Your Questions: How Can I Level The Volumes Of My Tunes?

Kontrol S2 gain

The gain knobs are there so you can attenuate or boost the incoming volumes of your source material in order to balance them against each other and to set them to the optimum level, no matter how loud or quiet the original source.

Scratching For Controller DJs student Nyasha asks: “I use a Native Instruments Traktor S2 with my Sony Vaio and get my music on iTunes. The problem is that my tracks do not play at the same volume. Some play louder than others and I don’t know how to fix that. I use MP3 format for my music. Oh, I use Traktor software too. What should I do?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Truth is, tunes just don’t always come at the same volume. That’s what the “gain” knob is for – to balance the volumes of incoming source material so you can then forget the original volume, secure in the knowledge that effectively, as far as your DJ mixer is concerned, your input sources are the same volume. Setting autogain in your software makes this even easier if you’re happy with its results.

If you really want to make tunes all the same volume, you can use a long-standing MP3 “hack” via a free program called MP3Gain, which alters a flag inside MP3s to set them to a chosen volume, without touching the actual musical information. (Apparently there’s an AAC plug-in / extension for it so it’ll work with music bought from iTunes which comes in Apple’s proprietary music format, although whether that works the same way, I don’t know.) This is preferable to using “normalise” or other digital processing in a DAW (digital audio workstation) program like Audacity, which as well as being long-winded for lot of files, inevitably results in a degrading of the sound quality as you alter then re-export your files. To most, this would be a trade-off too far.

But in the “old” days, records came at different volume levels too. It’s really no big deal. My advice would be to use the gain control in your software/hardware to balance your sources when you’re cueing them, and not worry too much about this.

Do you get annoyed by your files being at different volumes? Do you put up with it, or do something about it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Comments

  1. I’ve been using mp3gain for many years. Back then, I did a a lot of research about this and ended up using this great tool which is also free as you mentioned.

    My choice is setting it to a level of 93 db which mostly avoids clipping too.

    Highly recommended for digital DJs !

  2. I use Traktor’s autogain feature which is pretty accurate most of the time, but also make some manual gain adjustment when cueing.

  3. This is a great question, and I see/hear a lot of newer DJs that haven’t picked this up yet. Your incoming track doesn’t have the same “mix oomph” when it comes in quieter, and it’s even more jarring to have a sudden jump up in level. It’s an essential DJ habit to get into. In fact, it’s part of our job. Love your gain knob. Don’t play in the reds. Software may be your answer, but it’s worth learning how to do this yourself on the fly via the mixer as you cue, as part of your workflow.

  4. DjAngel Ortiz says:

    Tracks at different volumes are extremely annoying so I reccomend MP3 Gain as well. I set my volume at 96 which provides me a nice size waveform in Scratch Live. Although mp3 gain does not always give me the results needed for every track I can always adjust the gain via software. 9 times out of 10 mp3 gain does the job.

  5. Timo Ibiza says:

    Simple, Platinum Notes. It’s all you need.

    • i use this too, but i read on there forum from a mod that converting 320kbps files to 320 kbps actually degrades it slightly, and if you covert to wav it ends up making a much bigger file which negates the benefit of having 320kbps files, What i do is just pray that the 320 to 320 degrade is very slight and that the clips repair and stuff makes up for it, also the festival template is apparently better , but i already did all my songs through the standard one and deleted a load of the original files earlier on when i thought PN would be so much better and id never need the originals (retarded i know)

      • PN itself says its best to use it on WAVs, as you say though you have to use your ears and make a call – I’ve had digitally distorted tracks that PN really sorted out for me.

      • PN is good, but I too have had some of the “new improved” tracks showing up as bad files in Scratch Live. Sometimes they fix themselves after importing into iTunes, but it is a disconcerting development.

        And yes they recommend WAVs, but good lord those files are huge. I’d have to pare my library way down (not a bad idea btw) to make room for that.

      • Ive had this happen to me as well BJ. I run all my music through PN…..
        Every now and then I’ll run 1 through and it does something really strange to the audio. You can see it EASILY on the waveform. If you draw a perpendicular line through the middle of the waveform (half being the top and half being the bottom)…..PN will completely remove the bottom half and leave only the top half. The result is audio that ONLY comes out of the left speaker (or left headphone speaker). Odd really. I just preview all my tracks after analyzing them and re-run the downloaded original if it does this. Second time through its always fixed the issue. It doesn’t happen often, but it is something to be aware of and watch out for.

