Trying to get radio sound volume levels

Been using audacity forever. I’ve been doing a lot of remixes and when I mix things down I generally just listen to each piece in the song and adjust the volume to where it sounds kind of okay. But there is something that they do to songs in the studio because they just sound different on the radio. All the levels seem similar (But I don’t think the same obviously because we would hear things like the bass just screaming out) I’m trying to figure out how to get this final sound just so it sounds more professional and I’m sure it has to do with compression and normalizing. When I’ve just outright normalized a song It has not sounded good and everything was just sounded like a mess. If anyone has some ideas and steps to take I would appreciate it!

Broadcast radio stations have always used compression and at-least some limiting. Limiting is a kind of fast-compression and like regular compression it’s normally used with make-up gain (or you can Amplify or Normalize after limiting/compressing) to make “everything louder”.

Compression is tricky because there are several settings (and different compressors) and you can mess-up the sound. You just have to experiment. I don’t know exactly what the radio stations are doing.

You can try the regular limiter effect or there a couple of [u]additonal-optional limiters[/u].

You can also try boosting the bass and/or the highs with Graphic EQ. In most cases you’ll need to run the Amplify or Normalize effects to bring down the volume after boosting something.

Most streaming services don’t compress or limit but they loudness-match so that different songs are about the same perceived loudness.

When I’ve just outright normalized a song It has not sounded good

Normalization is a linear loudness adjustment, exactly like adjusting the volume control. It has no effect on “sound quality”. Regular normalization “maximizes” the volume for 0dB (or near 0dB) peaks. Peak levels don’t correlate well with perceived loudness so normalizing all of your files won’t make them all the same loudness.

…And, compression reduces musical dynamics (“it’s dynamic compression”). Dynamics (sometimes called “dynamic contrast”) is the range from loud to quiet. If everything is the same volume and “loud” music becomes boring. :wink: Although it might sound “exciting” at first.

Multiband compression & limiting , like ToneBooster’s broadcast plugin

Good News: ToneBooster’s broadcast v3 plugin is free.
Now the bad news: v3 is not VST3, so it won’t work in real-time in Audacity3,
(but is real-time in Audcaity2).

More free multi-band compressors …

Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I should have been a little more clear because it’s not just radio stations that I am hearing this all around just more pleasurable sound when I listen to a song. It’s so difficult to describe what I’m trying to achieve. On my remixes sometimes I will just hear something that seems too loud to me and then I tweak it and then it’s not loud enough and so on and so on lol It’s frustrating because I cannot really explain what it is that I’m trying to get to which makes it impossible to get there. Obviously it has something to do with mixing and it is mixing. Duh lol. But in a way it just seems to homogenize things more (which sounds negative but it’s not in my mind for this example) And it just has a more overall pleasing sound to the ear. I’m currently experiencing this with my remix in Audacity now but does anyone think that once you turn it into a mp3 or wav that it just sounds different than listening to the raw mix in Audacity? That could also be what I’m experiencing…

If the “loudness equalization” “audio enhancement” is on in Windows, you will be chasing your tail trying to adjust volume in Audacity.
Here’s how to turn any Windows “audio enhancements” off …

Broadcast radio stations have always used compression and at-least some limiting.

Unless they changed it, Broadcast systems don’t use compression as much as automatic level setting. They have to maintain “pleasant” volume levels even if the studio, automation, or satellite link is a bit off. They have to pass Proof Of Performance where they send tones through the system and check for volume, overload distortion, and noise. Compression systems would never make it past that.

There is limiting. There is almost always a peak limiter just before the transmitter to keep accidents from overloading. Overloading transmitters are not fun. They start to spray trash into other radio channels.

Remember Chris’s Compressor? That was the closest I’ve ever seen of a processing system to a broadcast match. No matter what you shoved in there, the volume and peak performance was nearly always perfect.

The clincher was the one time I lost the show and Chris was still working. Chris slowly increased the gain searching for the show. fffffffffffffffff. That is so classic broadcast I had to sit down for a minute.


On my remixes

Are you really “mixing”? What are you mixing?

If you don’t know how to describe what you’re hearing or wanting to hear, then of it’s difficult. :wink:

I’m thinking it’s mostly EQ (bass & treble & “frequency balance”) and/or compression & limiting. The “big 3” effects are EQ, compression, and reverb. They are used on almost every music production.

In general, dynamic compression makes the loud parts quieter and/or the quiet parts louder, pushing everything toward the same-constant loudness. In practice it’s mostly used to “push down” the loud parts and then make-up gain is used to bring-up the overall-average loudness. Newer releases tend to have more compression, although that’s changed a bit because listeners are complaining about the lack of dynamics and the streaming services are using loudness normalization and that just turns-down the louder tracks so nobody can “win” the [u]Loudnesss War[/u].

