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Michael McBroom

Adjusting Input Gain in audio tracks?

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Several days ago, I ran across a YouTube video where the presenter was discussing the merits of applying a gain control prior to the controls in the track -- I think I'm recalling this correctly. Much of what he said only partially sank in, and he was discussing a control in Pro Tools, so I had to hunt around a bit to discover the same control -- I think at least -- in Cakewalk. You know, when you're in the Console view, the Gain control at the top of the track?  Cakewalk calls this Input Gain, and sez it's a pre-fader input gain for fine-tuning a track's volume. MIDI channel strips have a similar control, which is called a Velocity Offset, but I won't be discussing it here. Anyway, this Input Gain amounts to this pre-gain this guy is discussing, right? Sounds like it to me, at any rate.

He was suggesting that a much better way to control the volume of a track was to use this "pre-gain" control than using the track's gain. I don't recall what he called this control, so "pre-gain" is my term, not his. "Pre-fader" is Cakewalk's term, so whatever.  So anyway, I'm pretty hazy on this topic, and I didn't subscribe to this guy's channel, so I'd probably have a tough time finding this video again. So instead, I'm turning to the Forumind here, hoping that one or more of you can clearly explain the reasoning behind using a pre-fader input gain, when to use it, its benefits, etc.

I'm always looking for ways to improve my mix, and if a better understanding of how this control works will help in that regard, then I will be most appreciative of  your response.

I should add that I have selected one tune of mine with several audio tracks, and have attempted to balance them using this pre-fader instead of the tracks' main volume faders. After playing around with this tune a bit more, I guess I'd have to say at this point that it is simply just what Cakewalk sez it is -- a way to fine tune a track's volume. 

 

 

Edited by Michael McBroom

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You will find that many plugins have a "Sweet Spot" where they only function properly over a narrow range of inputs

Drive it too hot and it distorts. Don't drive it hard enough and it sounds wimpy and prone to noise

Using the input gain is a good way (and for those plugins without their own input gain, the only way) to get the plugin to respond in a "musical" way

This is part of a larger topic known as gain staging, where the gain of your signal is controlled tightly from input all the way through to your monitors

Read up on gain staging and it will invariably start by talking about input gain

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Mike's excellent video here might help. He covers this again in a more recent video as part of his series on recording, mixing, mastering and releasing a track which you'll find on his YouTube channel 🙂

 

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Great video. Notice he didn't reach for the gain knob once in this video ? Its because Gain staging using the Gain knob in Cakewalk is not as unique as it once was. We live in an age where multiple FX can be stacked on a track and almost every plug in now a day comes with its own...wait for it...

Input/Output.

In the days where some plug ins don't have proper I/O's Gain was crucial. And in some ways still is needed. Especially in cases where users enjoy clip gain, slamming compressors and over driving the first input stage.

A lot of users today still use clip gain to automate vocal tracks. However i have found this can be accomplished almost as easy using the volume automation instead. This of course, is dependent on the tracks condition, if it isn't recorded properly and you have a user SS ing and Poping in to the vocal mic, you'll need clip gain. If you recorded the track with an experienced singer, than more often than not, you can de-ess the clip in volume automation.

I respect everyones different views so im not laying down a foot print here for users to follow, just a way i have found to avoid automating 2 different stages (Gain/Volume). Your going to have to automate a singers vocal track regardless, why not de-ess it there and do it all in one shot.

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I find that hardware emulating plugins like Waves CLA series and HLS don't like too hot input. Gain knob adjust as said how hot it hits first plugin.

If they are going for -18 dBFs or something.

So either clip gain envelopes or this overall gain on track is very helpful. If to wish for something it would be that they work on monitor of input as well, which I recall is not the case - only playback. Useful to just increase what you record there as well for more gain, even if using dim on solo.

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