      • Btw I know the waveform is actually halved….top/bottom just being mirrors for the L/R output. Just putting it out there simply for ppl that may not know. I certainly didn’t when I started…..which wasn’t long ago.

    • DJ Gerard says:

      My experience with PN was horrible. After about 3 hours of playing tracks processed by PN the all seemed to have the same sonic signature. No matter what song I was playing the lo mid and hi’s were of all songs (no matter what genre) irritating my ears from the monotony of the actual sound.
      Like I said that was my experience.

  6. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    Manual gain all the way.

    No autogain, MP3Gain, Platinum Notes or anything.

    Perhaps it’s because I am from an era that didn’t offer any of it, but gain adjustment after loading a track is so engrained in my workflow, it’s a no-brainer. Added bonus: I am never in for a surprise if I end up playing somewhere where I only have CD-players :-).

    Greetinx,
    C.

  7. no one using “foobar2000″? i love it to organize (and gain) my tunes.

  8. Manual gain, no way! All the softwares have autogain and if you go thrue you’re library with mp3gain you will have no problems.
    One important thing is, always work with the channelfaders at the top end posission to get the same output level from all inputs.
    I even remapped my gain nobs to more important tasks.

  9. I use mp3gain works very well, also as mentioned before the auto gain in Traktor works great! mp3gain is freeware and can be downloaded from http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net/

  10. MediaMonkey has the mp3gain library built in. You can get reports of all the tracks that need gain analysis and perform it as a batch. It’ll set the id3 tag for gain and keep it in the database so your Dj software will pick up the setting. Superb solution cause its one less piece of software to futz with.

  11. DJ Forced Hand says:

    No matter what you do with gain on your deck, if you turn it up, do your best to bring it back down to 0 dB gain as soon as you can. There are technical reasons for doing this, but it becomes an arms race when you keep cranking up the gain. Remember that Gain is not the same thing as Volume and you’ll not only get weird distortion when you push beyond your maximums, but you’ll also run into a wall of “Nowhere left to go” when you’ve pegged the knobs.

    Treat Gain like everything else, it’s an adjuster.

  12. DJ Gerard says:

    So as far as gain control for me when I was using a PC years ago and Serato I was amazed how well MP3Gain worked. I switched to Traktor and all was wel too. Then I got a Macbook Pro. I started using MacMP3Gain and my files have NEVER been the same. Let alone if I want to change the target output. I even had some tracks that changed in the middle of the track. How did that happen if it only adjusts an output setting? I gave up on MacMP#gain and just live with controlling my own levels like we did back in the day. Just hard to let go of a DJ luxury I know worked perfect for awhile on my old setup. It was suppose to be an upgrade to a Mac not more work LOL
    Has anyone else experience MacMP3Gain problems? I now am trying MacMp3GainEXPRESS. It seems stable but too soon for me to decide a 100% opinion.

  13. A method that can be used is using platinum notes, but the software is darn expensive.. If u got money, go for it. But it does not represent accurate 100% gain.

    An advice if u want a free method is using the traitor auto gain. However. Remember that auto gain is not even close to 90% accurate. To make it near 100% accurate is using your eyes to see the output level on your mixer after loading and while mixing. Make sure the output level of both channels are the same. Don’t trust your ears and headphone too much in live scene for gains, there are too many outside distortions and noise.

    Remember no software is 100% accurate as waveforms never represents the energy of any mo3s. and it is impossible to achieve 100% accurate gain. Nor we as human are 100% accurate. Just do your best and NEVER allow a volume drop during live crowd mixes. When in doubt, increase the gain a bit more. Trust me on this, crowd prefer an increase in volume rather than drops.. Drunk people haha..

  14. I tried mp3 gain. i was fond of it at first but stopped using it because i had the impression that it lowers the overall track volume. see me personally and most of you will disagree with me on this, i don’t like it when a song has “low” and “high” parts. I prefer the volume to be constant. If i want to make a part lower i can always use the volume slider there and then.

    Afterwards, I started using a program called breakaway. This software takes over the soundcard and adjusts the volume on the fly without altering the track. It does what it says on the tin but adds latency and makes it hard to lower the volume through the dj software say if you wanted to do a talkover or simply wanted to lower the volume for whatever reason. I wish they had a version that altered mp3s permamently and did not have to run the software in the backround. Then my search for the Holy Grail of constant volume would have been complete.

