Normalization is the process of finding the loudest peak of an audio sample and ensuring that it reaches the maximum 0dB. If your audio playback peaks at -4dB, Ableton will raise this level to 0 dB. Even if your loudest signal is clipping at over 0dB, Ableton will lower the signal level to 0 dB. Put simply, normalizing acts as a sort of audio-level output control.
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There are four ways to normalize audio in Ableton:
- Ableton Live’s Export menu: here you will find the normalize option and is best when file-sharing demo tracks
- Manual audio normalization: here you will have to go into your sample edit options or track and manually affect the gain to reach 0dB. This method is best during the mixing and production process
- Using a compressor or limiter: these audio effects units control your sample track’s dynamic range and you can control the parameters in these audio effects units to make sure your audio peaks at 0dB/ this method is best in the mix and master process
- MIDI velocity control: how hard you play your MIDI notes ultimately affects your playback volume, adjusting velocity can help you control your audio playback level to peak at 0dB. This method is best applied in the composition and production process
Ableton Live’s Export Menu
This is Ableton’s universal normalizing method. Be wary because normalizing in this option does not affect individual track levels, but the master during export. It is straightforward to normalize through this method. This is how you go about it:
Step 1: open the export menu under Ableton’s files, and then Export Audio/Video (Cmd + Shift + R on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + R on windows)
Step 2: under rendering options, activate normalize and export your audio
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Manual Audio Normalization
This method requires a little more application from your side by manually adjusting the volume of your track. You can now normalize individual tracks for greater mix control. This can also be done in your plug-in’s volume output control. For this segment, I shall focus on audio tracks and samples. This is how you normalize using this method
Step 1: Open your audio sample and identify the most dynamic part of the sample (the loudest part)
Step 2: play this section back in your mix view and identify the volume difference
Step 3: identify the difference between the sample output to 0dB and add the volume in your audio track. In this case, my volume difference is -5.5 dB.
You will see that I have been careful not to add 5.5dB gain because this method is not as accurate and smooth as using a compressor. After all, some frequency build-up, frequency resonance, and may start to cause clipping.
You can mitigate inaccurate normalization better by using a compressor or limiter
Using a Compressor or Limiter
These 2 audio effects units control the audio dynamic range. Meaning that they pull in the lowest and highest levels of an audio signal closer. Once this is achieved, you can now control the compressor/limiter output controls to reach 0dB. So to normalize this audio, this is what you would do:
Step 1: mix your audio to attain the desired level
In the example below the audio signal peaks at -8.59 dB.
Step 2: control your compressor/ limiter output to get your signal to 0dB
Limiters are much more accurate in signal dynamic range control. This is because you can set a maximum signal output that, no matter how hard you push your gain, you will never cross your threshold
In the example above, I have set the output ceiling at 0.0dB so that no matter how high I set the input gain. The signal will not cross 0.0dB. Limiters are highly accurate when normalizing. I advise limiting your master bus and especially when mastering.
Caution! Using compressors and limiters, depending on the type or make of the plug-in you may get some added tonal artefacts. These tonal artefacts are sometimes desirable, but I would advise you to know your audio processors, the case uses, and the results you are looking for before using this method.
MIDI Velocity Control
This method of audio normalizing just like manual audio normalization and using a compressor is not entirely accurate, but it is possible to attain good results depending on the MIDI plug-in dynamism. This is how you go about doing this:
Step 1: Open your MIDI roll
Step 2: open the velocity control of your MIDI clip, select the specific notes or all the notes in your clip
Step 3: level your velocity gain
Tip! Be sure to leave some velocity changes to maintain some semblance of dynamism in your production
Do not normalize your master track when you are sending your audio for mastering. You must always leave some headroom for the mastering engineer to master your track. Try an leave a headroom of at most -3.0dB.
Normalizing is interesting when exporting audio. It is best when sending demos, and file sharing between artists, co-producers, and instrumentalists. I strongly advise that you avoid normalizing when dispatching out your mix to a mastering engineer. There are different ways to normalize audio in Ableton, and each method has its case use. Choose your strategy with the intent of the best results. Have fun!