MIXING & EFFECTS
Levels, Mixing & Clipping
This section covers the following:
Setting Output Mix Levels
This section describes how to accurately set the levels of your final mix.
There are two places where the overall output level (volume) of FL Studio can be adjusted -
The Main volume fader should be left at the default position (Right-click and select 'Reset') and the Master mixer track fader used for overall level adjustments. The following
discussion assumes the Main volume fader is in the default position.
- Main volume fader.
- Master Mixer track fader (14 bottom of page), see the 'Mixer reference diagram' below.
How to adjust levels of the final mix
FL studio has a Main volume, in the menu bar AND a Master Track Volume
(14). To ensure the Master mixer track level is an accurate reflection of the final output:
Following the above steps will ensure the Master track peak meter (5 & 11) and the Main volume meter, in the menu bar,
display the same peak levels. Red/Orange peaks (over 0 dB) will indicate clipping in the final output or rendered mix, as depicted below.
- Make sure the Main volume is at the default level (Right-click and select 'Reset'). It's probably a good idea to get out of the habit of even touching this volume slider, its main
purpose is to make sure a master volume control is always available (when the mixer is hidden) and some audio emergency crops up.
- Adjust Mixer Track Faders and/or Channel volume knobs to obtain the
relative instrument levels you desire in the mix.
- Use the Master Track fader (left most track in the Mixer, 14) to adjust the final level. Consider also, placing Fruity Limiter in the last FX bank
of the master track. Limiting is a form of automatic peak volume control.
Sampler Channels vs Audio Clips
If you are paying particularly close (and possibly unhealthy) attention to the output levels of Sampler Channels, you may notice they are a few dB down on their recorded level. There are three reasons for this:
- Sampler Channels load at a default 55% volume, about -5.2 dB. This 'feature' is to prevent clipping when several Channel Samplers are used together and also
to allow some extra headroom for note/step velocity modulation. The assumption is that Channel Samplers will be used as 'instruments' and so you will be playing (see the next point) and mixing them to sound right
'in the mix'. If a Channel Sampler is too quiet, turn it up.
- Sampler Channels respond to note velocity. The default note velocity in FL Studio is 100 (MIDI = 0 to 127). If a sample is too quiet you can also play it louder.
- Sampler Channels respond to the default Circular Panning Law. This reduces the sample gain by -3 dB at center pan, tapering to 0 dB at the extreme L/R pan
So together the default load state for a Channel Sampler can be about 8.2 dB lower than the samples recorded level. If you absolutely need a sample to render at its recorded level, load it as an
Audio Clip by dropping your samples on the Playlist (these default to 100% volume, 0 dB). Finally, make sure the Master and Main volumes (described above) are set to 0 dB and don't forget the effect of
note velocity on playback level.
Using FL Studio Peak Meters
Often when mixing, your goal is to get the peaks of the loudest sections of the mix close to the maximum possible level, 0 dB, without clipping, going over 0 dB. Clipping happens when a sound wave carried inside audio equipment (analog or digital) becomes
louder than the maximum volume that can be reproduced. When audio is clipped its waveform looks like the tips of the peaks have been 'clipped' off, as shown in the picture of the Main peak meter
below (left). While occasional transient clipping incidents are not usually a problem, if clipping is pushed too far your audio will distort and crackle. Once a saved (rendered) audio file is badly
clipped, there is no way to fix the problem (although the Edison Noise Removal Tool does have a Declipper
Function that can rectify mild clipping issues).
The 0 dB reference level marks the loudest sound a digital audio file rendered from FL Studio can record or the audio interface
can make, before clipping occurs. Peak meters in FL Studio turn orange (or in some cases red) to attract your attention when the signal exceeds 0 dB (see above). However,
not all orange peak meters (signals over 0 dB) are bad.
Inside FL Studio, the audio is digital, and so, is a series of 32-Bit floating point numbers.
