STU­DIO STRATE­GIES:

Get­ting your faders in a twist? You may have missed some vi­tal in­for­ma­tion when start­ing out, but Ilpo’s here to reteach you

Computer Music - - Contents -

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.

Say what?

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.

Bet­ter re­sults

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

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