Exciting and emotional music connects better with listeners. It draws them into the song and they can’t help but want to hear more.
Melody, chord progressions and sound choices all play their part in taking the listener on this journey. But, there’s one thing that separates the OK tracks from the GREAT tracks…
A chorus (or drop) that has a ‘big impact’ is one of the most satisfying and memorable parts of any song.
In this post I'm going to give you some mixing and mastering techniques to help you accentuate the impact of your chorus, so you can give your listeners goosebumps when they hear your next production.
Why Does My Chorus Sound Weak?
You’re not alone.
A lot of producers make the same, simple mistake. Thankfully it’s a relatively easy fix once you know what to do.
If you get a sense of being underwhelmed when your chorus comes in, the most likely cause is that it’s simply not as loud as your build up, pre-chorus, or verse.
To introduce a dynamic impact when your chorus drops, make sure it’s a bit louder than the music that leads into it. It can be anything from subtle to dramatic depending on your artistic choice.
A straightforward way of doing this is to increase the gain of the channels that are present in the chorus.
If the channels are also heard in the build up you might use automation to increase their volume.
Analyze Your Favorite Mixes, Why Are They Great?
Learning from your favorite songs is a great way to progress as a music producer. The problem is, most budding audio engineers don’t have a good idea of how to analyze a song, other than to listen to it carefully. Now, listening carefully is certainly part of the process, but we can use tools to help us get a better understanding of what’s going on.
Step 1: Run The Song Through EXPOSE
Our standalone application will help you get all the technical details of a song in just a few seconds. You’ll also get the tonal balance information.
Drop your favorite mix into EXPOSE and focus on the following readings:
Dynamic Range: This tells you how punchy the track is during the least punchy moments. If this number is below 5DR, the punch is a little low. If it’s above 9DR, the track is super-punchy.
Loudness Range: This tells you how different the loudness is between the verse and chorus. Below 4LU shows there is not much of a difference. Above 6LU is an average difference. Above 8LU is a pretty significant difference.
Compare EQ: This looks at the frequency range of the audio files chorus compared to the preset (You can load any song to compare against). This can help you identify how the tonal balance across various songs differs. So many songs out there have wildly different tonal balances. The more you understand the range of possibilities, the better you can decide what is best for your own music.
Click and drag the audio waveform to create a loop of how the chorus kicks in. Take note of what you’re hearing… Finish this article first to guide you on what tricks you can listen for.
Step 2: Compare Using REFERENCE
After following step 1, you have an in depth understanding of your reference track (this puts you at a huge advantage over anyone who skips this step).
Now use REFERENCE to compare how your verse transitions to your chorus compared to your reference track. Loop the relevant sections both in your DAW and in REFERENCE, and jump back and forth. Ask yourself:
- Does the increase in volume from verse to chorus sound comparable to my reference track?
- Does the first beat have the same impact?
- Does my arrangement work just as well?
- Am I using the full frequency range and do my sample/synth choices work?
- Does my stereo width grow when the chorus drops?
Using a reference track here helps keep you on the right path. You want your chorus to hit just right, not make your listener fall off their chair.
First Beat Of The Chorus
That first beat is incredibly important. You want the punch of the kick to be felt.
A rookie mistake that some producers make is that they have too many channels competing for space on the first beat. A sub drop, a kick sample, the bass, the vocals, the synths… A pro tip is to use sidechain chain ducking to reduce low-end elements when the kick is heard.
I’ve even seen some A-Lister mix engineers actually cut the audio of the bass and fade it back in so the kick can be heard perfectly on that first beat.
Keep It Simple
Your arrangement (the instruments you chose) is key here. Too many instruments will lead to a cluttered mix that feels congested and lacks clarity.
Beginner producers often apply layer upon layer in search of a larger sound. This approach usually has the opposite effect. The layers compete with each other, eat up headroom, and ultimately you end up with a small sounding track.
Rather than endless layering, a better approach is to choose a single rich sound that covers a range of frequencies that compliments the rest of the arrangement.
With rich sounds, you can cover the whole frequency range without cluttering the mix. This will help you achieve louder and clearer masters.
A simple arrangement is also more easy to digest as a listener.
Use The Full Frequency Range
The chorus is usually the part of the song which has the widest range of frequencies. You’ve most likely got the full range of your bass, a thick mid range of music and vocals, as well as crispy cymbals and FX in the high-end.
To enhance this effect, the chorus can be contrasted against a build up where the low-end is gradually removed (imagine a DJ removing the low-end with a filter before the drop). Regardless of the genre you work in, this technique can be used in either an obvious or subtle way.
This can also be done with the high frequencies. You can slightly roll off the high-end, or automate high-end parts (such as hi-hats) to reduce before the chorus, and then have them jump back into the mix with their full brightness.
Contrast Stereo Width
You can elevate the sense of the chorus being ‘bigger’ by having a more narrow stereo width leading up to the chorus, then using a wider stereo width when the chorus kicks in.
An effective way to do this is to introduce wider channels during the chorus. This could be wide backing vocals, a stereo delay on a lead, or a new instrument set wide in the stereo field.
You might even choose to automate a channel to have more width during the chorus. Perhaps a subtle approach like increasing the width of the mid and high frequencies of your bass?
Our mixing and metering tool LEVELS (pictured below) will help you analyze the stereo width of your song. As well as helping you identify any technical errors with your song.
Make Sure Your Limiter Isn’t Working Too Hard
All your hard work can be undone in seconds with bad limiter settings. If you push the limiter too hard, you’ll get a super squashed result, ruining the integrity of your transients. This reduces both the loudness range (difference between your verse and chorus) and the dynamic range (the short term punch of each transient).
Even if you’re not going too loud, sometimes incorrectly setting the attack, release, link and output parameters can clamp down on the transients in an unnatural way.
Our LIMITER plugin analyzes your audio and suggests the optimum setting for every single parameter. You’ll get a super-transparent and musical result in no time at all. Here’s how to do it:
Load up an instance of LIMITER on your master channel and select your preset, such as Loud, Spotify, or Apple Music.
Monitor the loudest section of your track, and click analyze.
You’ll see a target range highlighted on the input gain slider showing you what gain adjustment is suggested to achieve your sonic goal.
You’ll also see target arrows on the attack, release, link and ceiling knobs, helping you optimize those settings to suit your music.
Set the gain slider¹ within the highlighted target range, then adjust the attack², link³, and ceiling⁴ knobs to match the suggestions based on LIMITERs analysis.
We recommend leaving ‘Release’ on auto for the most musical result.
It’s All Relative
A common theme amongst these tips is making sure that your verse and chorus are different. If your verse is wide and bright, then your chorus won’t sound wide and bright relative to it.
Set yourself up for success. Give your listeners a frame of reference. During the verse, lull them into a false sense of security with a modest width and keep the extreme low and high frequencies balanced moderately. When the chorus starts, the change will be a wow moment and the impact will be significant.
Play with these ideas and see what works best in your songs. Try different levels of subtlety. Sometimes just peppering in these ideas works perfectly, and sometimes going all out hits the spot.