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Inserting gain plugin on first insert proper gain staging technique?
Old 27th February 2013
  #1
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Inserting gain plugin on first insert proper gain staging technique?

Hi,

A few of my tracks we're recorded a little hot so I inserted a gain plugin on the first insert to ensure the peaks were no more than 10 dbfs, and averaging around 20 dbfs. Is this proper gain staging? Am I hurting the quality of the mix by doing this? Is there a better way?

I use plugins that are modeled after analog equipment, so proper gain staging is super important to me! If I'm messing up my gain staging, or could be doing it better, please let me know!

(and yea, I read all the other threads on this but a lot of them are people just arguing about floating point math)
Old 28th February 2013
  #2
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Just dont go over -18 RMS. Its pretty simple. Headroom is the name of the game - the more the merrier. Yes putting a gain plug in the first insert is useful. If you feel really OCD you can put a meter between each plug to make sure you are hitting consistent signal level, however after a while you'll not bother - the more you practice the more you'll use your innate instinct and intuition. Your hearing improves and you'll end up using less and less plugs, less and less equipment. Dont get too wrapped up in all the stuff you read here. Its probably the worst enemy to mixing there is! trust yourself - really. all the best
Old 28th February 2013
  #3
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Thank you Bholebaba! Yea, there's so much contradictory information on this this site... so I appreciate your response and helpful info!

One of the reasons people are getting so confused when mixing in the box is that recorded audio looks extremely small when recorded at -20 dbfs on some of these DAWs (I use logic). On top of that, Virtual instruments are set to very loud default levels. So when you add all this together the beginning novice is blowing out their stereo bus and analog-modeled plug-ins and they can't figure out why.

And to make things worse, when you're just starting a project with a few tracks at -20 dbfs, you can barely hear what's being played. You have to go out and buy a Duet 2 just to crank it up and be able to monitor... Whew! Sorry for that... But the folks who make this stuff don't make it easy sometimes haha
Old 28th February 2013
  #4
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Jeff Hayat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by rptiernan View Post
Hi,

A few of my tracks we're recorded a little hot so I inserted a gain plugin on the first insert to ensure the peaks were no more than 10 dbfs, and averaging around 20 dbfs. Is this proper gain staging? Am I hurting the quality of the mix by doing this? Is there a better way?

I use plugins that are modeled after analog equipment, so proper gain staging is super important to me! If I'm messing up my gain staging, or could be doing it better, please let me know!

(and yea, I read all the other threads on this but a lot of them are people just arguing about floating point math)
That argument bears some weight.

It all depends on the plug. Just b/c you use plugins that are modeled after analog equipment, does not mean they act like such. If the plug does not, then gain staging is not necessary, outside of making sure you aren't clipping anywhere. Bottom line is this: if the plug has an algo that dictates it will act differently when hit at different levels, then you want to gain stage. If the algo dictates it will act the same regardless of the input level, then you wouldn't bother with gain staging.

Cheers.
Old 28th February 2013
  #5
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Thank you Jeff! Yea I knew I had problems when I started to see clipping after just 15 tracks or so... turns out gain staging was the crucial piece of the puzzle I didn't have
Old 28th February 2013
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by bholebaba View Post
Just dont go over -18 RMS. Its pretty simple. Headroom is the name of the game - the more the merrier. Yes putting a gain plug in the first insert is useful. If you feel really OCD you can put a meter between each plug to make sure you are hitting consistent signal level, however after a while you'll not bother - the more you practice the more you'll use your innate instinct and intuition. Your hearing improves and you'll end up using less and less plugs, less and less equipment. Dont get too wrapped up in all the stuff you read here. Its probably the worst enemy to mixing there is! trust yourself - really. all the best
This is not correct! Firstly, the guideline is -18dBFs not RMS, and it's only that - a guideline, with -18 representing 0VU. Anyone who's ever worked analogue will tell you that VUs aren't quick enough to show peaks. If you have your eg snare peaking at -18, your gain staging will be off - it's expected your transients go over 0VU.

A much better rule of thumb is steady signals around -20 to -15, peaks at around -6. That should work better for most situations, and feed plugins the levels they're designed for.

Yes - of course trust your ears - but it helps to know where to start from.
Old 28th February 2013
  #7
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Joe Haze's Avatar
 

What he said! The best thing I ever did (mixing in the box) was to put a trim plugin on and set it to at least -6 dB. Then turned up the monitors.
Old 28th February 2013
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rptiernan View Post
One of the reasons people are getting so confused when mixing in the box is that recorded audio looks extremely small when recorded at -20 dbfs on some of these DAWs (I use logic).
Change your metering from exponential to linear within Logic. Much easier to judge your levels that way.
Old 28th February 2013
  #9
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LOL psycho !

you just didn't like the comment about taking gearslutz with a pinch of salt! Its swings and roundabouts...as you well know being a professional.

As a rule if your average RMS signal level does not go over -18 you'll be ok. 18 sits between 15 and 20! All rules require a little variance either way, rigidity is the opposite of creativity...

