Clipping distortion

Most of the music at the Headliners Competition in Lowell this weekend so far has sounded really great. However, one song had quite a bit of distortion throughout the entire song. Perhaps it wasn’t enough for the judges to lower the dancer’s marks, but it was still very noticeable and distracting. This distortion sounded like a buzzing coming through the speakers. It was most likely a phenomenon known as clipping distortion.

For folks who are new to audio editing, you might be tempted to “turn it up” once you discover that you can make the song louder in your mixing/editing software than it was originally. This is almost always a BIG MISTAKE. Why? Because there is an upper limit to the volume possible to record in a computer audio file (an mp3, aiff, wav, aac, etc), or on a CD. If you try to make your song go louder than this upper limit, you are simply introducing noise and crackly distortion into your song.

Without getting too far into the technicalities of this maximum level, let’s just say that 90% of the time, raising the volume will result in nasty sounding distortion. The judges have a long enough day as it is without assaulting their ears with this noise.

Older recordings that sound soft or any music which has soft passages CAN be made to sound louder through expertly applied mastering techniques such as upward compression and judicious use of peak limiting, but this is best handled by an audio professional. Too much peak limiting (a form of compression) can result in a squashed sound, leaving your track lifeless, dull and weak; which is exactly the opposite of your intended result of creating a cranked and pounding track.

Bottom line: DO NOT INCREASE THE VOLUME of your songs and tracks when editing them on a computer, unless you are okay with a crackly distorted sound for your music. In most cases, your songs are already as loud as they can go without further professional enhancement. Once you create clipping distortion in an audio file, there is NO WAY to remove it. The only way to get rid of it is to trash the distorted version and go back to the original version.

If you’re using a song that needs its volume goosed up a bit, feel free to email me and I can likely make the track sound louder without causing any clipping distortion. This is especially true if the song is an older song, or even a modern song with passages that are too soft when played over a typical sound system that dancers perform with.

For more on the dangers of trying to get your audio tracks louder, check out: The Losers of the Loudness Wars

If you are looking to get your track louder without suffering clipping distortion, check out my mastering services.

One thought on “Clipping distortion

  1. Pingback: What exactly is good music editing for dance routines? « Squirrel Trench Audio

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