The Mixer is adding and subtracting numbers so that as the signal amplitude gets bigger, the numbers get bigger. The volume carried in tracks 1 to 99 (3) can be added to
make any arbitrarily large number without clipping (there is nothing to clip). On the other hand, when the mix is sent to the outputs of your soundcard, or is rendered to a fixed
bit-depth (e.g. 16 or 24-Bit), then clipping can happen.
As the Master mixer track (1) is the usual output to the 'physical world', you should not let it peak over 0 dB, as your project will clip. You can think of the
Master fader as rescaling the combined output of all the tracks routed to it. The Insert Mixer track meters are merely guides to the relative volumes in each track. Of course, if you have routed any Input Mixer tracks (7) directly
to your soundcard outputs OR you are rendering mixer tracks to disk, then these too become 'real world' meters and must not peak over 0 dB.
NOTE: 0 dB peaking is not a 'requirement'. You don't need to set all your tracks to push the 0 dB limit. Recorded sounds, in particular, may peak at -12 dB (or less), and there is nothing wrong with that.
However, some times you do want the mix to be loud, the next section discusses techniques for making a mix that's both loud and good.
Making tracks louder! (and good)
If you have compared your music to commercial tracks, and thought yours sound quiet or flat, then this section will bring you up to speed on how 'loudness' and 'goodness' are made.
So you diligently adjust the Master and Insert track levels, making sure the Master Peak Meter is just touching 0 dB and everything is as loud as it can go without
clipping. But compared to the commercial mixes, yours still sound too quiet and lacking depth.
The problem is that the relationship between 'peaks' and loudness
isn't a good one. Our perception of loudness is based on an 'average' input over a period between 0.5 to 1 second. Unfortunately our eyes don't average peak-meter levels in the same way the ear
averages sound levels. In response to this problem, a number of alternative metering modes have been developed, see
Wave Candy Metering, but this doesn't help you get your tracks any louder, it just makes them look quieter than they did in 'peaking' mode.
To make tracks both loud and good at the same time, experienced producers rely on all or some of the following tools and techniques (See here for
Mixing & Production Video Tutorials).
- Per-track Compression, particularly on the Bass and Drum parts. This will lower the attack peaks and use the saved
dB headroom to raise the sustain parts of the sound. Remember, sustained level is more important for loudness than peak level. Beware though, you may be starting with already compressed drum samples and
over compressing can make instruments sound squashed and muddy.
- Per-track Equalization to cut unwanted low frequencies (less than 200-500 Hz) on anything that's not Bass or Drums.
Low frequencies from the other instruments add together to create a 'rumble' that does little more than waste dB headroom and muddy the bottom end of the mix. With the full mix playing,
cut the bass on each instrument until you start to notice it, then back off a little.
- Limiting the Master Mixer track. If you have it, Maximus is the big gun in the FL Studio loudness kit.
Soundgoodizer is Free, and based on Maximus as is Fruity Limiter.
- Per-track Equalization to shape frequencies. Think of sounds as occupying the low, medium or high frequency range and discard any unnecessary frequencies outside their band. Discarding should be done in the context of the full mix, use
Parametric EQ 2 to cut frequencies until you just start to notice the sound is changing, then back off a little. You may also need to
reduce the cut-amount/s if the sounds are heard in isolation at particular times during the track. Simply automate the cut level.
- Timing. As far as possible, avoid dominant instruments playing on the same beat. For example, the classic 'trance' kick on the beat, bass on the Off-beat. If they must overlap, that's when
Sidechain Compression can be useful (see 'Ducking' below), or you can rely on Master Limiting to sort the conflict out.
- Panning is one of the most overlooked yet effective mixing tools. Avoid all the instruments crowding into the center of the mix, spread a few of them around (+/- 40% max is a good range to work in).
When you can clearly distinguish sounds in different locations, the mix will sound more open, interesting and powerful. Kick drum and Bass are usually panned to center, but use whatever works.
