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General Guidelines
Old 20th September 2008
Here for the gear
i_love_music's Avatar

General Guidelines

I'm a musician whose work is in the indie genre. I use logic pro and would like some general guidlines on levels.

Some questions:

1. What levels do you guys generally put vocals/ guitars/ drums and bass at? Is it - 6, - 8 and so forth?

2. How bad is it to be nearing on 0 on the master fader. Should the peak threshold be at around -2?

Thanks for all your help.
Old 20th September 2008
Lives for gear
MASSIVE Master's Avatar

Verified Member
There aren't really any particular "rules" like that at the mixing stage -- Don't clip, keep a reasonable amount of headroom everywhere you can, etc.

That said - I don't mix often anymore - But when I do, it's pretty freaking rare when anything individually is hitting above -12dBFS or so. Usually less.

Which, not surprisingly, is how I tend to track also. Percussive transients maybe hitting somewhere around -12dBFS, sustaining sounds (vocals, guitars, etc.) hitting around -18dBFS -- Maybe just a whisker higher on occasion if I missed something, but usually never much higher for anything other than a minor transient.

THAT said, I'm a complete ***** for headroom... My tracking converters are calibrated to -20dBFS and I wish I could get them to -24dBFS.

[EDIT] I'm here at GearSLUTZ and I can't use the word that can be sometimes interchanged with slut that rhymes with "door" but starts with an "H" sound...?
Old 20th September 2008
Gear Head

Its worth reflecting that older, averaging, analogue meters, VU (Volume Unit) meters most often used to record to tape optimally maximising the medium are treated quite differently to the type of peak metering available in most DAW’s.

Digital metering in DAW’s can be highly misleading.

Even some digital hardware produced has actually utilised analogue stages for their meters.

One of the biggest annoyances people encounter with digital equipment, is that they can convey a sense of complete accuracy, they do not in point of fact, at all possess.

The salient point to take in here is that you cannot trust your eyes where sound is concerned, and what the meters may tell you, even though it might seem to be extremely accurate information, is not at all in fact. Monitoring quality is thus paramount.

If you think about a Sampling Rate of 44, 96 or 192 kHz, the redraw speed on the graphics of your DAW simply cannot keep up with such an intense amount of information. It will redraw an approximation, and although that approximation will appear to be highly accurate to your eye, it is not.

The basic samples you see merely ‘represent’ a waveform, and if you record at too high a level, the amplitude of those samples played back in ‘actual reality’ will almost certainly exceed what is required for a signal to cleanly pass out as good audio.

From one of the excellent links below...

'The consequence of the way in which DAW’s treat waveforms is that the meter inside the DAW or other digital mixers inevitably shows inaccurate information.

It is virtually a mathematical certainty that the waveform will actually exceed the amplitude of the samples in any sampling system.

The samples themselves only represent a waveform, It is important to understand that the amplitude of the waveform will invariably exceed the sample values.'

'DAW and digital mixer manufacturers typically take the amplitude of the samples and use these as the basis for the peak meter.

The problem with this approach is easily identified: the samples themselves do not represent the peak value of the waveform. The waveform is only complete after the reconstruction process.

Until this process has been completed, the waveform is inaccurately represented by the samples. This is the reason that in most DAWs the waveform is represented on the screen as a ‘dot to dot’ connection between sample points.

They do not undergo the reconstruction process inside the system, so all that can be represented is the sample points, and for the sake of visual ease, they connect the dots between them with straight lines.

They save the reconstruction process for the digital to analog converters and show the user inaccurate information instead.'

Thus if you record at too high a level, although your DAW screen might appear to be full of entirely legal signal, there may well be quite a few illegal (distorted or above and beyond 0dBFS signals) samples among the audio, and these will emerge and make themselves apparent at some stage.

Probably by the time they do, you will have gone way beyond the place where you can most effectively deal with them. For your recording metering may well not have picked these up as illegal.

If your monitoring equipment is not that good, a long suffering Mastering Engineer with excellent reference monitoring will certainly pick them up, though they might indeed appear at the mix down summing stage to you if you are at all sensitive.

Good guidelines with DAW’s are to always strictly treat -6 as though it was 0dBFS.

You may probably find a line across the -6 point on your DAW if you look for it. Many DAW’s do. It will make it easier to boost the level higher and retain a clean sound at the Mastering Stage.

You are simply allowing a safety margin of headroom for the full wave form (as opposed to the sample points) that will ensure your signal is strong and clear and can be legally passed without distortion.

After you record any individual track, do not listen to it simply on your monitors.

Buy a pair of very high quality headphones, and listen to each individual track in isolation, from the others. You will probably pick up and become aware of many recording problems your monitoring simply does not convey to you.

These will probably not be picked up in any other way apart from zooming in on every individual sample, which is not practical. But at the cost of a good pair of cans and some assiduously applied disciplines you can make very substantial improvements.

Take the trouble to learn more about ‘gain staging’. Getting the levels correct on every piece of equipment (analogue or digital) throughout your recording chain, will help you make the very best of everything you’ve got.

Use the best, most suitable mics for recording a particular source.

Take time to find the sweet spots for mic placement when recording.

Get the sound you want from the instrument or voice, right into the mic itself, as you record, rather than trying to adjust the sound towards what you want it to be later by plugins.

Avoid all additional unnecessary processing to the sound in subsequent stages, even though it might initially sound better to your ears, strict AB testing will probably prove entirely otherwise. Work hard, striving to get the sound you want at source and then keep it intact.

All these things will give you an extremely substantial improvement, a qualitative improvement as you adhere to them as general guidelines, if you have not utilised such an approach previously.

I would keep my Master Fader at 0dBFS.

And apply the same margin of error as headroom for precisely the same reasons as above.

Although Fades are often best left to M.E.’s I would certainly execute them at the Mixing stage so the Master Fader would need to be at 0dBFS. Otherwise there would be little room on the Fader scale with which to manoeuvre.

But I also see this as part of good ‘gain staging’ practise and consistency of the Master level is all part of the equation. I also like to have particular monitoring levels to work to and feel this is an important additional point.

Things sound different if you hear them at different levels, so having a consistent approach in daily practice is extremely helpful towards producing consistent final results, in the finished product.

The more variables you introduce into your working practises, the more variable will be the predictabity of the final quality resulting, and the more prone to subsequent unnecessary problems, highly undesirable experience will prove.

If you are intending utilising the services of an experienced Mastering Engineer (and if your recording is a good one, you should) leaving them more headroom, gives the M.E. far more scope to work in, and bring out the very best possible from your recording.

Trying to get the recording you send them as loud as possible then is counter productive in almost every way. It makes it far harder (or impossible) for them to do the best most excellent work they are capable of.

Take the time to down load these links.


Working smarter when tracking to a DAW, involves leaving a margin of error in clear headroom that will ensure you avoid many of the audio related problems that can be heard clearly, continuously besetting the rasher, inexperienced and less disciplined hoi polloi, whose lamentably dubious practices, one is wise to avoid even the scantest nodding acquaintance with.

Old 20th September 2008
Gear Maniac
chopstickkk's Avatar

psp vintage meter is a great free VU metering plugin.

it defaults it's 0 at -20 dbFS and is a much closer representation to what your ear hears in terms of loudness than the peak type meters in DAW programs. put that on the master buss and ignore the DAW peak meters. favourite technique however is to close your eyes whilst making adjustments of any kind...
Old 20th September 2008
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar

Verified Member
What I've learned is to always try and error on the side of too low.
Old 20th September 2008
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
What I've learned is to always try and error on the side of too low.
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