Nothing is ever the same in nature. Every moment is different. Obviously each signal source needs to be treated individually, and tweaked according to its own unique signature... Sound after all is a living and breathing entity - we are sound! The problem with getting so anal about all this gain staging and meters is it stops us from being fluid and creative. We mix with our minds and not our hearts. If you really listen - you know. You know if the sound is good because you really feel its vibration. Full stop. Its about trusting your own instinct and really listening.

The real problem is that everyone wants to be loud and punchy, this is equated with quality, which lets face it - has been the death of modern music. Everyone these days wants to hit the compressor - ouch - step away I say, a db or 2 sometimes but let the music breathe! Natural dynamics are the best. Your ears are the best compressors there are!

Music is about heart. Loving emotions are soft, angry emotions are hard! We have far too much anger in this world, if we all started to back away from punch and focused more on musicality, fluidity and space Im sure we all be a lot happier.

Back to the OP, he's read all the text, he knows what he's doing - he's just doubting himself. His own trial and error is the best teacher. I say to him all this is a diversion from his creativity.

Ultimately, the people who create intuitively are always the leaders every one else seeks to emulate.

I make music for films, adverts and docs as my day job and I tell you OP there is no holy grail of knowledge. No single moment of - I'm doing it right. Its always changing. Stop worrying about everyone else and focus on your own sound - let it be what it wants to be. You already know!

Anyway cheers - it was fun to dip the toe into the truth-sayer market that is this forum!
Old 28th February 2013
  #10
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i hate when people say "average RMS"...
RMS is an average...
Old 28th February 2013
  #11
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bholebaba's Avatar
 

you could read 'average RMS' as RMS is an average - and 18 is a rough average of 15/20... so what are you actually 'hating'? : )
Old 28th February 2013
  #12
nms
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To the OP: It's not that your gain staging is your big problem. I suspect your problem is in mixing.. ie: carving things out with EQ and sidechain compression to make them fit together. You've got too much overlap going on. Poor mixing & arrangement will max your track out in no time. Work hard to fit things together with each element dominating its own space.
Old 28th February 2013
  #13
Quote:
Originally Posted by bholebaba View Post
you could read 'average RMS' as RMS is an average - and 18 is a rough average of 15/20... so what are you actually 'hating'? : )
I wax talking about dBFs, not dB RMS. all the guidelines about "aiming for -18 are talking about dBFs.
Old 28th February 2013
  #14
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Stating "average RMS" is like saying
Average average (dept of redundancy dept) Lol.

Aim for -20 to -18 RMS tracking level. Obviously a vocal track will have less dynamic range than a snare track. In that case reduce tracking level even lower if you're getting peaks too close to 0dbfs.
Old 28th February 2013
  #15
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LOL - I surrender to the dept of pedantry dept. If I had put an 'or' between average and RMS the world would be a better and more clearly defined place!

Old 28th February 2013
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nms View Post
To the OP: It's not that your gain staging is your big problem. I suspect your problem is in mixing.. ie: carving things out with EQ and sidechain compression to make them fit together. You've got too much overlap going on. Poor mixing & arrangement will max your track out in no time. Work hard to fit things together with each element dominating its own space.
This is i very much agree! Not direct to the op though!

Just as important as the gain staging!
Old 28th February 2013
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manfrensengensen View Post
Stating "average RMS" is like saying
Average average (dept of redundancy dept) Lol.

Aim for -20 to -18 RMS tracking level. Obviously a vocal track will have less dynamic range than a snare track. In that case reduce tracking level even lower if you're getting peaks too close to 0dbfs.
Again - it's a dBFS level to aim for, not a dB RMS!! A snare is going to have a way lower RMS level than the -6dBFS peak level I'm talking about. A snare with a -6dB RMS level would be clipped to hell!

It's not hard - as usual with these things, the OP has been reading more than experimenting.

Try this - set faders to zero, then do a balance using clip gain or similar. Once that's good, have a look at the peak levels of files. Then you've got the target to aim for. But it really doesn't matter if some things end up a bit hot or bit quiet.
Old 28th February 2013
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by bholebaba View Post
LOL - I surrender to the dept of pedantry dept. If I had put an 'or' between average and RMS the world would be a better and more clearly defined place!

The fact that you're using RMS, and don't appear to understand the difference between peak and rms levels, is worrying... It's not pedantry, it's understanding what you're talking about if you're handing out advice!
Old 28th February 2013
  #19
nms
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What bholeba was trying to say was fine and no more wrong than saying "on average, the rms levels of music today are much higher than 20 yrs ago." He just suggested to aim for -18db RMS. I'm sure he knows the diff between RMS & dBfs.

It's just not the right approach since dBfs is the indicator you'd want to watch for this. Your DAW channel meters and not clipping digital full scale are obviously far more relevant than RMS levels of separate sounds. RMS is something you look at in the context of a full mix.
Old 28th February 2013
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post

Try this - set faders to zero, then do a balance using clip gain or similar. Once that's good, have a look at the peak levels of files. Then you've got the target to aim for. But it really doesn't matter if some things end up a bit hot or bit quiet.
do you mind expanding on this one?

