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Gain Staging - Am I Doing It Wrong? Channel Strip Plugins
Old 20th December 2016
  #1
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Gain Staging - Am I Doing It Wrong?

Just a quick one, I'd hate to get into bad habits early on. Does this look OK?

1) Each track has Hornet's (great) VU Meter set to auto gain at -6dB. Both playback and tracking will obviously then peak at -6dB on each track. Handy.

2) Each track has the Utility (Ableton) plugin used for volume/mixing. Since the VU Meter plugin is set to set via the peaks, I only ever use this Utility to reduce the volume of a track. Never increase (although having to lower the volume of everything BUT a single track to make it stand out is a bit of a pain, i.e. vocals, although I send everything that isn't the vocal(s) through a specific bus which can be lowered in one go to make the vocals pop if needed. Also handy for Neutron Masking).

3) Master bus has a Utility plugin set to +6db for production and mixing, and a limiter set as a brick wall (DMG Limitless - Transparent preset). I often toggle the limiter on/off to make sure I'm not peaking. It's in place to keep things from clipping when messing about.

4) If need be, I can disable the limiter and Utility (+6db) on the master bus for exporting for a pro engineer.

I never really need to touch the faders. Can this be done easier, or is it a reasonable way to control gain? Also, would it be better to set the auto gain to -12dB on each track, and use +/- 12dB on the master bus Utility? I assume it would leave more headroom for mastering.

Any tips would be appreciated :¬)

P.S. When tracking I make sure the mic/preamp input peaks at -12dB (ish).
Old 20th December 2016
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b0se View Post
1) Each track has Hornet's (great) VU Meter set to auto gain at -6dB. Both playback and tracking will obviously then peak at -6dB on each track. Handy.



I never really need to touch the faders. Can this be done easier, or is it a reasonable way to control gain?

P.S. When tracking I make sure the mic/preamp input peaks at -12dB (ish).
since youre already tracking with good levels why do need a gain plugin?
Ditch that thing! That'll make it easier
Old 20th December 2016
  #3
Gear Addict
If you're mixing at 24bit or higher, you really don't need to stress about levels. You've got a 144dB noise floor! Just don't clip or record at a whisper and you'll be fine.

Last edited by inestima; 20th December 2016 at 05:38 AM.. Reason: Bad math
Old 20th December 2016
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lowend Bump View Post
since youre already tracking with good levels why do need a gain plugin?
Ditch that thing! That'll make it easier
I only track vocals, the rest is electronic!

Quote:
Originally Posted by inestima View Post
If you're mixing at 24bit or higher, you really don't need to stress about levels. You've got a 144dB noise floor! Just don't clip or record at a whisper and you'll be fine.
Perhaps I'm over thinking it. Cheers!
Old 20th December 2016
  #5
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I normally start with all my faders around -20 then started slowly bringing up instruments. the kicks and bass drum to Around maybe -10 and leaves me with alot of headroom. Headroom is very much key. I push Alot into red Just to see what instruments will distort first then i back that instruments down sum.
Old 20th December 2016
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
I normally start with all my faders around -20 then started slowly bringing up instruments. the kicks and bass drum to Around maybe -10 and leaves me with alot of headroom. Headroom is very much key. I push Alot into red Just to see what instruments will distort first then i back that instruments down sum.
Ah OK. That makes sense getting the kick/bass in place first. Using -10 peak means you can push things up too (rather than having to drop everything else instead).

Cheers!
Old 20th December 2016
  #7
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I like to start off with almost nothing audible bringing up the kick n bass because those s are the main instruments that peak and if those are crisp and not clipping i know I'm good. Then each instruments track mainly the lead instrument. Vocals are always last to be turned up. I always start with chorus as it can be the must powerful of the vocals. Key is to use your ears i mostly culvert my meters orv my eyes and mix that way giving things a .5 db boosts until their leveling Out and sitting in the mix. those small boosts go a long way. A good Commpressor helps tame peaks as well but make sure your not pumping the compressor that's what i have seen new comers do Alot. I get about 3-4 songs a week to mix that are clipping and pumping. I would go no compressor/limiter before a compressor used wrong.
Old 20th December 2016
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
I like to start off with almost nothing audible bringing up the kick n bass because those s are the main instruments that peak and if those are crisp and not clipping i know I'm good. Then each instruments track mainly the lead instrument. Vocals are always last to be turned up. I always start with chorus as it can be the must powerful of the vocals. Key is to use your ears i mostly culvert my meters orv my eyes and mix that way giving things a .5 db boosts until their leveling Out and sitting in the mix. those small boosts go a long way. A good Commpressor helps tame peaks as well but make sure your not pumping the compressor that's what i have seen new comers do Alot. I get about 3-4 songs a week to mix that are clipping and pumping. I would go no compressor/limiter before a compressor used wrong.
I'll try this for sure, thanks! Some great tips.

