#36: Make Better Decisions (And Better Sounding Records) With Proper, Intentional Gain Staging

#36: Make Better Decisions (And Better Sounding Records) With Proper, Intentional Gain Staging

Gain staging is one of the most overlooked topics and, when done wrong, most common problems in DIY productions.


People either don't fully understand it, think it's boring, or underestimate the dramatic consequences for the sound of their records.

The problem is that much of the information on the internet about gain staging is misleading, confusing and mostly black or white. That's why we're telling you the truth about it, why it is so important to pay attention to it and why it's all about intentionality, rather than aiming for "correct" or "healthy" levels.

In order to be intentional about your gain staging, you need some basic knowledge and understanding of how different levels at different stages affect your audio.

It's not complicated, though. Once you put in the time and understand the principles behind it, it will all make sense to you quickly. And from that moment on, you will never have to guess about the right levels going in and out of your gear, or wonder why something sounds bad when there seems to be nothing obviously wrong.

Join us as we help you understand the principles behind and the benefits of proper, intentional gain staging.

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The VU Meter Plugin Mentioned In This Episode:

Klanghelm VUMT & VUMT Deluxe

Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

TSRB Podcast 036 - Make Better Decisions (And Better Sounding Records) With Proper, Intentional Gain Staging

[00:00:00] Benedikt: [00:00:00] What about gain staging in the doll? What happens after you've recorded it correctly? You left enough head room. You didn't clip the converter. Who did it go above zero. What can go wrong? Now, what we have to watch out for this is the self recording band podcast. The show where we help you make exciting records on your own.

Wherever you are, DIY stuff. Let's go.

Hello and welcome. The self recording band podcast. I am your host Benedict tine, and I'm here with my friend and cohost Malcolm Owen flood. How are you, Malcolm? 

Malcom: [00:00:37] Hello? I'm good. And how are you today? 

Benedikt: [00:00:40] I'm doing fantastic. Thank you. I had a recording session this week. We've been talking about that just before we hit record on this episode.

And I kind of enjoyed it very much. So actually I am not doing as many recording sessions these days, but it was really fun to be in the studio with a band again, and like doing it all from [00:01:00] scratch, creating things together rather than just dealing with what's already there. And it was just a fun. And, uh, yeah.

Fun, fun experience. Fun thing to do. And, um, yeah, make me think that I should do that every once in a while. Maybe. 

Malcom: [00:01:14] Yeah. He'll get back to the roots. Yeah, 

Benedikt: [00:01:16] exactly. And I also feel like that the more practice you have mixing and doing other things, if you go, then if you go back to recording, then thanks makes so much more sense in a way, or you just approach it differently.

Like one, one is good for the other. Basically, I don't know if you want to be a good mixer, you should have recorded. I think some stuff. And if you want to get better at recording, you should at least try to balance and mix stuff. So, you know, What your decisions do to the thing and to the end result. So, anyway, it's just, I, I felt like that I, I actually got better as a producer and recording engineer much better through mixing.


Malcom: [00:01:55] yeah, yeah, yeah. You kind of figure out what you like and you don't like, and how [00:02:00] things affect what you're trying to do later on. It definitely all adds up for sure. Yeah. I try and give feedback to people that send me tracks. Because of that, you know, if they're they're self recording and they send me something in the mix, I try and offer some feedback so that the next song might be a little closer in the direction they're aiming.

Benedikt: [00:02:16] Yeah, totally. Yeah. Yeah. So before we dive into today's episode, I want to let you know that we have. A free download for you. It's called the 10 step guide to successful DIY recording. And if you want to have that go to the self recording, pant.com/ten step guide. It's a little mini ebook type of thing, a long PDF.

It has the whole process of like the production writing arrangement even, um, set up recording. Gear all that stuff all the way to the finished thing. So it's a, it's a great starting point. It's a great overview of the whole process it's completely free and you can download it by going to the self recording band.com/ten step guide.

That's just something I frequently forget to say. So I want to send you there [00:03:00] today's episode is basically on the topic that we've been talking about on recording and on like the back to the roots topic, because it's one of the most. Basic things, but one of the most important things to know it's super crucial.

It's not everyone's favorite topic. It's not the sexiest thing to talk about, but it's very, very important. And we're going to talk about gain staging and getting your levels right at the various stages of making a record. So what is gain staging actually? What do we mean by that term? 