- Riding the gain. Use Automation Clips to adjust the relative volume of Mixer Tracks throughout the mix. If you turn a sound up to make
a point with it, lower others to make room. We can only focus attention on one thing at a time, so use volume changes to draw that attention to important parts of the mix and create some drama.
- 'Ducking' some parts in response to others. Subtle Sidechain Compression between the Kick Drum and Bass parts & or Kick Drum and other dominant instruments. This is
'lazy-mans' gain riding and can be very effective. E.g. Sidechain a Compressor on the Bass track to the sound of the Kick Drum track. This will turn down the Bass when the Kick plays, allowing the Kick
to punch through the mix, while at the same time, preventing the kick and bass sounds competing for dB headroom. Don't use so much that you can hear the compressed track/s pumping up and down (that's an effect
of its own).
- Use subtle delay rather than reverb. Reverb is great when there is little else happening but is simply lost in a wash of 'muddying' sound under a busy mix. Subtle delay tricks the ear
into thinking there is reverb since early echoes (predelay on most reverbs) are the first component in a rooms sound. If you really need reverb, one good compromise is
to automate the reverb amount, down in the busy parts, up during the solo when it's needed.
- ...and more. Scattered about this manual you will find other tips and techniques, particularly in the sections associated with Effects Plugins, keep an eye out for
them. No, we are not going to tell you where they are, we want you to read the manual
To increase loudness the most effective place to start is Master Limiting, put Fruity Limiter in the last FX slot on the Master Mixer track (it may be there already) and
with the default settings, raise the GAIN knob. Experiment with 'too much' and 'too little' Master Limiting and get a feel for what it does to the sound. For more finesse, use moderate compression on the Drum
and Bass mixer tracks individually, then a little Limiting on the Master Mixer track. A little here and there, not all at once in the same plugin, or on the same Mixer track. Making loud tracks that also sound great
is an art that you will only learn with practice.
A cautionary word. In recent years there has been an 'arms race' between producers to make their tracks louder than the other guys. This has been termed the '
Loudness War'. There is an informative YouTube Video (The Loudness
War) that sums it up. Although people are jumping up and down about The Loudness War, it's not necessarily all bad. Certain styles of music
(electronic club/dance-music for example) have developed during this war and 'loud' has become part of the sound. On the other hand, acoustic and live instrument recordings can definitely
be ruined by over compression, when the natural dynamics (volume changes) are squashed out of existence.
dB Metering scales
Put simply, dB is a physical scale where adding 6dB, to any value, roughly multiplies the volume by 2. Subtracting 6 dB divides the volume by 2. If you are interested in why this is the case,
or why most dB's are listed in the negative, the mathematics of the dB scale as used in audio production is discussed on the 'Calculating dB' page.
Some 'dB change' values to remember
These are a list of dB change values that are good and easy to remember that represent the difference in dB between two levels.
- + 12 dB = 400% volume increase.
- + 6dB = 200% volume increase (twice the original level).
- + 1 dB = ~10% volume increase. This is very close to the JND (Just Noticeable Difference),
that is the smallest increase in volume you can notice.
- 0 dB - No change. Note this is not 0 dB on the scale, but the difference between two dB levels.
- - 1 dB = ~10% volume decrease. This is very close to the JND (Just Noticeable Difference),
that is the smallest decrease in volume you can notice.
- - 6 dB = 50% volume decrease (half the original level).
- - 12 dB = 75% volume decrease (to 25% of the original level).
Mixer reference diagram
Full descriptions are available on the main Mixer page.
- Mixer menu
- Mixer Track Scroll Bar
- Mixer Insert Tracks
- Send Tracks & Selected Track
- Big Peak Meter
- External mixer input
- External mixer output
- FX slots
- Mixer Track Properties
- Master Mixer Track
- Small Peak Meter
- Mute Switch
- Pan Knob
- Level Fader
- Send Knobs
- FX Enable/Disable Switch
- Track Recording Switch
- Track Send / Sidechain Enable Switch
NOTE: Most controls are automatable (Right-click and select 'Create automation clip').