I have a feeling I'm over compressing my current track, it's pumping slightly (SAND compressor on the master bus). Although I try and keep the compressor on the master never going over 3dB of gain reduction. Is that too much?

Really appreciate your help.
Old 20th December 2016
  #9
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Is your attack fast or slow? Same question for release. I find fast attacks with the wrong Compressor will pump more. Try a slower attack let sum transients through the start dialing up on the attack until its no longer pumping.
Old 20th December 2016
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
Is your attack fast or slow? Same question for release. I find fast attacks with the wrong Compressor will pump more. Try a slower attack let sum transients through the start dialing up on the attack until its no longer pumping.
If I recall correctly I was using 4:1, 30ms attack, 0.1s release (Acustica Audio SAND Bus4). Threshold set to where the needle just starts to move. Usually -20dB (ish).

I'll take a proper look when I can (Ableton Live has decided to crash every time I open the project, marvellous. Waiting for support to find the cause).

Thanks again!
Old 20th December 2016
  #11
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What compressor is sand emulating?
Old 20th December 2016
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
What compressor is sand emulating?
SSL.
Old 20th December 2016
  #13
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Ssl cam be a bit punchy n grabby. Id back off the attack. Try 2:1 ratio
Old 20th December 2016
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
Ssl cam be a bit punchy n grabby. Id back off the attack. Try 2:1 ratio
Thanks, I'll give this a pop!

(When I can load the damn thing!)
Old 20th December 2016
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b0se View Post
I only track vocals, the rest is electronic!
Ah, can't you just lower the output on the VIs while its open.
Old 20th December 2016
  #16
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b0se's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lowend Bump View Post
Ah, can't you just lower the output on the VIs while its open.
I could do, although I like the fact VU Meter will consistently make each track peak at -6dB. Not sure if that's necessary though, hence asking :D
Old 20th December 2016
  #17
Gear Nut
 

Quick question, where is your master bus peaking at?
And a trick with the SSL style bus compressor is 2:1 Ratio, 30ms Attack, Auto Release, going for about 3-4db gain reduction at most. The slower attack and auto release will probably help to reduce pumping.
Also when tracking I like to shoot for about -18db with peaks around -12 in my DAW, this allows ample headroom for any mix processing and for mastering. But as with all of this, there are no rules, so as long as it sounds good (and you're not clipping anywhere in your DAW) who cares if your settings are, shall we say, non-traditional.
Old 20th December 2016
  #18
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-6db is too high. That's where a loud mastered recording should wind up being for commercial release.

The meters in a DAW aren't all that accurate either. They aren't fast enough to display the peaks occurring so my guess is you're pushing the 0db limit where you should never be near.

A finished mixdown should come in around -14dB RMS or -12dB average. This means the individual tracks will be less then the sum. If you have a volume issue, simply crank your monitors up higher. You will appreciate the added detail of having monitors running hotter and tracks running lower.

What you want to do is do a mixdown and stick it in an audio editor, then test its true Db level. Most good audio editor programs will have this too. This is where you apply your final EQ, Multiband and Limiting too. Trying to do it in a DAW just doesn't work as well because you're still in mixing mode and too likely to go back and jack with the mix. I advise you mix when you mix, then change hats and master when you master. You'll become much more proficient at both if you do.

This guide is very helpful in getting a good finished recording. I stated using this procedure to the letter 10 years ago and its made a huge difference in the quality of my recordings. http://hdqtrz.com/Files/Har-Bal_Mastering_Process.pdf It tells you right off to test the mixdown is low enough. This is very important because your mastering tools need anough headroom to function properly. If you have everything crammed up at -6db the mastering comp, multiband, and brickwall limiter has no headroom to properly do their jobs and your mixes will sound way over compressed. Let the mastering tools bring your levels up to commercial levels. You onle need a good mix balance within the DAW, clean, and well below what you'd expect, in fact a bit lower can make the music sound amazingly better. .
Old 20th December 2016
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Notanothersteve View Post
Quick question, where is your master bus peaking at?
And a trick with the SSL style bus compressor is 2:1 Ratio, 30ms Attack, Auto Release, going for about 3-4db gain reduction at most. The slower attack and auto release will probably help to reduce pumping.
Also when tracking I like to shoot for about -18db with peaks around -12 in my DAW, this allows ample headroom for any mix processing and for mastering. But as with all of this, there are no rules, so as long as it sounds good (and you're not clipping anywhere in your DAW) who cares if your settings are, shall we say, non-traditional.
When I remove the Utility on the master bus it'll peak at -6dB.