Malcom: [00:03:31] So all in all of your devices, like your interface, your preamps and such, there is usually a gain knob and believe it or not, that is.

There for a reason and you want to get it to the, to a certain level. Um, and inside of your door, there are more there's faders, there's plugins. It was all of the stuff. And anytime you can see it, a meter jumping like right now, I can see my voice activating a ProTools meter, and I'm just going past the bright green color [00:04:00] and, uh, That's there for a reason as well.

So what we're talking about is where you want to get your gain. Um, so how loud your signal is essentially is what we're measuring and, and why that's important. So really the, the main thing you need to know is that if you go too far, It can go bad. The worst thing that can pretty much come with this, and don't worry, it's pretty easy to get this right.

But the worst thing is that you can cause some clipping in a certain stage. And we're going to talk about the other side of that because clipping can be good, but in most cases or in the cases of what we're talking about right now, clipping sounds like unwanted distortion. I should almost turn up my mic preamp and clip it.

Yeah, I can hear it. Do it. Okay. It's going to be loud for you. Okay. I am talking. I am talking. I am talking. I am talking. I 

Benedikt: [00:04:50] am talking sounds awful 

Malcom: [00:04:56] right at that'd be terrible. Yeah. So you can imagine [00:05:00] if we didn't know what we were doing and we recorded the whole podcast like that, it would be bad news.

And that has a huge effect on the audio quality. Um, and not only that, it also has an effect on things that come later in the chain because the signal, uh, like the gain of my is going to be fed into something else, maybe a compressor, right. And the volume that the compressor is receiving is going to change how it reacts.

Um, I mean, I'm kind of going too far. We gotta slow down a little bit. 

Benedikt: [00:05:32] Yeah. But you're totally right. Everything affects everything. Like the level, the level you're starting with and you're sending to everything that's that follows affects everything. 

Malcom: [00:05:41] So, 

Benedikt: [00:05:42] um, yeah. Yeah. Just, um, I mean, I think, I don't think you're going too far.

It went by saying that the compressor and the end, everything reacts differently. Every piece of gear basically does. Sound different, depending on the signal going in, some gear can handle wide, like a [00:06:00] wide range of different like levels without sounding too different. Other stuff sounds drastically different with lower or higher levels.

So if you would have done what you've just, would you just sit with your preamp? If you would have done that with your 10 73, that by come by the way useful, the first couple of episodes of this podcast. If I remember 

Malcom: [00:06:17] correctly courageous the super 

Benedikt: [00:06:20] expensive high end piece of gear that you don't need to record a podcast, but Malcolm did because he can.

And if you dad, if you had done that with that piece of gear, it would have sounded different than what you just did now. And the different gear sounds different with different levels. So it's important to know that most of your. Like, I think most of the, the, the typical interfaces and the typical gear you would use in a home recording scenario will sound pretty clean up to a certain point.

And then it's going to start to distort most the, in an unpleasant way. So you want to keep it clean and that's basically, but once you get into. Um, analog gear that has [00:07:00] transformers in it, or tubes or any sort of Sonic quality and not just clean representation of what you put in, it gets really interesting.

And you gotta be really careful because you will color the sound with the amount of gain you put in this, 

Malcom: [00:07:13] which can be desired or not desired. 

Benedikt: [00:07:16] Yeah. Right. Totally. Um, 

Malcom: [00:07:19] so let's, let's stick with digital right now, digital preamps, especially we, I mean, like we, we don't want to clip our converters on the way in usually, right?

Like that's kind of what I just did sounded awful. Um, not desirable, but, uh, that, that can also play a role in inside your door. Like when you're using plugins and stuff like that. Um, you want to keep headroom and headroom is a word we keep using, but that just essentially just means that you're not hitting zero.

Um, you're, you're keeping it below that at a reasonable level. And it used to be that you needed to record hard enough. Um, but you [00:08:00] couldn't be too quiet because there's a, we should talk about signal to noise ratios a little bit. Yeah. There's noise system noise, especially, um, especially with like old amplifiers.

