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Old 11th January 2017
Originally Posted by attaboy_jhb View Post
ok well this is what I do do but my guitar tracks with 10db of headroom RMS at around -30dbfs. Is that OK? or should I just not care about RMS?
The dialogue you hear in pretty much every film is at around -31dBfs... so I'd say you are in the ball park.

The thing about "-18dBfs" is that it is a REFERENCE level. That is what throws most people off when they first start trying to get better recordings.

What is a reference level? It is the level you use with a test signal to calibrate your gear and your listening position.

I'll try to make this quick so it's not a lot of reading, but here is basically how you "record at -18dBfs". After doing this you'll notice that some of the tracks record hotter than -18 and some quieter. And that is ok.

When setting up any studio even a modest home studio, you need to make sure that everything is calibrated correctly. This ensures that one part of your studio isn't accidentally causing problems for another part of your studio.

If you have a modest setup, calibrating to -18dBfs is pretty easy. The only two things you will need, is whatever free signal generator plugin that came with your DAW and an SPL meter of some sort. A lot of people have the Radio Shack "Realistic" brand SPL meter that costs around $30. Those are great. You can also now find SPL meter apps for your cell phone that can also work well. It's ok if the SPL meter isn't super expensive and amazing. You will just be using it to help set a repeatable reference level. So it doesn't have to be super expensive.

First turn your monitor volume knob all the way down and if your speakers have a volume knob on them, set them to their "unity" or normal level mark, or just turn them all the way up.

Then, In your DAW create a mono track, pan it HARD LEFT, and put the signal generator plugin on it. Set the signal generator to PINK NOISE (has to be pink, not white) and set it's level to -18.

Set your SPL meter to C-weighting, Slow response. If there are gain ranges try to set it around the 70 to 80dB SPL range.

Now start turning up your monitor volume knob. hold your SPL meter right about the spot your head normally is when sitting at your daw in front of your speakers. Depending on how far away from the speakers you are, you can stop turning up the volume at a lower SPL level. What I usually recommend is that if you are less than about 3ft away from your speakers, stop turning up the knob when the SPL meter reads 76dB SPL. If you are 3ft to about 6ft stop when the meter reads 79dB SPL. If you are more than 6ft away you can use 82dB or 85dB SPL (these levels are my own guidelines... nothing scientific about them). if 76 feels too quiet, turn it up to 79... if it feels too loud turn the volume knob down a little bit.

You want it to be loud enough that you feel like you really have to raise your voice and shout to be heard over the noise. So it's fairly loud but not deafening. Whatever reading gets you to that point, 76, 79, 82 or 85... you could even use non standard levels like 78 or 81 or whatever, that is what you want. You want the noise to be loud enough that if you were talking to the person next to you, you would have to raise your voice and shout a little to be heard.

Yup a piece of masking tape or console tape on your monitor volume control and with a pen/marker/sharpie mark the spot where the volume knob is so you can always go back to it in an instant.

This is now you calibrated reference level AT -18dBFS!

When you start recording... DO NOT TOUCH THE MONITOR LEVEL AT ALL. If something feels too loud turn the mic preamp down... if something feels too quiet turn the mic preamp up.

When you start mixing DO NOT TOUCH THE MONITOR LEVEL AT ALL. If something feels too loud turn its fader down, if something feels too quiet turn its fader up.

That is how you technically record and mix at -18dBfs. It's not that meter on all the tracks perfectly hit -18dBfs. It's that you used -18dBfs as your reference level to determine what should be considered too loud to your ears and what should be considered too quiet to your ears.

You'll start to notice something like a hand clap or a tamborine will feel really loud to you even though the meter is really low. And sometimes an instrument, like bass guitar, won't feel very loud though the meter is very high.

If you do end up moving your monitor volume knob... when you start tracking or start mixing again, you can easily line up the knob to the mark on the tape and you are instantly back at your reference level and ready to go.

hope that helps! Cheers!