Virtually all commercial recordings have SOME compression except for some rare jazz and classical recordings.

If you want “loudness” the Audacity limiter (with make-up gain) is very good. It uses look-ahead so unlike some other limiters it doesn’t change/distort the wave shape. (It still might sound like distortion if you over-do it.)

I’m currently experiencing this with my remix in Audacity now but does anyone think that once you turn it into a mp3 or wav that it just sounds different than listening to the raw mix in Audacity? That could also be what I’m experiencing…

If it sounds “worse” after exporting, my 1st thought is [u]clipping[/u] (distortion). Do you have Audacity set-up to [u]Show Clipping[/u]?

Mixing is done by summation and mixing two or more tracks together will almost always push the levels into clipping unless you lower the levels before mixing.

If you are mixing, let us know… There are some “tricks”.

Boosting the bass will also usually push the levels into clipping.

Note that Audacity itself uses floating-point which has no upper (or lower) limits so if you boost the bass (etc.) and then you “see red”, the waveform isn’t really clipped yet and you won’t get distortion unless you play at “full digital volume” and clip your digital-to-analog converter. Regular WAV files can’t go over 0dB so if Audacity is showing clipping the WAV will be clipped when you export and it will be distorted at any playback volume.

MP3 can go over 0dB but it might have a “fuzzy” maximum. But you should still shouldn’t export a file (of any kind) that goes over 0dB, at least not as your “permanent” format.

As I’m sure you know, MP3 is lossy compression. Data is thrown-away to make the file smaller and that can “damage” the sound. It’s not necessarily terrible and it can often sound exactly like the uncompressed original but you should probably work with WAV (or FLAC) files for now to eliminate that variable. And when you make an MP3, a higher bitrate (bigger file, less compression) generally gives you better quality. (Don’t confuse MP3 file compression with dynamic compression… MP3 does not change the dynamics.)

Another “odd” thing can happen with MP3… Since it’s lossy and it changes the wave shape, some peaks get higher and some lower. That can push the new-higher peaks into (potential) clipping and when you open the MP3 in Audacity it might “show red”. I don’t think that slight distortion is audible but some people normalize to about -1dB so the MP3 doesn’t go over 0dB.


I’m creating a remix so I have different tracks for drums, bass, vocals, guitars, and so on. I have the gain on most of those tracks set at 0 DB except for say bass and hand claps. On Facebook I saw an advertisement for a site called EMastered. Timing couldn’t be better and I might give it a shot. Basically you upload your song and then it “analyzes and masters” it allows you to preview the results and then download it. They claim “eMastered applies the same professional studio processes like EQ, Compression, Saturation, and many more, giving you professional sound for a fraction of the cost of studio mastering.”

There is a free AutoEQ plugin which works in Audcaity3 …

Oh! This is excellent. I may try this thank you

Wow! Absolutely - wow! I took a previous remix and dropped it in to E-Mastered and I cannot tell you the difference in sound. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for! There’s a screenshot of kind of what is happening… I’m going to do the $19 a month deal… I do not offer thid service myself or anything like that. I’m not making money off this. Just thought I’d share because with a couple of clicks I’m pretty blown away

Multi(4)band-compression* & stereo-width plugin for free …

  • sub-bass boost & transient-shaping.

[ * “pressure” knob is the multi-band compression, “comp” is single-band, they can be used together ]

Not sure if it’s allowed but I’m posting a video where I’ve done an A/B comparison after using this site to master one of my remixes. I’m VERY pleased with the results. Thought I’d post a link (it’s not public only those with the link can view it) in case anyone else needs this info. I want to be clear that I have nothing to do with this site nor profit from it all but I’m going to assume that others might be looking for a really good and easy solution.

You may as well be working for their competitors :laughing: : if that’s all it does its not worth any money.

Cramit is a free multi(3)band compressor (& expander & distortion) plugin which works in Audcaity3 on Windows (& allegedly on Macs) …

I will check that out for sure…I don’t think emastered is worthless. A simple listen to my tests show that it certainly improves the project. You are able to adjust mastering intensity, compressor intensity, equalization intensity, stereo width, volume and equalization. You can even upload a reference song along with the song you want to master. According to them doing so “will serve as a sound guide for the mastering engine. eMastered will analyze the file’s sonic identity, and apply that learning to your own master.” Whether it did that with my reference song - who knows but there is definitely something good that happens when using it. Simplicity is the name of the game for some folks that can do quite a bit but have yet to learn the process of mastering. But I’m not one to shy away from a tool before using it so I’ll check out what you posted. I would encourage you to do the same with emastered. You can upload a file and listen to the differences without paying anything.

So it definitely looks like an amazing plugin. I watched a video about it and I can totally see myself using it at some point. There definitely is a learning curve and I’m going to have to do some work but I can see myself using it for sure. Thanks for the link!

Cramit looks complicated …
but it does have presets.