loudness of your mix is both a hot topic and a confusing one at best. The short answer to how loud you should mix is, well, it depends. In this movie I'll guide you through a few techniques to monitor and control the overall levels of your mix, so it'll sound right wherever it gets played. To see how loud our program volume is, let's make a Master Fader, type Shift+Command+N and choose Stereo > Master. A Master Fader is like a final level control and meter that our entire mix gets sent through.

Next, let's insert a PhaseScope on the Master Fader. This is a plug-in that comes with Pro Tools, and it allows you to meter your levels as you work. Change the meter on the left to Peak and RMS. A Peak meter shows us instantaneous volume changes, while RMS--which stands for Root Mean Square--is more of an average of volume over time. Now I'll play a little bit of this program back, and notice the Peak meter is shown in green and the RMS level is shown in blue in this meter.

Check out the differences in the way the two meters interact when I play it back. (music playing) (male speaker: My name is BD Dautch, and I have Earthtrine Farm, where we've been since 1998, and we've got about 10 acres in Ojai, and it's all certified organic by--) These are two common ways to view your levels in a meter. So how do we control this in our mix? The short answer is with volume automation, like we saw in the using automation for volume and other parameters movie.

But we can use meters to give us a general ballpark range about where our levels are. The first thing to know about meters is that they never give you the entire picture. It's impossible to characterize how our complex hearing system experiences loudness through meters. But they can provide some useful information. I'll give you some guidelines for where program material tends to read on meters. The overall loudness of your mix will differ depending on what the intended venue is. If your project is destined for the Internet, you'll want it louder and have less dynamic range from quiet to loud, since most viewers will be listening on small laptop or computer speakers.

For a material destined for places like YouTube or the Internet, peaks in the range of -1 to -3 can happen. RMS will be around -16 or -17 for optimum levels. For Television and Broadcast, it will need to be less loud and may need to meet certain overall level specifications in terms of how loud it can be. Peaks are usually limited to -8 or -10. Sometimes audio engineers will use a limiter processor to do this, and the RMS can hover around -18 to -20.

For a movie theater, you can have the most dynamic range between the quiet and loud passages of the project. This is because the audience will be sitting in a quiet room with full range speakers. Film and theatrical mixes are going to be similar in general to broadcast mixes except, there is no limiter necessary. So in really loud passages, peaks can get up to -1 and subsequently higher RMS will happen in during these sections as well. Another more important thing to consider is that most professional audio engineers don't use meters too much.

They rely on their ears to tell them when it's too loud or too quiet. To do this, you have to calibrate your monitor system. You can find more information on calibration in the Audio for Video Professionals with Pro Tools course.

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