Thanks, I'll try the auto release!
Old 20th December 2016
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
-6db is too high. That's where a loud mastered recording should wind up being for commercial release.

The meters in a DAW aren't all that accurate either. They aren't fast enough to display the peaks occurring so my guess is you're pushing the 0db limit where you should never be near.

A finished mixdown should come in around -14dB RMS or -12dB average. This means the individual tracks will be less then the sum. If you have a volume issue, simply crank your monitors up higher. You will appreciate the added detail of having monitors running hotter and tracks running lower.

What you want to do is do a mixdown and stick it in an audio editor, then test its true Db level. Most good audio editor programs will have this too. This is where you apply your final EQ, Multiband and Limiting too. Trying to do it in a DAW just doesn't work as well because you're still in mixing mode and too likely to go back and jack with the mix. I advise you mix when you mix, then change hats and master when you master. You'll become much more proficient at both if you do.

This guide is very helpful in getting a good finished recording. I stated using this procedure to the letter 10 years ago and its made a huge difference in the quality of my recordings. http://hdqtrz.com/Files/Har-Bal_Mastering_Process.pdf It tells you right off to test the mixdown is low enough. This is very important because your mastering tools need anough headroom to function properly. If you have everything crammed up at -6db the mastering comp, multiband, and brickwall limiter has no headroom to properly do their jobs and your mixes will sound way over compressed. Let the mastering tools bring your levels up to commercial levels. You onle need a good mix balance within the DAW, clean, and well below what you'd expect, in fact a bit lower can make the music sound amazingly better. .
Thank you, that'll be tonights study! I'll start (master) peaking at -12dB.
Old 20th December 2016
  #21
Gear Nut
 

As wrgkmc said the meters in a DAW really aren't that accurate (and won't tell you about inter-sample clips) Har-Bal will definitely help with that. -6 is the absolute loudest I let my mix peak with the average level being right around -16, gives a dynamic range of 10db and provides enough headroom for the mastering engineer to do his thing. Good luck man, sounds like you're just about there!
Old 21st December 2016
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
Ssl cam be a bit punchy n grabby. Id back off the attack. Try 2:1 ratio
Quote:
Originally Posted by Notanothersteve View Post
And a trick with the SSL style bus compressor is 2:1 Ratio, 30ms Attack, Auto Release, going for about 3-4db gain reduction at most.
This worked great - thanks guys!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Notanothersteve View Post
As wrgkmc said the meters in a DAW really aren't that accurate (and won't tell you about inter-sample clips) Har-Bal will definitely help with that. -6 is the absolute loudest I let my mix peak with the average level being right around -16, gives a dynamic range of 10db and provides enough headroom for the mastering engineer to do his thing. Good luck man, sounds like you're just about there!
Always learning :¬)

Thanks everyone for all the help.
Old 21st December 2016
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b0se View Post
Just a quick one, I'd hate to get into bad habits early on. Does this look OK?

1) Each track has Hornet's (great) VU Meter set to auto gain at -6dB. Both playback and tracking will obviously then peak at -6dB on each track. Handy.

2) Each track has the Utility (Ableton) plugin used for volume/mixing. Since the VU Meter plugin is set to set via the peaks, I only ever use this Utility to reduce the volume of a track. Never increase (although having to lower the volume of everything BUT a single track to make it stand out is a bit of a pain, i.e. vocals, although I send everything that isn't the vocal(s) through a specific bus which can be lowered in one go to make the vocals pop if needed. Also handy for Neutron Masking).

3) Master bus has a Utility plugin set to +6db for production and mixing, and a limiter set as a brick wall (DMG Limitless - Transparent preset). I often toggle the limiter on/off to make sure I'm not peaking. It's in place to keep things from clipping when messing about.

4) If need be, I can disable the limiter and Utility (+6db) on the master bus for exporting for a pro engineer.

I never really need to touch the faders. Can this be done easier, or is it a reasonable way to control gain? Also, would it be better to set the auto gain to -12dB on each track, and use +/- 12dB on the master bus Utility? I assume it would leave more headroom for mastering.

Any tips would be appreciated :¬)

P.S. When tracking I make sure the mic/preamp input peaks at -12dB (ish).
I never understood why DAWs they called them "VU" meters. It's very misleading, and it's wrong. A VU meter is an electro- mechanical device.

Once you are in the DAW mix at 32 bit float and just don't clip. Other than that you are good to go. You don't need to worry about "VU" meters. The metering in a daw is not at all accurate. They are seconds behind what you are hearing. A real hardware VU meter is very sluggish, the fake DAW ones are even worse.
Old 21st December 2016
  #24
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No problem we were all rookies say one point.
Old 21st December 2016
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrischoir View Post
I never understood why DAWs they called them "VU" meters. It's very misleading, and it's wrong. A VU meter is an electro- mechanical device.
VU metering (like PPM, LUFS etc.) is a set of specs, it can be represented using an ammeter, LEDs or whatever you like.

