LANDR: Getting Louder Masters
In the past few months, LANDR released one of their biggest updates yet, Ionian 1.0. This update saw a new sound for the engine as well as many new updates. Being fans of LANDR, we are always trying to push things further with the service. Attempting to use it in creative ways like mastering our stem files, which we have a whole course on you can check out here.
Volume has always been an issue for many people and us. This love-hate relationship with the loudness war divides engineers into two separate groups. Streaming services such as Spotify, and video services like YouTube have gone to great lengths to set new standards for volume. Normalizing all audio to their acceptable standards.
As much as people seem to hate loud masters, the biggest problem is how much they have trained the listener over time. The overly compressed and saturated sound of a modern cooked master is perceived as finished music, and unfortunately, it will take time undo what years of loud mastering has done.
This loud mastering technique is actually performed differently in professional studios than most people think. The common misconception is to slam a limiter or compressor to get the additional RMS and volume. But that’s not actually the way it’s done.
The way professionals get volume in mastering is to actually clip the input of their converters running the signals back in during the analog-to-digital conversion process. They literally redline the converters until distortion is barely audible, and that’s where the sound comes from.
Believe it or not, it’s such a popular technique that certain high-end converters are designed with this process in mind, some clipping better than others. Or even having saturation stages and intersample peak stoppers in place to make the process more ear pleasing.
In this guide, we are going to show you a very simple trick to utilize the low and medium settings within Lander to get the volume and RMS you may be looking for with your final masters.
LANDR: The DAW Clip Technique
We learned this trick from an interview with the legendary electronic mastering engineer Rob Babicz. In the interview, he suggests clipping your DAW to get some extra RMS instead of using a limiter. We have to say at first we were skeptical, but after trying this technique many years ago, we have used it with great success. This is why we are sharing it with the inner circle today.
We even when dug deeper, trying different DAWs to see which one would clip the best. The beauty of this system is that it takes off all of the inter-sample peaks. So you’re left with a compliant audio master at the end.
Similarly to the “Tape” knob on the Crane Song Hedd. If you would like to hear our Crane Song Hedd sound examples click here.
This process is actually incredibly simple to do. To start, upload your master to LANDR and choose either the low or medium setting. You want to avoid the high setting in this case. We advise the Medium setting. We used this technique to get many of our tracks signed as we show in our Getting Signed Course.
Once you get your wav file master back, import it into your DAW of choice. In this case, we are using Ableton Live. Then slowly start to turn up the clip gain or the channels volume fader until you see the master fader going into the red.
While you move the fader upward, you may notice that the master fader is in the red, but no audible clipping is perceived, slowly bring the dial up until you start hear distortion. Then bring the volume down until it’s at a suitable level. We find anywhere between 1.5db and 4db to work in this process. Now export your file as a 16-bit master, so no additional dithering or conversion is done.
At the end you will now have and louder master that should be comparable to many commercial recordings but not overly compressed. Provided you’re mixing was up to par. You can check out our Top 5 Mixing tips here.
Another approach is to slip your master file into individual sections based around the song. Intro, Breakdowns, Drops, and then gain stage each section for maximum impact. This way you could also reduce the RMS in certain sections to bring more impact to your productions.
Lastly, you can also clip your own converters for additional RMS. Just create a input / output loop going from your DAW out of your interface and then back in. You can bring the input back in though your preamps for form added color, or right into the line input converters. Driving the outputs to get the gain necessary, or turning up the input gain on your preamps.
We have useed this technique with great success to get signed on many top Beatport and Traxsource record labels. We actually have a full course documenting that process you can check out here.
Some may love or hate this process, but the bottom line is that it does work. If your stance is on the softer side of loudness war then of course this is not advice for you, and we apologize for adding fuel to your fire.
Please let us know in the comments below your thoughts on loudness, RMS levels, and if this war will ever end. Also let us know your thoughts on Lander is a mastering service.
We also have examples of before and after mastering using this technique. Click here to listen to those files.