Haha… happy to contribute. My preferences and what I’ll do for the artist are generally two different things. First and foremost, I’ll always try to do what’s best for the material. My personal preference for dance tracks is around -9 LUFS for the most part. I really just try to give the track ‘what it needs’ and the combination of gain staging my analog chain and then my commonly used plugins in the DAW with some limiting (generally 1-2dB and no more than 3dB) that’s generally where I land. I’m not just looking at values though and trying to reach or not reach a certain number… I’m listening to the dynamics of the track and what’s going on. It also has to retain a feel and groove.
That said, when it comes down to it I’m going to do what the client wants. Thankfully, most of the time I’m able to do what I think is best and the people I work with trust me for that. However, I do work some that want it a certain overall level and that’s what I’ll get them (as cleanly and best that I can). Ultimately, it’s not my art/music and not about me… so, while I’ll absolutely make suggestions (and sometimes even give two versions) if an artist wants ‘X’ then that’s their call.
Just about any decent tools ITB can get you -9 LUFS and it’ll sound good. We’re spoiled for amazing tools these days. Ideally, I’ll get a final mix coming to me around -20-22dB FS. I prefer to get a much gain (incl. color/flavor) in the analog domain as I can, but it’s just preference at this point and not absolute requirement. Once back ITB, I’m doing any last compression (if needed) and EQ’ing, then maximizing and/or limiting to reach the desired result.
I hate to say it, but if you really want to do it right, there’s generally not just any one set of tools you can use for every track. You’ll still get good/great results most of the time, but if you’re chasing that last 3-5% (whether that’s quality or level) the final tools such as choice of limiter are a big deal. They all have their own sound and are very material dependant. At this point, I’m almost never just using one limiter (as in brand) – it generally changes from track to track.
If I could only have one limiter it would be FabFilter Pro L2, but I go between all of these:
- FabFilter Pro L2
- Ozone 9 Maximizer
- Voxengo Elephant
- NewFangle Audio Elevate
- Sonnox Oxford Limiter
The DMG Audio stuff is excellent (among the best) in terms of quality, but for whatever reason I just can’t get along with the workflow and get lost with it, so I don’t use their tools.
If you want to get ‘loud’ or ‘stupid loud’ then a clipper is an absolute requirement. I settled on Sir Audio StandardClip a while ago, but also use Voxengo OVC-128 quite a bit too. Most clippers are similar and many of them will null with each other. As long as you’re using something with decent oversampling, then you’re good to go. Generally, I’m just clipping the absolute peaks (usually the snare hits), so the limiter is reacting less overall to those.
If you want stupid loud (-6 LUFS or lower) and even attempt to retain some level of quality, then you absolutely have to clip (2-3dB or more) and use multiple limiters with each handling 3dB of reduction or more. IMO, there’s just no way around it. Trying to do it all with just a clipper and single limiter it’ll sound pretty bad.
I could go on and on, but this post is getting long enough. If anyone wants to ask me more or about other tools I’m happy to reply.
Last bit… I love Dan Worrall’s videos, so here’s a recent one that’s relevant. He’s a bit harsh in this one – not entirely wrong, but… harsh.