Balancing Levels in Home Recording CD Production

By Jeff Strong

For a truly professional-sounding CD, you want all your songs to be at nearly the same relative level so that your listeners don’t have to adjust the volume on their stereos from song to song.

Balancing the levels of your songs to one another is pretty easy. In fact, in most cases, you have very little to do after you EQ and optimize the dynamics of each song. You balance the levels from one song to the next by playing one song, then the next, and listening for significant volume differences.

You can also look at your master bus meters to see whether each song is at the same level, but your ears are a much better judge.

If you notice any differences, just raise (or better yet, lower) the levels until they are all roughly the same. Don’t get too finicky. Some variation from song to song is okay. In fact, minor differences can help to make your CD more interesting to listen to. When you’re balancing levels, just make sure that any differences aren’t enough to make the listener run to his or her stereo to adjust the volume knob.

If one or two songs seem to be much lower in volume than the rest, you may want to go back to the volume-optimizing stage and raise those songs a bit to make them more consistent with the rest of the songs on the CD. This way, you don’t lower the volume of the entire CD based on one or two quiet songs.