Simple gain staging/levels question

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Citizen
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Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Citizen » Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:16 pm

I’m finding that I am redlining devices and individual channels in Ableton Live from time to time when doing a mixdown…. does this necessitate bringing all the faders down, and restarting building the mix from scratch? :?:

For example, this track I'm currently working on – I can only get my snare sound loud enough (relative to my other drum sounds) is by running the gain out of the Drum Rack at +6.0db - which is then redlining the next device, and the next one and so on... :cry:

Secondly, is there a recommended position to have your individual channel faders at in your default template that will generally avoid the overall mix running too hot into the master? :?:

(this mix is peaking at -1.5db on the master, and I try to leave -3db on the master for the mastering engineer to have sufficient headroom to work)

Many thanks in advance!

DangerousDave
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by DangerousDave » Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:44 am

The kind of general rule of thumb is the -12 db rule, but it is by no means a necessity. I usually set my individual faders for drums at -12 and then keep the drum bus at 0. (Note that if you are using simpler or sampler I think the default volume on the device is set to -12, so if you do both of these at -12 your drums will be very quiet.)

Also keep in mind that dynamic processing such as saturators and compressors will behave differently depending on the input signal level. A good practice is to keep everything in the green along the signal chain. This was more important in the analogue days but can still be useful simply as a way to manage your gain staging along the signal path.

Overall however loudness should not be your desired goal, but rather balance. If your snare is getting lost in the mix that could be a mix issue and not just a level issue.

I used to mix with a pretty quiet signal, maybe peaking at -10 or so on the master but I found that was annoying when mixing with multiple groups/busses so I tend to shoot for -4 or so db on the master. But everyone has different workflows and there are many ways to skin the cat.
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login
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by login » Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:51 am

No offense but I think you may need to read a whole book or take a video course on mixing.

fishmonkey
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by fishmonkey » Sat Apr 04, 2015 1:18 am

on a related note, if you are automating your track levels then consider automating the gain of a Utility device instead. it makes it easier to adjust the overall level of a track later without messing with the automation.
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Citizen
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Citizen » Sat Apr 04, 2015 2:17 am

fishmonkey wrote:on a related note, if you are automating your track levels then consider automating the gain of a Utility device instead. it makes it easier to adjust the overall level of a track later without messing with the automation.
Yep - I awlays do this – its part of my default channel strip. Absolutely essential.

Citizen
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Citizen » Sat Apr 04, 2015 2:22 am

login wrote:No offense but I think you may need to read a whole book or take a video course on mixing.
Uh....thanks?

This doesn't normally happen, and I just wasn't really paying close attention to my levels as I was building the track. I also decided to change the whole snare sound late in the process instead of addressing it earlier. Obviously I'm seeking some guidelines from which to improve the situation in the future.

I probably need to be more conscious of the final mix as I work through the compositional stage, as opposed to viewing them as two seperate stages of the process.

I know redlining devices is bad, and that I probably need to rebuild this mix.

If you would like to offer some more constructive feedback, you are most welcome.

Citizen
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Citizen » Sat Apr 04, 2015 2:27 am

DangerousDave wrote:Overall however loudness should not be your desired goal, but rather balance. If your snare is getting lost in the mix that could be a mix issue and not just a level issue.
Agreed. Its (I think) quite obviously a mix balance issue – hence my question, do I need to simply drop all my faders to zero, and start my mix from scratch again?
DangerousDave wrote:I used to mix with a pretty quiet signal, maybe peaking at -10 or so on the master but I found that was annoying when mixing with multiple groups/busses so I tend to shoot for -4 or so db on the master. But everyone has different workflows and there are many ways to skin the cat.
Another issue I'm up against is that I tend to mix through my headphones (mostly) as I don't trust my rooms acoustics. This means that if I mix at low levels, I don't have as much volume in my headphones as I would like.

crumhorn
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by crumhorn » Sat Apr 04, 2015 8:45 am

If you select all your tracks and move any one of the faders all the others will move in proportion to it. so you can reduce the overall level without changing the balance of your mix.

any prefade effect sends will need to be adjusted though.
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theswiftone
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by theswiftone » Sat Apr 04, 2015 9:41 am

Bit of good old new york compression on the snare would probably bring it out. You've got other options than just red lining the channel strip.

bicarbone
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by bicarbone » Sat Apr 04, 2015 10:00 am

I like to play with clip gain in the first place. That way I'm sure to have plenty of headroom along the way.

Remember that lowering a fader may prevent an overload on the master bus but has no effect over redlining plugins on individual channels.

Another thing: so many plugins nowadays are (close or remote) emulations of some bit of hardware, modern or vintage, so it's best to respect gain staging the same way as you would in analog. This way there is better chance your plugins will sing instead of squeak.

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Stromkraft
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Stromkraft » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:44 pm

Citizen wrote: does this necessitate bringing all the faders down, and restarting building the mix from scratch? :?: ...

Secondly, is there a recommended position to have your individual channel faders at in your default template that will generally avoid the overall mix running too hot into the master? :?:
While you can bring all tracks down by selecting them all and move, you may have other issues that make it necessary to start over.

RMS Levels
When I was in your position about 10 months ago I read up on gain staging, experimented and rather slowly made the decision to use -18dBFS RMS levels with the faders set at -6dBFS as a starting point when setting up initial track levels. This meant I had to get a decent RMS-capable meter and I've been using Sonalksis FreeG.
I feel that -18dBFS gives me enough headroom for peaks before I control them with Transient plug-ins and Compression/Limiting. I set the levels by controlling the volume at the source or as close to the source as possible,

Compensating lower volume
I overcame low monitoring levels by increasing the volume in my audio interface and monitors with the master at 0, quickly realized the perils of that with stray high levels biting into my ears when using head phones, so I use a Limiter on my master that is always on when I work with head phones.

Compression and Limiting
I also started using gentle multi-stage compression. These days I set levels with compression active on busses and a limiter active on the master as lower sounds doesn't have to be so high on the track fader with that on the master anyway. I do turn these dynamic effects off and on while mixing to compare operations, especially when soloing.

Good sound selection, programming of sound sources as well as Transients, Compression and EQ is what make sounds cut trough the mix for me. And if I need to raise the level of a particular instrument if so just for a specific section I have the headroom now to do that with fader rides.

Fixed Levels
Another critical decision I took was to use very fixed levels to work with, by deciding on a loud level, use a dB meter to measure up that level and mark up positions on my equipment. From the loud level I have chosen a very quiet level as well and another in between.
I switch between these 3 and never work without these levels unless testing the material on a specific system that I can't control fully, like a PA. In other studios I set the same 3 fixed levels. This has made it more easy to overcome monitor issues concerning different systems as well as not tiring my ears.
Last edited by Stromkraft on Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:21 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Citizen
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Re: Simple gain staging/levels question

Post by Citizen » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:37 am

Thanks guys – HUGE amounts of super useful info in your suggestions and links – thank you so very much!

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