Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mixing Gain Staging question


  • This topic has 4 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 3 years ago by Dominique Lacroix.
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    Dominique Lacroix

      Hi there, I am new to the Academy and this will be my first experience with it. I don't have a ton of experience as a mixer but I am meticulous and am so far mainly recording and mixing my own and band's projects. I am trying to be mindful of good gain staging and starting a few new projects. I have recorded all tracks at around 18db of gain RMS. (peaks below 6db)

      My question is the following: once I add-up all 3 kick or snare mics and the added samples, the Kick/Snare buss are now beyond -6db. Which in turns, pushes the Drum buss pretty hot too. Is the answer to trim down the gain on each buss to never let it peak beyond -6db pre-fader? And if I add parallel compression later on, then I'll have to trim it down again? Same with every busses?

      Or did I record too hot?

      I'm a little confused with this. Any help will be appreciated!



      Guido tum Suden

        Hi Dominic,
        Since you are probably recording and mixing with 24 bit, clipping is no longer a problem (okay, you can still do it, but the meters would have been in the red for a long time before digital distortion starts).
        That being said, I gain stage similar to you. All plugins that produce harmonic distortion react differently to different input levels and with the level you choose you can't go wrong.

        What can you do about the busses? Since the system is running on 24 bits, a lot.
        - Turn down all faders to -4 dB and start mixing from there.
        - Put in a gain plugin at the beginning of the bus.
        - Use the plugin chain on the bus to reduce the gain.
        - Turn down the single channels with a gain plugin at the end.
        - Just turn down the fader of the bus.
        - …

        Some of these options prevent the clipping of a bus, some don't. In a modern DAW, it all doesn't matter.
        The only thing to be aware of is the level a channel or bus has, when it goes into a plugin that creates harmonic distortion.
        At this point input and output gains in plugins come in handy, either to set the right input gain or to set the right input gain for the next plugin by setting the output gain.
        On the other hand with 24 bits "if it sounds good it is good" is absolutely no problem.

        If you have compressors or distortion plugins on a bus, you have to be more careful, because then mixing the channels will change the way the busses sound (mixing hotter will lead to more compression and/or more distortion). Adjusting the input gain is important, there.

        Did you record too hot?
        No, if you record too low you will introduce noise. But even for that you will have to record very low with a modern DAW.


        Dominique Lacroix

          Thanks for your insight Guido! Since I kept hearing that plugins and tracks in general sound best at around -18db but can't peak too high, that's what I was aiming for every track. But now I see that the cumulative into each busses obviously adds up! So if I need to plan my busses to be -18db, then I guess I need to trim my tracks less than that. Do you have general guidelines you go by when you start mixing, and that keeps things healthy throughout the mix?

          Since I like drums upfront, and they have the most track count, if they are peaking at -5/6db then most other tracks in relation are definitely quieter and nowhere close to -18db. Am I too paranoid? 🙂

          Should I use different metering instead of RMS (Protools meters)



          Guido tum Suden

            HI Dominic,
            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.
            Dominique Lacroix

              Great! Thanks for your explanations, that was very helpful! I think I will be less paranoid about it now 🙂   Your guidelines of -9 to -12db peak seem like a great idea! And busses at -6db peak also sounds manageable. I guess drums with their high track counts are the ones I need to be careful with the most to keep them at a healthy level.   Thanks for taking the time!!


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