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This chapter is from the book

Controlling Volume

The task you'll perform most often when mixing the tracks in your project is adjusting the volume of each track relative to the overall mix (the volumes of all tracks combined). You can control the overall volume of the project using the Master, described later in this hour. The following sections explore these two types of volume control.

Adjusting Track Volume

Use the volume fader located in the Track Header to control the volume of a track. You can also control a track's volume with a track volume envelope. Because this hour focuses on basic mixing techniques, we'll talk about the volume fader techniques here and save the more advanced topic of track envelopes for Hour 5, "Additional Editing Techniques."

Start by adjusting the height and width of the Track Header you want to work with (use any track in the Mixereze.acd project). Adjust the size of the track until you can see the multipurpose fader label, which contains information about the track's volume.

The multipurpose fader label is a very important little object. As it turns out, the track fader not only controls track volume, but when you click it, you'll see that it also controls panning (see Figure 3.5). In later hours, you'll see that the track fader can also control bus routing and effects. It's called the multipurpose fader because it has—you guessed it—multiple purposes. The label also contains further information concerning the current state of the fader. For instance, as you move the fader to adjust the volume, the label displays the current setting in dB (decibels).

Figure 3.5 Click the multipurpose fader label to switch the function of the fader control.

NEW TERM

dB  The unit dB, or decibel, is a way of describing volume—or more precisely, the relative intensity of sound. Think of 0dB as 100% of the original signal (volume). In digital audio, you can't have more than 100% (0dB) without creating distortion in your audio. As a simple analogy, think about a glass of water. The brim of the glass is 0dB. Up to that point, the water stays in the glass. You can add more water (volume) to the glass, but the excess spills all over the table and creates a mess. When you add too much volume to your tracks, the excess "spills over" and creates a mess of your project (distortion). This explains why most often you see negative values for volume settings on meters and faders in ACID. In digital audio, no sound (zero volume) is referred to as "-Inf" (-infinity).

One Man's Fader is Another Man's Slider...Or Is It?

As you work on your ACID projects, you'll see other controls that look and work just like the volume fader. Some of these controls are called faders, and others are called sliders. What's the difference between a slider and a fader? Simple. If it changes volume, it's a fader. This term comes from the early days of analog audio consoles, when you pulled down the volume control to gradually "fade out" the audio. If the control changes anything else, it's called a slider.

Click the Loop Playback button and then click the Play button so that you can listen to the changes you are about to make. To adjust the volume of the desired track, click and drag the volume fader to the left to decrease the volume or to the right to increase the volume. If you click either side of the fader, the volume decreases or increases by one whole number for each click. Use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard to adjust the volume of the selected track or tracks in 0.10dB increments. And here's a trick: Double-click the fader to quickly set it to 0.0dB. Continue adjusting the volume until you like how this track fits into your mix.

Using the Master Control

To mix your tracks properly, you need to see the Master control (frequently called, simply, the Master). To view the Master, the Mixer window must be open (by default, the Mixer is open in the right section of the Window Docking area). If another window is covering the Mixer in the Window Docking area, click the tab labeled Mixer at the bottom of the Window Docking area to bring it to the front. If you don't see the Mixer tab, choose View, Mixer from the menu bar. Adjust the size of the Mixer window by dragging the top and side edges until you can see all the controls on the Master (see Figure 3.6). In addition to the Output Fader and the Output Meters that we'll talk about here, the Master contains the following buttons:

  • Mute

  • Solo

  • Master FX

  • Device Selection (in some cases)

Figure 3.6 The ACID Master enables you to control the overall volume of your project.

NOTE

The Mixer window contains powerful advanced mixing tools. By default, it contains two controls: the Preview control and the Master control (Master). We talk a little about the Master in this section, but save a detailed discussion of the Mixer window and additional controls for Hour 13, "Using the Mixer."

The Master meters represent the mix of all the tracks in your project. Let's go back to our water-glass analogy. Think of the Master as an infinitely expandable waiter's tray. You can add as many glasses (tracks) to the tray as you want, and it always expands to hold more so that all the water can be delivered together. Only when one of the glasses overflows (that is, when one of the tracks exceeds 0dB) do you have a mess (distortion).

While you're adjusting your track volumes, keep an eye on the Master and be careful to keep the meters mostly in the yellow (between -6dB and -3dB). If you get the signal too "hot" (that means too loud), the Master meters peak above 0dB and display red. The top of each meter shows numbers representing the peak (loudest volume). When your volume is too high, a red rectangle encloses the peak value, and you're probably distorting the signal (water is overflowing from one of the glasses).

You need to find which one of your tracks is causing the Master to peak above 0dB. To do this, click the Solo button (discussed in the section "Solo and Mute" later in this hour) on track 1, and play the project. If the Master peaks above 0dB, track 1 is too loud. If track 1 is not the culprit, unsolo track 1, and solo track 2. Repeat the process until you find the track that is causing the problem. When you find it, lower the track volume for that track. If you feel that lowering the volume of the offending track will adversely affect your overall mix, click in the middle of the Master fader and drag it to a lower setting. Watch the numbers at the bottom of the meters to see the current fader settings.

NOTE

Make sure that you understand the function of the meter labels. The numbers at the top of the meters are the highest peak values. If the labels at the top of the Master meters are -Inf, it means that you have not yet sent any signal to the meters. The numbers at the bottom of the meters represent the current setting of the Master fader. If the labels are 0.0, it means that you are neither boosting nor attenuating (cutting) the signal level being delivered to the Master from the timeline.

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