Normalizing backing tracks

Allen contacted me and asked about normalizing backing tracks. He’s not alone. Quite a few of you out there have been asking about “Normalizing” backing tracks. Some of you know what it is but just don’t know how to do it, while others have only just come across this word. So here’ goes with an explanation:

Hi Kenny
Someone told me the other day I should “Normalize” all my
tracks, as their volumes are all different? What is
“Normalizing”, and how do I do it myself?

Hi Allen

Normalizing a track means adjusting the level (volume) of a track.

This usually refers to increasing the volume of a track that is too low (quiet) but in some cases can also refer to reducing the volume of a track which is too loud.

When your friend spoke about “Normalizing” your backing tracks, he was talking about adjusting the level of all your backing tracks so that they all have a constant volume level.

The advantage of doing this is that when a singer is singing live on stage, he then doesn’t have to spend time between songs fiddling with the volume of every backing track he’s about to sing. Audiences like to concentrate on the singer and they find it very off-putting when they see a singer constantly messing around with their sound equipment while in the middle of their act – to an audience it looks like the singer doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The reason most singers haven’t heard of Normalizing or don’t know what Normalizing means is because it’s not actually a musical term! It’s one of those rather unhelpful “buzz words” that crept in to the music & audio industry a few years ago by non musicians. Professional sound engineers never used the word “Normalize” until recently. It was actually coined by computer users back in the late nineties when they began “sharing” mp3 files with each other and found that different mp3’s from different “sharers” often had different volume levels. I guess that they just wanted all their songs to have a “normal” volume level, hence the distinctly un-musical word “Normalize” was born!

The good news is that there are many inexpensive and even free programs out there on the internet which will “Normalize” your backing tracks – just do a search on Google and you’ll come up with loads. Try a few and see if any give you satisfactory results.

Unfortunately I can’t personally recommend any of them because in my opinion to properly normalize backing tracks (and by that I mean retain the quality of the original sound file you’re normalizing), you really need good quality audio editing software and this is expensive. For best results, the mp3 should be converted to a wav file, normalized, and then re-encoded back to mp3.

One of the best programs you’ll find which I DO recommend is wavelab. It can open up tracks as wav files, normalize them, and then convert them back to mp3 all in the one program.

Unfortunately Wavelab is very expensive so perhaps before you go and throw a ton of money at Wavelab, have a look at a free program we have. It isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Wavelab, but it IS an excellent audio editor.

Also there’s an article I wrote some time ago about editing backing tracks which you may also find useful.