What do you mean, do a balance using clip gain?

thanks!
Old 28th February 2013
  #21
nms
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He means dial in the mix levels til the mix sounds good and see where that puts you in terms of individual track gain settings. If you run out of headroom then you clearly should have started lower. Though nowadays that's more likely to indicate that you're not mixing it well enough and need more attention towards EQ cuts, sidechain ducking, arrangement, peak limiters.

In most modern music the kick is close to 0db, so if you start your mix with the kick hitting -6db and proceed to casually fill up the remaining 6db of pretend headroom (headroom that won't be there in the final product) you may find the end result to not sound great.

Starting out with your kick at -6db can work great and leave you plenty of room for safety, just don't be sloppy with it what you do with it.
Old 28th February 2013
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nms View Post
He means dial in the mix levels til the mix sounds good and see where that puts you in terms of individual track gain settings. If you run out of headroom then you clearly should have started lower. Though nowadays that's more likely to indicate that you're not mixing it well enough and need more attention towards EQ cuts, sidechain ducking, arrangement, peak limiters.

In most modern music the kick is close to 0db, so if you start your mix with the kick hitting -6db and proceed to casually fill up the remaining 6db of pretend headroom (headroom that won't be there in the final product) you may find the end result to not sound great.
Ah Thanks, I see.

Honestly I don't think a lot of folx here are coming from mixing perspective. I imagine most are creating music/beats from scratch and don't know where to start from ground zero dbfs. Which is hard at first because you have no audible frame of reference.

I just start with a K20/K12/K14 depending and make sure that my hardest hitting stuff stays under. You really don't want to fight with levels and gain staging while creating. Just set a standard for yourself and stick to it.
Old 1st March 2013
  #23
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From the interviews I've read with professional mix engineers, many mix their songs as they go along...

So, based on what everyone has said, once you get your kick, bass, vocal, and a simple keyboard arrangement going (just one way to do it), it would make sense to set your average kick level to -20 dfbs and structure your arrangement dbfs levels around that?

I'm guessing/hoping this would keep a lot of headroom in the mix and prevent my previous problems of clipping the stereo bus once I got past 15 plus tracks. (the clipping happened with almost no processing, so it was just the summing of the tracks)
Old 1st March 2013
  #24
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I meant dbfs... I know you guys/girls will call me out on that
Old 1st March 2013
  #25
nms
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I would absolutely not set your kick level to -20dbfs.

Set it to -6dbfs and put at least some effort in to mix as you go along or you're much less likely to know if stuff is even really going to work together. It takes little effort to throw on an EQ with a low end roll off or a sidechained compressor with ballpark settings. If you're recording bands then the tracking/mixing/mastering stages are typically more segregated but if you're doing electronic music the stages are more intertwined than ever. The best engineers are getting stuff right at the source early on rather than leaving stuff for later.

You should elaborate on what kind of music you are making. If you're making anything that typically has kick drums peaking around 0dbfs I would advise against starting your mixes with more than 6dbfs of headroom on the kick.
Old 1st March 2013
  #26
Quote:
Originally Posted by rptiernan View Post
From the interviews I've read with professional mix engineers, many mix their songs as they go along...
Hmm...not really - professionals hired to purely mix generally only get the parts at the end of the production!

Some producers mix as they go along...I guess it really depends on how the mix happens. Generally if you mix OTB, you can't do that as you go along - unless you start recording a song, and don't take it off the board till you're done!

With the advert of ITB mixing, it's easier to mix as you go along - but depending on how you're working, what sort of systems, it's easier to leave heavy processing till the tracking is completed in a lot of circumstances.

Of course - it's a good idea to have a good rough mix as you go along, and if you're mixing your own stuff, this can form the basis of the final mix.

and yeah, -20dBFS is very low for a kick level - good luck using plugin compressors with a kick at that level!
Old 1st March 2013
  #27
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The music is a combination of American folk and Electronic, with about half the songs being started on drum machines and synthesizers, etc.

I did notice that I was having a very hard time getting the high hats to hit 0 VU's on my Slate Tape plugins on some of the drum tracks. I'm guessing not enough signal?
Old 1st March 2013
  #28
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And this was after I had reset everything to the kick drum at -20 dbfs.... So I guess maybe that was too low after all haha
Old 1st March 2013
  #29
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Sorry one last thing...

It seems that your kick level, whether -6 db or -10db, would depend in part on how many tracks you were planning to have in the mix. The more tracks planned, the lower the kick level correct? (assuming you're using the kick level as the foundation for the mix)

So the folks with projects in the 60 plus track range must have kick levels in the -10 to -18 range at least... I have no idea. Just guessing
Old 1st March 2013
  #30
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bholebaba's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
The fact that you're using RMS, and don't appear to understand the difference between peak and rms levels, is worrying... It's not pedantry, it's understanding what you're talking about if you're handing out advice!
Really? So the advice I gave the OP is wrong - you yourself state

'It's not hard - as usual with these things, the OP has been reading more than experimenting.'

How does this differ from my posts on this...?



Do not mistake your narrow judgement for truth my friend.
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