    Currently i use platinum notes, which im not 100% happy about but worked better than everything else i tried. It claims to adjust the dynamics in the track but in my experiance it only does it to a certain extend.

    The best way so far for me at least was to run things on platinum and then fine tune things manually. Autogain does not always work. On Virtual DJ at least.
    So for me the search continues although i have almost given up there will be an automatic solution ever

  15. Numbdrum says:

    I agree, mp3gain is a great tool but now that I use a Mac mp3gain is not an option. I’m still waiting for more reviews of the Mp3Gain Express for Mac but ill probably just go ahead and give it a go. Great article Phil!

  16. I like using manual gains but it’s important to recognize the danger of making tracks louder and louder through out the night. It’s very easy to get excited about your next track and make it just a tad louder. If you do that enough times, you will end up in a real bad spot.

    One the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to remember that making things quieter can have a dramatic impact. I’m not talking about mixing in a song with too little volume. Rather, there may be points in your set where you want to pull the volume down to create some drama.

  17. MP3Gain question for you guys:

    “Track Gain”?

    OR

    Entire music collection + “Album Gain”

  18. Here is a question some what on topic, I’d be greatfull for any advice; so here’s my question: I use an online mp3 music pool for a great deal of my collection and the way I transfer files got me thinking about audio quality. The way I get the tracks into my traktor collection is as follows; I use my iPad and (1)download a track from the online pool site,using a downloader app, then (2) I transfer or “open” that track into my Dropbox app/folder, then (3) I go to the Mac and move the track from Dropbox to a music folder then (4) open traktor and import to the collection. DONE so my question is, am I degrading or loosing audio quality by transferring the track file multiple times? When the track finally makes it to my traktor collection it still shows 320kbps and the file size is the same but I’m just curious as to wether the audio has been effected? Thank you for any help on the issue.

  19. Numbdrum says:

    Thank you DJ Gerard.

  20. There is a huge difference between loudness (or gain) and the perceived loudness of a track – which is more accurately represented by RMS metering, an option not available in most DJ software that I know of. This means that in a lot of occasions MP3gain or any ‘auto-gain” option simply will be wrong. Also, to all those who use MP3gain, do take under consideration that if a track is peaking at a constant -2 dB with a sudden peak at -0.1dB it will still report that the track has its gain full – it will still sound less loud than a track with constant peaking at – 1 dB though.

    I prefer using the gain manually for the above reasons. As a tip just remember, the peaks of a track alone do not determine its actual “perceived” loudness.

    • P.S. : also, I’d like to mention that “normalise” is just a process of permanently raising the gain of a track so that its highest peak reaches to 0 dB. It’s describes as a “destructive” process, in the sense that it alters permanently the gain of of a track (as opposed to mp3gain for example) but its not really degrading the quality of the sound as it is mentioned in the article.

  21. I totally agree with you here Phil – People are focusing too much on the technical intricacies instead of resorting to the simplicities of just using the standard gain knobs.

  22. crowDSource says:

    Excellent topic for discussion. I use a numark mixtrack pro and traktor 2.6 on a pc. I use auto-gain but, again, this misses the mark a bit too often. I like doing thing manually but, again, when the room is loud and noises are everywhere, this also doesn’t work all the time. How can I visually compare the db output of the incoming track to that of the playing track? The gain meters on screen under the channel faders don’t seem to be accurate – am I wrong about this?

  23. Glad to see “use the knob” suggested here. I use traktor with timecode and an external mixer and have auto gain turned off. I honestly don’t believe in software gain controls but those using internal mixing don’t really have a choice.

    At any rate, hopefully this is useful advice… What I do when cueing a track is to load the track into a deck and take a look at the waveform. Then I move the needle to what looks like the loudest parts in the track and let it play in the headphones. From there I adjust that channel’s gain on my mixer so that the channel’s meter matches that of the currently playing track. Then I leave it alone and go find my cue point and get on with beatmatching the track and finally ready for the mix.

  24. info@dfrr.biz says:

    Sometimes I use the Dynamics feature in SoundForge to beef up a track – it’s a basic compression and puts some punch into some old tracks or vinyl rips that are a bit weak. But for best results start with a WAV so that you’re working with the whole sound and then export to MP3.

    Otherwise, Traktor’s auto-gain is great – it does the same as MP3Gain in that it modifies a tag, but you can tweak it in rehearsal and then lock it along with cues and grids ready for the show.

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