You'll find out if they have a lot of noise. Right. So if your signal isn't loud enough compared to that operating noise, then you've got a problem, right? Like it's going to be hard to make it. So the listener doesn't notice that noise. So you had to record a hot enough gain to avoid that noise floor, um, in the modern world that we're luckily in right now, that's really not an issue with most gear.

Yeah, the signal to noise ratio is so good that you can pretty well record as quiet as you want here. Let's do one more test with my channel Thomas. I'm going to turn down my mic, uh, to its lowest setting and talk, and I want you to clip, gain it up so that it's comparable to like a comparative volume to the rest of the podcast.

And let's see if there's a noticeable noise floor change. The probably won't be, [00:09:00] I bet 

Benedikt: [00:09:00] that's cool. 

Malcom: [00:09:01] Or, uh, I am now talking as quiet as it goes. And we'll see if there's any noise. Cause I can't hear it right now. Cool. Okay. I'm going back, but there probably won't be, um, it'll probably be fine. So in the modern gear, you can, you can pretty well record as quiet as you want.

And I would suggest people do play it a little safe and just avoid clipping their preamps. Uh, would you agree with that? 

Benedikt: [00:09:27] Totally. If you record in 16 bit in 24 bit, sorry. Yes. That's the, that's the thing you need to know because. Um, that's also a very common question. Should I, it then 16 foot, 24 or 32, whatever.

So most interfaces can do 16 and 24 most converters. And you should always record in 20 because that's the main reason for this. In, in simple terms with 24 bit, the dynamic range is much bigger, which means the difference between the lowest, the quietest possible signal and the loudest possible signal without [00:10:00] distorting is much bigger than the difference between those in a 16 bit signal.

So with 16 bit. If we record the noise floor than the operating noise will be significantly louder than with 24. So if you record quietly, Andrew recording, 16 bit, and then you turn it up. What markup just did in this example, if you did that with a 16 bit, uh, recording, the nice floor would be brought up as well, and it would be significantly louder and you would probably hear it with 24 bit.

The noise floor is so super low down there because the dynamic range is so big. That you can record super quiet signals without bringing up the noise too much. So 24 bit is the thing you need to do, and the requirement for this and every single interface, basically these days can do that. So 24 bit and then, yeah, absolutely play it safe unless you want it.

The distortion, the sound of the distortion, but still the level of going into the dark. Um, you should, you should play it safe and leave some headroom there. Meaning like room between the loudest [00:11:00] part of your signal. And zero, zero is digital. Zero is zero DBM. If assets, just a DB full scale. It's that's the, the point where a digital signal just clips, no matter what, it's like a hard clip.

It's like the ceiling. You can't go any further than that. It will clip. The thing is we need to explain. As long as you're outside of the computer and the analog domain, as long as we are inside of the preempt, before it hits the converter. As long as we are talking about analog processors, accused, compresses, whatever, they don't have a hard ceiling like that.

Every piece of gear has a different headroom. So some things will clip earlier. Others will clip later. Some will have a smoother curve, so they will start clipping gently. Others will Hart clip more, but every, every piece of gear is different, but there is. Like technically, there's no hard ceiling like CRDB, but in digital, there is.

So as soon as you go from the preamp and from everything that's happening before the pre the converter of your interface, if you go from that to the converter, you need [00:12:00] to stay below Siro to not make it clip. And that type of distortion that the converter makes when you clip it is usually the type that you don't want most of the time.

So stay. Under Ciro and leave some headroom just in case the signal gets louder. If you record a drum kit, for example, you never know how hard the drummer will hit the scenario. At some point in the song, just leave a little more headroom with a vocalist as well. You never know what the loudest thing the song will be, and you don't want to like, yeah, just leave enough headroom for those things to happen so that it doesn't clip.

And if you want the sound of some analog gear or preempt or whatever, before the convertor, then, um, you need to indeed you find a way to, to crank the input and get the sound you want and then dial back the output so that you don't clip the converter. That's what you need to do then in that case, Ideally, you have a preamp that has two controls input and output.

Then that's easy. If you don't have that, you would have to use a pad or something in between the [00:13:00] preamp and the converter, or you need to use a pass switch on the interface, something like that, but just make sure you pay attention to that. Because in addition to the desire distortion of your gear, you might add the undesired.

