With so many amazing plugins at our disposal these days, finding enough time to learn how to use all these new tools can be a real challenge, let alone discovering their hidden tricks, features and possible applications. Therefore, in our today's article we'll give you a quick list of various simple tricks on how to achieve a louder-sounding mix with some of the currently popular plugins.


Once your basic per-track treatment of the mix has been done and you're happy with how it sounds, one of the simplest tricks for achieving more loudness is to group all related sounds into common sub-busses, in order to process them together and achieve greater definition for each grouped category. This is often a more preferred approach to just putting a chain of effects on your master bus and calling it a day (mastering engineers particularly dislike that). So, here's a list of quick plugin tips on how to treat some of the most common sound categories.

1) For “fatter” and more convincing percussion, group them all together and then open an instance of Waves' excellent DBX160. Simply choose the “Percussion” preset from its menu, adjust the “threshold” and “mix” to taste. Voila! A proper percussion sound in a second.




Check the before and after difference in our audio examples

2) For a better control of unwanted harshness in cymbals and hats, group them all together and open an instance of Plugin Alliance's brilliant bx_refinement, choose the “Mid “ processing mode, and then decrease the “dumping” and “presence” to taste.

This will remove the undesired brittleness in the top end, but will also make the overall sound a bit dull, so follow that with Kilohearts' amazing Faturator and bring those hats back to life. Simply open an instance and adjust the “mix” to taste. That's it, a louder, but nicer cymbal sound in no time!




In the following before/after audio examples, you can hear how the hats now have more definition and presence, yet don't sound harsh and better fit the rest of the drums. 

03) For a more even and balanced-sounding bassline, use your favorite LA2 emulation such as IKM's fantastic White 2A. Put an instance on your bass track, select the “compress” mode, increase the the “peak reduction” to about half way, and then adjust the “gain” to approximately match the original loudness. There you go!

A firmer, warmer and more even-sounding bassline with no sudden jumps in bass or volume. (Alternatively, try the “limit” mode for a different dynamic response)




In these audio examples, you can now hear how a fairly dynamic bassline “firms up” and becomes more evenly leveled.

04) Once you tamed your bassline, make it louder with the Toneboosters' remarkable Bus Compressor. Just open an instance on your bass track/bus, choose the “Upward compression” preset from the menu, quickly tweak the threshold to find a sweet spot and then decrease the “mix” all the way down.

Now start adding it back slowly until you achieve the desired level of “density” in your bass sound. Quick and easy!




Check these audio examples to hear the difference 

5) To add some sparkling loudness to your vocal bus, use a dedicated tool such as the Vocal Enhancer by Plugin Alliance. Put it on your vocal bus, find a sweet spot with the frequency knob and then just add the enhancement to taste.




Check the following audio examples and hear the difference

Adding enhancement to vocals can exaggerate sibilants, so follow this with a de-esser if necessary.

6) If your pads are a bit too dynamic and jump up/down in volume often, some subtle compression on their common bus will allow you to even them out. For this purpose, check the wonderful UBK-1 by Kush.

Put it on the pad bus and increase the “compression” knob to about a third way up until you start hearing your pads more clearly. If necessary, add a bit of density and saturation to taste.




In the following audio examples, you can hear how pads exhibit more presence and definition after this treatment.

07) To avoid the often cumbersome DAW sidechain setups, the quickest way to achieve that “sidechain pump” is, by far, with the Cableguys' lovely VolumeShaper plugin. Just choose the desired pump shape and then set the wet/dry “mix” to taste.

This convenient feature is extremely useful because it allows you to add only as much “pump” as the sound needs. Try adding some to the bassline, hihats, vocals or any other sound which you feel might be too linear or flat. A little bit of “sidechain pump” will make the sounds “breathe” nicely and better fit your mix.




In the following audio examples, you can hear how a formerly flat pad starts to nicely “breathe” once a bit of sidechain pump is added this way.


Have fun with grouping your sounds and treating them with these or similar approaches. Spend some time with your plugins and see what other tricks they might be hiding in there. Loudness achieved this way adds up subtly, but nicely and will surely make a difference.

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