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.

Overview

There are two places where the overall output level (volume) of FL Studio can be adjusted -
  1. Main volume fader.
  2. Master Mixer track fader (14 bottom of page), see the 'Mixer reference diagram' below.
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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Adjust Mixer Track Faders and/or Channel volume knobs to obtain the relative instrument levels you desire in the mix.
  3. 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.
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.

Sampler Channels vs Audio Clips

If you are paying particularly close (and possibly unhealthy) attention to the output levels of Samples playing from Sampler Channels, you may notice they are a few dB down on their level when played as Audio Clips in the Playlist. There are three reasons for this:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 positions.

So together the default load state for a Channel Sampler can be about 8.2 dB lower than the samples actual 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 D/A converter 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).

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.

Mixer reference diagram

Full descriptions are available on the main Mixer page.

  1. Mixer menu
  2. Mixer Track Scroll Bar
  3. Mixer Insert Tracks
  4. Send Tracks & Selected Track
  5. Big Peak Meter
  6. External Mixer input
  7. External Mixer output
  8. Effects slots
  9. Mixer Track Properties
  10. Master Mixer Track
  11. Small Peak Meter
  12. Panning
  13. Stereo Separation
  14. Level Fader
  15. Send Knobs
  16. Effects Enable/Disable Switch
  17. Track Recording Switch
  18. Track Send / Sidechain Enable Switch
  19. Plugin Delay Compensation
  20. Mute Switch
  21. Phase (top) & Stereo Flip (bottom)

NOTE: Most controls are automatable (Right-click and select 'Create automation clip').