The unwanted distortion from the converter 

Malcom: [00:13:13] to connect the dots a little, uh, anybody that's used a guitar amp would probably have a guitar. That's got a preamp and like a master volume. And that's kind of what we're talking about. You could crank the preamp and get distortion, but then turn it down with your master volume.

And, uh, in this situation where we can't hit zero, we gotta like get the distortion we want, but not clip. Um, our converters that's where like an output or a output pad. You know, it's different gear has different options there, for sure. 

Benedikt: [00:13:41] Totally. And when I say converter, you don't need to have an extra piece of gear for that.

Like, if you have like this, the common, one of the common interfaces. They have a preamp and a converter built into one box. So people might get confused because they say, I don't have a preamp and I don't have a converter. Yes you have because you have an interface. And that interface has a built in mic pre [00:14:00] and a built in converter.

It's just in one box, but it's the same thing. And there is a signal chain going on in that interface. So you're hitting the analog Mike pre and that will send the preamplifier signal to the built in converter. So. Yeah. That's 

Malcom: [00:14:13] how it works. And the converter is literally converting it from an analog to a digital signal.

Benedikt: [00:14:18] Exactly. It's a 

Malcom: [00:14:19] very literal word. Yes, 

Benedikt: [00:14:21] yes, totally. Yeah. And that's, that's basically it and the way to find out how your gear sounds is you can, by trying, of course you can just try it, but also it's worth having a look at the manuals because gear is calibrated differently and we don't need to go into the specifics here.

We thought about like giving you numbers and DB scales and stuff, but it's just. Too confusing. It's technical enough with this episode, just look into the manuals, see what levels these pieces of gear are meant to be used with. Um, try to find a way to meet her that if possible, if you're in the analog domain, if you're in the dark, have a look at the manuals of your plugins, because the same thing is true for plugins that emulate [00:15:00] and a luckier.

I have a look at the manuals there and make sure you're hitting your plugins correctly. So that's the next thing that we're going to talk about here? What about gain staging in the doll? What happens after you've recorded it correctly? You left enough headroom. You didn't clip the converter. You didn't go above zero.

You recorded it properly. And now you're in the door. What can go wrong now? What you have to watch out for? 

Malcom: [00:15:24] So the worst is past, um, they, they, they clip it on the way in is the most destructive thing you're going to run into. Um, and the reason that is, is because most dollars actually operate not a 24 bit, but actually at 32 bit float now where it's pretty well impossible to really clip, um, inside your doll.

But that doesn't mean that you can stop thinking about it. Um, Certain plugins, a lot of plugins, uh, are based on hardware. Like, you know, you'll find a 1176 compressor plugin or a Neve channel strip or EKU or something like that. There's, there's lots of stuff like that. [00:16:00] Um, pretty well. Every door has some of that going on and that they're very popular for, um, aftermarket third party plugins that people are buying and those plugins, and I guess all plugins really are designed to receive input at a certain level.

Um, meaning that they have an operating level. I think that's what they call it, right? 

Benedikt: [00:16:19] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And most of the time, yeah, 

Malcom: [00:16:22] nominal operating level, I think is what they say. And that is the signal level that you're meant to hit a couple of them with so that it responds the way they intended. Um, and that is a good one practice it'll generally do what you think is going to do.

If, if you follow that rule, Um, you can break that rule. I do all the time, but it's, it's good to know what your gear is, is hoping to receive. So I highly recommend checking out the manuals whenever you get new plugins and get becoming familiar, familiar with how they're meant to be run. 

Benedikt: [00:16:55] Yeah, absolutely.

And there is a great plugin that I want to recommend right [00:17:00] now. That is, I think there's a free version, but even like the full version is very, very cheap, but it's awesome. Let's call it the VU empty by Kuileng helm is the, the company. 

Malcom: [00:17:11] Oh yeah. Yeah. I got that. 

Benedikt: [00:17:13] It's called view empty and there's a VU empty deluxe as well.

Uh, some people just call it the bumped because that's how I can spell it. It's the VU meter. It basically, it's an emulation of an analog VU meter. Like, um, y'all know what that looks like. And if you don't just Google it you'll instantly know. And. So, what you can do with that meter is you can look at your signal, see how loud it is, and just to put it into perspective, how quiet things can be.

