Yes, I pretty much exclusively use pre-fader monitoring. If your signal is peaking pre-fader, that means the distortion has already been captured and lowering the fader so the clipping doesn't show up post-fader won't change that.
yup.. it happens a lot to so don't feel bad. most people that know about recording and engineering know what levels to record at but there are so many artist tracks i get that just cant grasp recording at low levels.. even when i tell them to lower it because there are parts that are clipping they still re-record it with parts still clipping. once that distortion is in there theres no helping the recording.
Thanks for the great replies, but just to clarify, all theses tracks were recorded at about 75% volume (the meter is just over half with the fader at 0) which I thought was plenty of headroom. So, we're only talking about mixing here.
My original goal was to leave all the faders at 0 and only adjust things with the plugs. (This is where I went wrong?)
Using EQ I cut mids, added some low, and volume to the kick. It was peaking a bit so, I dropped all the faders in my drum group to -6. I think you are telling me that that did nothing to avoid gain stage issues.
EQ is a very reactive part of your gain stage. Boosting the low end would defiantly kick a track that was recorded below-6 above the red line. Your plug ins all have output levels that you can use. So if you add low end eq you most often need to lower the eq's output.
Your on the right track by paying attention to this. You are correct that the channel fader should be able to stay at unity. When running a FOH mixing desk I do this and will always keep my eye on the input levels and trim accordingly. You almost get a perfect even mix if all inputs are balanced this way. If a channel fader has to be pulled way down then something has gone wrong at the pre amp.
I think I'm getting it. It's basically a two-stage situation.
Stage one (the gain stage) would be similar to the preamp of a guitar amp with a master volume. In this stage plugins are like pedals, but you don't want any overdriving for ITB recording, so use pre-fader monitoring to check.
Once the channels are in their clean little compartments, you adjust your faders to taste, obviously trying not to overdrive here either (for ITB). This would be the master volume section of the guitar amp. Here one would use post-fader monitoring.
Have I got this correct?
A final note, I've never heard any distortion even though the pre-fader meters were peaking, but I'm assuming I might have been losing some clarity?
Modern DAWs are typically floating point, and can handle some clipping/peaking without distortion. Some plugs don't handle those levels well, though, which is where you're likely to hear problems.
Not that clipping is ever a good idea, really. Maybe with analog gear, for flavor, but not in the digital world.
I generally set the input gain to get a solid level with a little headroom (assuming we're talking about already recorded tracks, so no surprises) to give the plugs a good level to work with. Then use my last plug (which could be a trim plug, or a compressor, eq, etc) to set the level in the ballpark of where I want it in the mix. Then I'll use the channel fader for fine balancing, writing automation, etc.
Checking the pre-fader level is most important (for me) on buss/aux channels, and the master buss. Summing a bunch of tracks together is where you're most likely to go overboard, I find. And if you're doing buss processing, the plugs may react poorly to that hot level.
There are loads of threads on GS about this subject, read a bit and you'll get the idea (along with playing with the knobs, of course!)