Or not...

Did you ever wonder how to make your recordings as loud as those on a CD or at least get into that ballpark?

I was listening online to an episode of a rather excellent music and interview show recently and noticed that the show levels were quite low. With my interest peaked, I decided to record it into the DAW and analyze it to see what tale the waveform might tell. The show features music performances bookended by discussion segments with the artists. First, I set the levels to zero on a nice loud music seg, figuring that would be the hottest part of the show. Next, I squirted the show into the DAW, and then normalized the clip. I then visually ran down the waveform looking for that peak that poked all the way out to the edges and thus set the maximum overall level of the show. SURPRISE! It was in a dialog segment. One of the artists let out a laugh and clapped his hands together, and his clap was much hotter than the rest of the program. Apparently whoever assembled the show didn't see a need to limit the dialog, so one quick peak put the kybosh on the whole show's level.

Before: You can barely see the peak at about 2/3 the way through the show.
Pardon the rotten cellphone shot.

Just for fun, I threw a UAD Precision Limiter (a look-ahead limiter) across the bus and began tweaking. I found that I could recover four db of headroom with the limiter without even touching the music program at all. I could recover a nice round 6db with the limiter with 2db of imperceivable limiting on only the peaks of the music in a couple of places. And, finally, as the piece' de resistance, I was able to turn off the limiter and hand tune the automation to tweak down the clap and a couple of other little peaks in the program and recover 6db without any limiting at all.


It's amazing what a little level control can do, huh?