If you're a compressor or analog, emulation plugin says calibration like minus 18 or something, or operating level minus 18, and you'd put the same value into the, the view empty, which is the default value, actually, because it's the most common level four unluck year. Then that means if that meter shows Ciro.

On your channel strip in the dark, you're actually having minus [00:18:00] 18 RMS. So it's much quieter than many people, um, run their signals. So many people will go like, we'll leave a couple of DB head rooms and then they'll hit an 1176. So they have the tracks at like minus five or six or whatever. And then they hit 1176 and it's gonna distort, even if you're not compressing it, it's going to distort it because the plugin recreates what the analog unit sounds like.

And if it's calibrated for like minus 18, And you're running it way too hot. It's going to sound different. So with that, with plugins, like the view empty, you can measure, you can meet her stuff. And, um, you, if that plugin is at zero and it has the same calibration as your plugin afterwards, then you know, you're hitting it.

Right. So that's what you basically can do many plugins have of human rebate built into them. But those that have not, you can use something like the view empty by CloudHealth to just, um, To monitor that. 

Malcom: [00:18:52] Yeah, you can gauge it. Um, this is a knowledge is power situation because yeah, you'll, you'll learn what the [00:19:00] plugin is meant to sound like by hitting it at its nominal optimal range.

Um, which like Benny said is normally negative 18. That's like a very safe if you're too lazy to read the manual guests on negative 18. Yeah. Um, but then you, you learn that and now you can start. Kind of breaking the rules as well. Um, like 1176 is for example, I use the universal audio, 1176 blue Stripe all the time.

It's a great plugin. And if you hit it hotter, it does a really pleasing distortion to me. Um, and so that's something you can take advantage. I can be like, okay, it's going in like normal. And I want it a little bit more of that dirt. I know how far I can push it and, and to increase that. Um, you know, so you can kind of manipulate the, the end result.

Once you learn your gear and you kind of learn how it works. 

Benedikt: [00:19:50] I want to encourage you actually to do that and to go too far, because that's the only way. You really find out the sweet spots. You find out how certain pieces of gear sound cool. And there are certain [00:20:00] pieces of gear who are known for their quality when you hit them harder than usually.

So same thing, like summing stuff. So if you are combining various tracks in your doll, if you're sending all your likes, let's say let's, let's say the easiest possible scenario. So you have all the individual tracks in your diet and you're sending them all to the master bus, to the master output. They all get some together.

The level will, like they will add up the level will increase that a master bus will be Potter than any of the individual buses. Or individual channels. And as long as you don't go above zero, nothing bad will happen as my com sad, probably you could even go Beyonce Euro with most DAS because of 32 bit processing.

You don't even clip the master out if you, if it's in the red, but I still think you should try to do it as if it were an analog desk. I really liked to encourage people to just treat it like an analog desk and try to avoid. I'm clipping the output, the master bus. And then, [00:21:00] um, what happens is if you put one of the mixed bus emulations that they're are out there on their own, or a mix bus compressor, or something like that, there is then the operating level again, and the recommended range again, that you should hit it.

But many of these things have these plugins sound better, actually, if you hit them a little harder. So like everyone's ever like everyone who has ever mixed on an, on an SSL or certain pieces of analog gear, certain desks, they tend to sound cool when you push the, the mixed bus a little harder. So that that's, that's not what they're meant to be used, like what they, what they were meant to be.

But. It just, it just works. It just adds harmonic distortion. It just does it in a pleasing way. So as long as nothing is on the master bus, it will probably just stay clean, even if you clip it. But as soon as this, there is something like the Slade console emulation or the Brainworx console plugins, or a mixed bus compressor or anything like [00:22:00] that, it starts to get interesting.

And it absolutely matters how hot the individual faders are running into that bus. 

Malcom: [00:22:06] Yep. Definitely. 

Benedikt: [00:22:08] So, and yeah, and you, you need to try to, do you need to try that and you should try that you just should go too far. Actually you should destroy your signal from time to time in order to find out where the sweet spot is.

Malcom: [00:22:18] Yeah, definitely. Um, there's been plugins, uh, that I just didn't see a reason for existing initially until I messed with them more. And then now I love them. They've got, there's a plugin called we're mentioning a lot of plugins in this episode, but, uh, like sound toys, radiator. Um, it's like kind of like a Alltech preamp.

