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Al Robbins

Gain Staging basics question

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I have an HP Envy and use a Focusrite Scarlet 18i20 interface. I plug my mics into the Focusrite and use the gain knobs to get the signal to show in Cakewalk to max peaking at -12db and try for -18db RMS when recording. Essentially doing everything “in the box.”  While I am recording I keep all the faders at zero (Unity Gain I think they call it). Once everything is recorded and before mixing, I use the Gain Knob on Console view in Cakewalk to make adjustments to the gain - still trying to keep that -12db peaks and -18dbs RMS.  The RMS doesn’t always stay at -18dbs RMS, sometimes it goes below it. But I am sticking with the -12dbs peaks. Again, I use the Gain Knob on Console view in Cakewalk to keep the gain peaks no higher than - 12dbs - same with buses and master.  I have the view set to show peak and RMS on playback and record for all tracks and buses. 

From there I will move the fader if I have to with the goal of keeping -6 to -9 db on my master fader to give headroom for the mastering engineer. 

There is so much I have read online about gain staging and my head is about to explode! 

I have years of experience in analog recording and mixing. I converted to Sonar almost 4 years ago. Then of course to Cakewalk by Bandlab. I understand that you don’t have to record loud like you did in analog. 

Is that the correct way to gain stage at the very beginning of mixing?  Or should I say a good way to start gain staging in Cakewalk? It seems subjective to some degree. 

I know this is a newbie question - you would think in 4 years I would already know. I just never used the Gain knob in Console view until now. 

Thanks for any advice! 

 

Al

 

 

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I hardly ever use the gain knob unless im blowing up plugins during their input stages. To each their own I guess. I record almost 80% Audio / 20% Midi. I find large project require faders to be dropped below the normal. It is no skin off my teeth to have my guitar faders set at -24db during the mixing stages. The most important part is how hard im hitting those plug ins. Or shall I say, how hard im not hitting those plug ins. Most plug ins now a day have an input control which gives us much more freedom to wiggle. Thus not having to rely solely on Gain input.

Everyone is different and im sure we will hear from them on this thread.

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1 hour ago, Chuck E Baby said:

I hardly ever use the gain knob unless im blowing up plugins during their input stages. To each their own I guess. I record almost 80% Audio / 20% Midi. I find large project require faders to be dropped below the normal. It is no skin off my teeth to have my guitar faders set at -24db during the mixing stages. The most important part is how hard im hitting those plug ins. Or shall I say, how hard im not hitting those plug ins. Most plug ins now a day have an input control which gives us much more freedom to wiggle. Thus not having to rely solely on Gain input.

Everyone is different and im sure we will hear from them on this thread.

Good to know - I have hardly used the gain knobs either.  I am recording our second session for our demo and thought I would try using them this time. Appreciate your input. 

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I'm also looking for some mixing advice/tutorials (specifically Cakewalk if possible) on mixing/normalizing/compression if you have any suggestions?

Just not sure what kind of levels I should be aiming for to get my track similar in level to a radio/commercial track without clipping.

E.g. do you suggest normalizing tracks then adjusting gain (or the fader)?

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20 hours ago, CDK said:

I'm also looking for some mixing advice/tutorials (specifically Cakewalk if possible) on mixing/normalizing/compression if you have any suggestions?

Just not sure what kind of levels I should be aiming for to get my track similar in level to a radio/commercial track without clipping.

E.g. do you suggest normalizing tracks then adjusting gain (or the fader)?

I have never used normalize. I try to keep the dynamics. Wish I could help you with getting the level similar to a radio/commercial track. That seems like mastering to me and I don’t have experience with mastering other than EQ, compression and limiting. 

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35 minutes ago, Al Robbins said:

I have never used normalize. I try to keep the dynamics. Wish I could help you with getting the level similar to a radio/commercial track. That seems like mastering to me and I don’t have experience with mastering other than EQ, compression and limiting. 

Hey Al, just asking for other people's advice here. I'd prefer not to normalize but just trying out different things.

As one example I have a drum track that is peaking around -18db and at the start of the mix process it's far too quiet. Turning the fader up doesn't make a big enough improvement so would you adjust the gain knob? Or use a plugin to increase volume? Or go back to the original MIDI track and increase the volume?

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The input control in a plugin IS a gain control, to clarify an earlier point - gain/trim refers to the level of input signal, whereas volume refers to the output.

In the analog days, there was a lot of tape and gear noise, and it would get worse if gain had to be turned up to make up for it being too low earlier in the signal chain.  Turning it up would also raise the level of noise, so the idea was to try to adjust the gain as early in the signal chain as possible, and then not drop it down too far during its path through the effects, because if it had to get turned back up again it would bring up the noise levels.

This is not so much a worry in the days of digital, but the principle is still valid.  If you start at the top of the signal path, and get the gain set to a good level, and then try to keep that signal level consistent through each effect (you can check by doing an A/B test of signal with a given plugin on, and compare it with that plugin off - try to keep each effect 'neutral' in its output volume versus its input gain), you should be in pretty good shape.

Also, the more tracks and buses you have, the more it adds up by the time it gets to the Master Bus, so keep that in mind, and keep an eye on it all.

Bob Bone

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With a softsynths it should be pretty easy to get the volume as loud as needed by adjusting the synth itself. Probably no need to mess with the MIDI data. The synth would be a good place to start to get the volume right. Most drum synths can get really loud.

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11 hours ago, Al Robbins said:

I have never used normalize. I try to keep the dynamics.

Normalizing wont change dynamics at all. It only changes the signal level. I know this may sound confusing but as an example, a compressor will change dynamics, Normalizing is like a boost/cut of signal, Turning up/down every level on that track (including peaks and valley's) vs. a compressor which squashes).

I even confuse myself when explaining that 9_9

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10 minutes ago, Chuck E Baby said:

Normalizing wont change dynamics at all. It only changes the signal level. I know this may sound confusing but as an example, a compressor will change dynamics, Normalizing is like a boost/cut of signal, Turning up/down every level on that track (including peaks and valley's) vs. a compressor which squashes).

I even confuse myself when explaining that 9_9

That is confusing-but that’s what I get for commenting on something I have never done. It would be cool to have someone that knows Cakewalk in and out to join me while I record and mix. I still really do not know what the heck I am doing. 

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1 hour ago, Al Robbins said:

It would be cool to have someone that knows Cakewalk in and out to join me while I record and mix. I still really do not know what the heck I am doing. 

That's a great idea. Would be nice to have a group of people in our areas that held a course every month or so. I suspect with the strides we have made using online video chat, this will be possible in a few years.

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