Am I too paranoid? ?
Yes, you are 😉
The good thing with being so careful about gain staging is, that you know how loud everything is before it goes into any plugin.
But it's also very time consuming.
Myself, I use peak metering in Logic, but input metering, showing the level before the plugins.
I gain stage to roughly -9 db to -12 dB peak.
I have all my channel faders on -4 dB in my template and all bus faders on 0 dB.
When mixing some faders go down to -20 dB.
This way the busses are usually around -6 dB and the master bus is never clipping.
The drawback is, that faders are not as precise at -20 dB as around 0 dB. That doesn't matter to me, because I never move faders in realtime.
As for the -18 dB thing: Yes, I heard that too. But I'm pretty sure, it only applies to plugins introducing harmonics. In a FabFilter Q3 it will probably only affect the visuals. You also have to keep in mind, that it only applies to the sound the company had intended. Sometimes you want to drive a plugin harder than intended to get the sound it then produces.
An example: I often use Waves Smash Attack on snare. It doesn't have an input control but that's not very relevant, because you have the Sensitivity control. OTOH it is probably easier to use, the louder the signal is. Also the visual waveform is easier to read.
After using a bit of transient shaper I use the clipper on snare. On loud hits the clipper clips more than 6 dBs. To achieve that, I have to turn up the Output control a lot. So, internally the signal is at +6 dB and more.
Since Smash Attack doesn't have an Output trim, I put a Gain plugin after it, usually set to -9 dB to get back to my usual gain staging.
I could also use a clipper, let's say from Airwindows, that has no controls. I would then put a Gain plugin before it and set it to +15 dB and one after it, set to -9 dB. No problem with modern DAWs.
To sum up your Gain "problem" with busses. Use the method that suites you best. You can't go wrong there, nowadays. Just use an Input trim on a level sensitive plugin and be aware not to change that level too much through further mixing.
- This reply was modified 3 years ago by Guido tum Suden.