Uh, emulator and I mean, I get it's cool. The preamp, the EKU section on and kind of go, but I was like, okay, it's not really doing much for me, but then I started hitting it too hard and I'm like, Oh, I love this thing. I love what it does. It really grits it up. Um, and yeah, so sometimes breaking the rules, unlocks that plugin for you, you know, and, you know, you'll discover a new use for it.

Um, but [00:23:00] we should talk about how to manipulate the gain a little bit. Um, so that people know what to do when, once they're in their doll. Cause obviously outside of the door, it is handled by your gain knobs, um, like on the gain, on your pre-amp. And if you're using hardware, you have to be careful because sometimes there's like, you know, an in and out on a compressor.

So if you're coming out of the compressor to hot into something else, it's, you know, you could still be clipping the next piece of gear. You can actually get more complicated. The more pieces of gear you have in your signal chain, you have to be quite careful with that. Um, sympathy cues, you know, if you're boosting a whole ton of stuff with an IQ that's adding level, so you might be slamming the compressor after it or whatever.

So you have to be careful there, but inside of the door, the best little, like, easy trick, um, especially when you're dealing with plugin chains is to use like a trim plugin, which every day we'll have a trim plugin. But that's just a plugin that doesn't do anything sonically other than adjust the level.

So you can turn it up or down as needed to [00:24:00] compensate so that it's hitting the plug and after it correctly, 

Benedikt: [00:24:03] Yeah. 

Malcom: [00:24:03] And a lot of plugins, especially nowadays have that built into them, which is awesome as well. So if you open up like the stock EKU in pro tools and probably any plugin, there's probably an input and output, uh, gain knob on there.

So by changing that you're. Change the implant novel change, anything that happens before it hits CQ and they'll put we'll change anything after the ICU, um, so that you can, yeah. Make sure you're coming in at the level you want. And even at the level you want, which is also really handy for econ or like for volume matching stuff 

Benedikt: [00:24:34] as well.

I was about to say, because one main. Benefit and one of the biggest benefits of proper gain staging and why you should like, just act is that it just make it the second nature to just do that, to pay attention to that stuff. Is that, and that's also why it's relevant to you when you record it. Not just like when you mix is When you are building tones, When you are trying out different signal chains, when you're committing plugins, whenever you are [00:25:00] coloring your signal, processing your signal in any way, the only way to make an informed decision is comparing the before and after at the same volume, the same perceived volume, and the way to do that is proper gain staging. So you're hitting the plugin with the right amount of level, so that it sounds the way you want. That's the first step. And then you are adjusting for the loss or the increase in gain that you get with that plugin so that you can bypass it and you hear the before and after at a similar volume, at least as close as possible.

Because, imagine you're recording a kick drum and you boost a bunch of lows to make it fuller, but bigger, fatter or whatever. And then you boost a bunch of highs for the click, for the kick attack, and then you do a before and after, the processed signal will be much louder and will sound way better to you.

And unless you turn the gain down and compare it at a similar volume, you don't really know if you've made it better. Um, even more difficult with like guitars or like with a cake. It probably will be better if you do what I just said, [00:26:00] but there are some things vocals or something like whenever something gets louder, you will like it more and proper gain staging helps you there.

Um, the, the view meter that I mentioned, the plugin had also has this trim knob in there. So you can meet her and adjust the gain at the same time. Um, many plugins have those, those tremors built in. Exactly. And yeah, you should, you should just do that because otherwise the more you're building your chain and the more plugins you're stacking up, the, you will end up somewhere completely different with your levels than where you started.

And it's, it's getting really hard to compare because if you bypass the whole chain in the end, you don't really know what costs. The signal, um, the, the level change. So yeah, you should do that after every single plugin, make sure you hit the next plugin accurately and then compensate again. And you should do that all the way through the chain so that when you bypass one of the plugins, you can always check what that specific plugin does.

Malcom: [00:26:55] Yes. Yeah. There's occasionally a plugin. That'll have a auto gain [00:27:00] kind of feature where if you do make a change, it compensates to keep the volume the same, be careful with that. A lot of them don't work properly. Um, but that, that, that, that should become a crucial part of your workflow. Whenever you're using a plugin.

