Getting your faders in a twist? You may have missed some vital information when starting out, but Ilpo’s here to reteach you
Resound offers up his pro approach to gain staging
In my early days, mixing was a constant battle. Not paying attention to gain staging in my workflow caused me a lot of unnecessary hassle. I would often end up in a vicious cycle, pushing my channel faders louder one by one, struggling to maintain a balance. Eventually, I would end up losing direction and fader resolution, as well as overloading my mix bus. I would then reset all channel faders and start from scratch. Rinse and repeat. Sound familiar?
Correct gain staging is the antidote for these problems. It is absolutely vital for your mixing workflow. Beginning to apply proper gain staging is without a doubt the single biggest thing that has ever contributed to improving the quality and consistency of my mixdowns.
So what is gain staging, exactly? It is, simply, the process of setting up and maintaining optimal gain levels of all of the audio signals inside your project. This includes the entire signal flow path from individual sound sources, through various plugins, processing and submix buses, all the way to the main mix bus. At each point in the chain, your aim is to make sure the levels stay consistent and optimal.
Why is it so important? The two most obvious reasons are to avoid digital clipping and to maintain sufficient levels to stay clear of the noise floor (which in the age of 32-bit floating-point systems is nothing to worry about). There are many more reasons beyond these, however. Having a solid reference level to work with helps to maintain your carefully crafted balance within the mix. It also contributes consistency and repeatability to the quality of your work, from one song and mixdown to another.
Proper gain staging makes it possible to utilise calibrated monitoring levels, too, if you wish. It also allows you to hit your plugins at an optimal level – a lot of analogue modelled plugins are designed to work best at -18dBFS. It lets you keep your channel volume faders closer to the range where their resolution is the best, which makes finding the right mix balance and making corrections easier. It creates a stable environment for you to develop your technical and listening skills.
If you’re not from a background of analogue studios and outboard mixing desks, gain staging can be confusing. Plus, as we all know, the internet is a most fruitful ground for debates and contradicting advice. There are different schools of thought… and as many very technical terms being thrown around, including discussions about different metering methods and scales. Don’t let any of that put you off!
Everyone’s workflow is different these days, and there are many viable ways to go about gain staging. Just develop a practice that works for you. In my view, there’s no reason to make it complicated. In this month’s tutorial and video, I’ll show you my personal approach to gain staging – but these are just my methods, so don’t take my words as gospel.
Paying constant attention to your levels may feel like hard work in the beginning, but after a while it becomes second nature. You’ll wonder how you ever managed without this skill, and you’ll begin to fantasise about beautiful hardware meters way out of your league…
“There are so many reasons for developing good gain staging practice”
DOWNLOAD See the video walkthrough on your PC/Mac at: vault.computermusic.co.uk