Use Pink Noise to Set Track Levels
Setting your track levels properly can be tough, especially if you haven’t been doing mixing and mastering work for very long. This guide is going to help you properly set your levels. Why is setting your levels properly so important? Here are a couple reasons:
1. Louder elements draw the listeners attention and help to direct their focus throughout the song.
2. A “tighter” (less dynamic) mix will allow for a master that is perceived as louder.
3. Setting your levels properly can bring your mix from 0% finished, to 60% finished. Think about this one for a moment. No other mixing technique is going to affect your overall mix as much as setting your overall levels will.
What is Pink Noise?
Pink noise is a type of noise that reduces in amplitude as it’s frequency increases. For every octave you move up in the frequency spectrum, the energy of the noise decreases by half (3dB). The human ear perceives this type of noise as balanced throughout the frequency spectrum. This means that 60Hz is going to sound just as loud as 6000Hz, even though it’s not. With the goal of achieving a balanced mix, you can take this knowledge (that pink noise sounds balanced throughout the frequency spectrum) and apply it to your songs.
If we take a look at pink noise and compare it to a properly mixed song, you’re going to notice that their frequency slopes look similar to one another.
Using Pink Noise as a Tool
Now that you know what pink noise is, you can begin using it as a tool. The goal is to make the curve of your song, look like the curve of the pink noise. What you're actually doing here is balancing the levels of your song, using the pink noise as a reference. To accomplish this, follow these 8 easy steps:
1. Turn the output of your audio interface way down. This entire process should be done at a low volume.
2. Download a pink noise sample here.
3. Put the pink noise onto a new audio track.
4. Loop the main section of your song with the pink noise playing in the background at -12dB.
5. Solo the pink noise.
6. With the pink noise soloed, also solo the first track in your song (for example your kick track).
7. Bring the level of your kick track down until it’s barely audible against the pink noise.
8. Repeat this process for the rest of your tracks. By bringing each track down to this barely-audible threshold, you're creating a frequency slope that will match that of the pink noise.
Upon playback of your entire song, you’ll notice that everything is sitting generally where it should be. I often use this to assist myself if I'm experiencing a lot of ear fatigue. This is also a great way to make sure you aren't overlooking anything in your mix. At this point, you’re going to want to tweak levels and massage them into place.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to mixing. There’s no “right” way to do anything, but there are certain methods that will yield certain results. This method just happens to nicely set a majority of your levels for you. Add pink noise to your tool belt and stop getting hung up on level adjustments.