Meter Levels And Why They Are So Important

Your tracks are way too hot. More than likely, every single track that you have in your DAW is either at the zero point, or is well over and into the dangerous red zone. It might seem okay to you to have your tracks this way, but it can spell disaster in the long run.
This is the reason why.
The Loudness Wars
One of the biggest issues with music production today is that all the songs are extremely loud. There was a study done a while ago about the increase in overall volume of songs over the years, and it clearly shows how bad it’s gotten.

Check out this video that shows the different variations of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” song:
As you can see, loudness is a big problem. If you take the example shown where he levels out the volume in Spotify, the “loud” versions don’t sound much different than the original.
So what’s really going on here?
I really can’t explain why all the volumes are so loud today, other than the fact that maybe it’s supposed to make the track more “exciting”. But in reality, all that’s happening is the loud versions of songs are fatiguing listeners’ ears. A great mix doesn’t need to be super loud, it just needs to sound great.
So Hot, It’s Scorching
I get beat submissions daily for various competitions or radio shows, and it amazes me how many of those beats are well into the red zone. I am not saying that my mixes are perfect, but if you were to listen to my mixes versus that of the average beat, you will tell right away that mine is just below the zero point.
This is because I always try my best to stay away from the red.
When recording, it’s best to check your levels. This is why a DAW has meter levels; so you can see what’s going on! It’s very important to use your ears when mixing, however, the meters are very important as well. If you arm a track for recording, test it out first before you lay down your final track, it’s that simple. If it’s over zero but still sounds good, that doesn’t matter. Check your levels.
Most producers will go strictly by ear and that’s why a lot of mixes are very hot. The thing you have to remember though, is that one or two tracks that are hot may not be that bad, but when you combine them with other tracks, things can start to become very loud.
Then you have to worry about the final mix. Oh, and mastering.
With mastering, the whole purpose is to get the mix to sound amazing. This is achieved mainly by boosting certain frequency ranges and making sure everything is on point. But if your mix is very hot to begin with, then the final mastered version will be white hot, and you don’t want that.
Start With The Track, End With The Mix
From the first track being recorded, all the way to the final mix – your levels need to be in check. Here’s what you should be doing:
  1. Arm your track and test it.
  2. If it’s in the red, turn it down. Simple, isn’t it?
  3. When mixing, always take away, never add.
  4. Always keep an eye on the master meter level.
  5. Always remember your mix will have a final coat of compression that will boost the overall volume.
What I try to do is always record just a few decibels below zero. By doing this, your master meter will never go into the red, and it gives you plenty of room to add more instruments and sounds to the mix.
One of the keys to mixing is to always take something away, rather than add. If you keep adding, what will happen? Your master meter will end up in the red! So by taking away, it will give you more space in the mix , and as a result, your mix won’t be cluttered, distorted, loud, and your listeners will be happy.

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