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Volume of Punch Libations

I find myself obsessively seeking punchiness while mastering more as time goes on, sometimes expanding dynamics to increase transient impact, un-compressing mixes to an extent. I think it's in response to mixers having access to so many efficient plugins such that everything gets compressed with little financial or CPU stress. The resulting mix can lack punch despite having high, constant volume. I'm not here to tell you how to mix, rant about 'loud' vs. 'dynamic' or diss compression, but there are ways to get increased punch while still achieving high overall volume without compressing stuff for these reasons.

(Of course there are many reasons to compress, obviously, outside of this entries intent.)

The streaming providers - Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, Qobuz, Apple, Amazon, etc, have decided upon playback volume-standards to help consumers automatically deal with the huge variety of loudness found across different songs, styles and eras.

Crudely explained, once your song/album gets to the streamers it'll be volume-analyzed. Volume 'statistics' embed to it's metadata and, with 'volume normalizing' selected in the streamer's app - most install with it on, loud songs get turned down, quiet songs are untouched or turned up.

In theory the consumer isn't reaching for the volume knob because stuff plays back at similar volumes.

It's a transparent way to deal with the wild variety of volumes found in productions and a hell of a lot better than obtrusive multiband compression and limiting, for example, still often used by radio stations to this day.

More than ever the volume question then becomes one of your project's musical aesthetic - an aspect of the project's sonic flavor - rather than a necessity borne of competition.

If you feel a super-aggressive constant volume fits your project's character so be it.

If you prefer a more natural dynamic range so be it.

No 2 projects are alike in this way.

Back to punchiness.

Much of music's impact, whether material with bass, drums and bold electronics or acoustic music with dynamic extremes, comes from transients - the attacking, punchy part of sound.

Back in the day and still, compression is used to bring levels up and, if used wisely, the ear still hears and feels impact.

Wisely is the operative term.

As plugin dynamics devices became affordable and ubiquitous over the last 25 years, making it easier than ever to compress (long before streaming standards came into play), transients and punchiness have often taken a beating, no pun intended.

All of this leads me to, with some projects, expand rather than compress, paying EXTREME attention to transients so as to maximize punchiness at the same time as getting volume up to the level the artist requires.

Same with using limiters to get levels to where they need to be. Much time is spent making sure musical transients aren't mangled, low end remains clean and punchiness is beautifully dialed in.

In closing this verbose tome, I highly recommend you consider communicating with your mix and mastering persons about these issues to help create mixes (and masters) with maximum transient impact, maximum punchiness leading to primo emotional power.

It doesn't have to be technical advice.

For example, suggesting your project is as loud and punchy as so-and-so's project, another project you really like, can inform your engineer's choices with dynamics processing.

Maximum emotional impact AND the desired overall volume, with maximum punch, should be our goal.

Moral of the story?

Don't over-compress everything just 'cuz you can. It can choke the life out of a song.

But if you do I just might expand to get it back.


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