If your DAW and hardware VUs dont match up one/both of them is out of spec (probably the hardware )
Old 21st December 2016
  #26
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People rely too much on meters use your ears. I mix with my mind not my eyes. When i learned to mix my senior engineer at the time put pair on all meters and made us mix
Old 21st December 2016
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
The meters in a DAW aren't all that accurate either. They aren't fast enough to display the peaks occurring so my guess is you're pushing the 0db limit where you should never be near.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Notanothersteve View Post
As wrgkmc said the meters in a DAW really aren't that accurate
Sorry to nit-pick, but I don't think the above is really true, or it is at least misleading. The meters are perfectly fine when measuring peak, it's just that you have to understand that they measure 'sample peak' and not "true peak".

And there is no massive delay on them either which I think I read somewhere in the thread.

As for leaving headroom for the mastering engineer: I really don't see why people fret over this so much. I understand that it's easier to just toss a track into a workstation and it sits roughly where you want it to be when you begin, but the issue really can't be the absolute level being too high, because it's so insanely simple to reduce the level to get back that "headroom". Instead the issue must surely be a reduced dynamic range in the music, and that's something I almost never see people mention in this context.

In other words: If you have a perfectly dynamic mix and the output happens to peak at -2dBFS it really shouldn't be a big deal - the mastering engineer can just pull down the level of it. But if you follow the advice given so frequently and squash the hell out of the mix but leave 6 to 10dB of "headroom" between peaks and 0dBFS it won't help the mastering engineer one bit, because the dynamic range is already destroyed. Where it "lives" on the digital scale has nothing to do with that.

I do however agree that with a calibrated playback system you can mix by ear to a large degree and simply end up with both dynamic range and at the same time comfortably staying away form 0dBFS.
Old 21st December 2016
  #28
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however, if you mix too high and clip the audio file it leaves little the mastering engineer can do. i'd rather have too little then too much. 10db of rms head room for mastering. It really gives me plenty to work with. there is tricks you can do when the peaks are clipping but its a headache. if you calibrate your meters you should be fine, if you look at your meters the highest i'd peek is yellow if your in the red the song is too loud thats basics. albiet i find yellow too much. if your noise floor is good mix it softer as you your mix tends to be better as things arent as harsh and piercing so you dont have to apply eq when its not needed.
Old 21st December 2016
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
however, if you mix too high and clip the audio file it leaves little the mastering engineer can do.
Of course, but that's a different issue.

Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
i'd rather have too little then too much. 10db of rms head room for mastering. It really gives me plenty to work with.
Well, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that measurement actually. The thing to remember is that if we actually want to leave mastering engineers headroom for their processing then I'm not really sure 10dB is all that much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by trevon View Post
if your noise floor is good mix it softer as you your mix tends to be better as things arent as harsh and piercing so you dont have to apply eq when its not needed.
I'm not so sure I agree with the above either actually. It implies that the louder the mix is "in digital" the more harsh it sounds. I don't think there's any truth to that. On the other hand I do think that a lot of devices tend to sound harsh when pushed, so it's best not to push them. But whether or not the solution is lowering the level in the DAW is probably something that needs to be looked at on a per-system basis.
Old 21st December 2016
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mattiasnyc View Post
Of course, but that's a different issue.



Well, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that measurement actually. The thing to remember is that if we actually want to leave mastering engineers headroom for their processing then I'm not really sure 10dB is all that much.



I'm not so sure I agree with the above either actually. It implies that the louder the mix is "in digital" the more harsh it sounds. I don't think there's any truth to that. On the other hand I do think that a lot of devices tend to sound harsh when pushed, so it's best not to push them. But whether or not the solution is lowering the level in the DAW is probably something that needs to be looked at on a per-system basis.
you just kinda contradicted yourself and proved my point at the same time. some listening devices get harsh when pushed. meaning a novice would probably try eqing that harshness out instead of turning down the volume where things are smooth again. i have some JBL headphones when pushed things seem really harsh but when turned down they are very smooth. and 10 db before clipping is pretty significant to a mastering engineer. rms is average volume not sometimes peaking much higher or lower but a constant volume. having 10dbs at minimum BEFORE clipping is useful at the very least.

albeit your opinion is just as good as mine just different mixing preferences. i dont like to mix loud at all. i like things soft and level. then when turn things up after mastering things rarely are harsh sounding, because most of my decisions for eq were not based off my listening devices peaking and clipping the sounds.
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