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Loudness is one of the key elements for a successfull track. Loudness isn't everything, your track also needs a nice degree of dynamics and of course a clean sound without clipping. But productions that are just too quiet sound weak and will loose against their competitors. We don't want to win the loudness war or a waveform that looks like a brickwall, but a clean, powerfull sound that isn't too quiet. So, I want to present you my five favorite plugins to pimp up that volume for certain instruments or your whole mix and will also talk about some techniques for higher loudness.
Trash 2 is in my opinion, and I bet in the opinions of many producers too, one of the best distortion plugins out there. It supports multi-band, dual-stage distortions and advanced post-filtering for immediate sonic transformation and it has a customizable Waveshaper. It's a very powerful distortion plugin and you could "destroy" and manipulate your sounds heavily with this plugin, but we are not here for crazy distortions, we are here for increased loudness. And distortion is a great tool to make certain instruments like your snare or your bassline much louder. We are looking for a really slight distortion, that strengthens our sound without destroying it.
Use a curvey waveshape in Trash 2 and play around with the Pre, Drive and Style controllers until you have a nice clean but powerfull sound.
Supercharger GT is already a great tube compressor, BUT it also comes with two interesting buttons: Saturation and Character.
Especially the saturation option is great for making things louder. It comes with the three options mild, moderate and hot, while hot has a really high level of saturation. With the right configuration you will see that you have a lower peak in your mixer although your overall sound is already louder. Now you can also higher the channel's volume for maximizing it. I use this technique mostly for bassdrums and snares. A great combination is to use iZotope Trash 2 first with a slight distortion and compress it afterwards with Supercharger GT.
The integrated sidechain also works very well for sidechaining your bassline for example while your bassdrum kicks in.
This plugin is also part of Native Instruments Komplete Bundle.
Neutron by iZotope combines five interesting tools into one: Static/dynamic Equalizer, two multiband Compressors, a multiband Exciter, and a multiband Transient Shaper, as well as an ultra low-latency BS.1770 True Peak Limiter. It was released recently so it's one of the freshest plugins here in my list.
All 5 mixing processors are very useable, but quite interesting for our goal of a loud mix are the multiband compressors as well as the multiband exciter. The exciter got 4 blendable saturation types: Tube, Warm, Tape, and Retro. This plugin is great for mixing solo instruments like your snare, bassdrum or bassline. It's also great as a mastering plugin for your whole track or use it on your drumbus for example. It also comes with a wide range of presets for different mixing purposes.
If you're looking for a really strong but simple compressor, that gets your mix or instruments really loud, then The Glue by Cytomic is the right plugin for you. The Glue is an analog modeled compressor plug-in based on The classic 80's British big console buss compressor with some handy additional features. It uses the same high quality algorithms used in circuit simulators, but optimised to run fast, and features a gorgeous fully scalable user interface.
Compression is one of the most essential tools in any producers repertoire. The best way to think of compression is to think of it as a sort of automatic volume knob, controlling the dynamic range of the track that it is applied to. In Compression, you are modifying the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest part of an audio signal, so this means you boost the quieter signals and soften the louder ones.
When it comes to loudness you have to consider equalizing. Equalizing is a great way to create the right space for your snare for example in your mix. The "thump" sound in the lows of a snare is somewhere around 150-250Hz and the prominent high head sound is somewhere around 6.000-10.000Hz. Now it makes sense to lower up a frequency band around 150-250Hz and one between 6.000 and 10.000Hz. While your snare is now very dominant in these both frequency bands you have to lower these bands in your other instruments like your bassline for example, so that your snare has enough space when it plays while the bassline is rolling. This can also be done by (mutliband) sidechaining, but this might be an other bigger topic.
A great plugin for such equalizing tasks is Fabfilter's Pro Q2. It has a great simple GUI and just a nice clean sound. With up to 24 EQ bands it should fulfill all your equalizing needs.