Make sure that you gain match it level match level, match, level match. Cause it like you'll be totally blown away by what your ears think are better or is better, but it's just the volume difference. And once you volume match it, you'll discover that Oh wow. That doesn't sound better at all. Um, it can really trick you.

So. Definitely. Definitely do that. 

Benedikt: [00:27:36] Yes. I'm also, if you are recording with , for example, that's a very drastic case, but it's a pretty good example of what we're talking about here. If you're recording with amp Sims. And you're recording a DIY guitar into the virtual guitar amp gain staging is like everything basically, because it's whether you turn up or down the gain knob on the amp, or just [00:28:00] increase the level going into the plugin, it's the same thing.

Basically. You're just sending more level into the amp. It will distort more or less. So that's a very. A clear example of what, what gain staging is and why it is so important. And again, we said it in the Epsom episode, it's worth having a look at the manual of your amps at the calibration, because otherwise you don't even know how hot you should record it yet.

And like what the actual level should be, so that the amp reacts like the relamp, because if you hit it way too hot or way too quiet. Then no wonder you're thinking the Amsterdam is different. It's like you need to hit it right. In order for it to behave like the input on your real app. Yes. One thing that I want to want to tell people is that you should learn the stuff that we left out in this episode, the very technical stuff, like the different DB scales, like the conversion from one to another stuff like that, it's worth knowing at least the basics of that stuff.

And it's easier to read that stuff up and like, Yeah, just [00:29:00] over and over again until you remember it and you really know it and, but it's worth doing that. Just that you understand the terms just so you can actually read and understand the manuals and then stuff like knowing that, for example, when you, whenever you sum two signals together, it will get louder.

If the signals have overlapping like content frequency content, and one practical example here, and that also falls into the category of gain. Staging is whenever you are sending a stereo source into a mano bus, or if you are converting a stereo channel to a mano channel or exporting a stereo channel as a mano track, which often happens when people sent me stuff.

So they, they will record something as stereo. But it is actually a mano track. They just forgot to, to hit the mano button and they recorded your stereotype because that was the default configuration of the Darfur example. And then they exploded. No, sorry. 

Malcom: [00:29:55] It's logic. It's talking about logic. Logic is the worst for this.

Benedikt: [00:29:58] Yes, exactly. Totally. [00:30:00] So everything will be stereo by default. People just don't change it. They recall record stereo tracks for everything. The vocal will be stereo track. The kicked drum will be a stereo track, but obviously those are just mano sources. So a stereo track of those will be just the same thing left and right.

So when you export that stuff and send it to mixer, for example, and you export it in Moto, you have half the file size. You have all the information, but half the file size. So you should do that. But you gotta be careful when you do that, you're adding an extra three or six to be of gain depending on pan law and settings in your door.

But usually it's an extra three to be of gain when you combine two identical signals to motto. So that means if you only have two to be of headroom until Ciro and your stereo track, and you export that as mano. You will clip the resulting monified by one DB and a half that often that people will send me stuff.

And I will say, Hey, listen, like these tracks are clipping and they are like, no, I'm looking at my session. They're not clipping. And then the [00:31:00] Jack, we both are right when we're saying this, the arrows in between, it happens during the export. So just learning these gain staging. Principles, um, how adding signals work, the different, yeah.

Um, scales, the different metering tools that are out there. It's just very handy, basic knowledge that will help you improve your craft. And it's hard to explain stuff like that on a podcast, but we just wanted you to know that it's super important, even though it seems boring, but it is worth knowing this stuff really.

Definitely. Okay. Um, any, any other examples that you can, that you can think of or, yeah, 

Malcom: [00:31:36] I think the last thing which is suiting, because it is the last part of the whole thing is that your master bus, like you have to be watching that as well. And making sure that you're not clipping at the end of it because your master bus is where everything's headed and it's, what's going play out the speakers.

Right. Um, so you don't want to be slamming that, leave some headroom there as well. It doesn't have to be a lot. Just has to be some. [00:32:00] That's really all you need to know about that. Um, I I've had some people send me his tracks for mastering that are, that are clipping and it's like, well, you just got to back it all down.

I need that room. Um, and so yeah. Keep an eye on your master fader. Uh, just because we talked about logic, I want to call attention to that for whatever reason, logic seems to default to everything being a stereo file, even though it's not. And then also I think the default setting on logic export or bounces is to limit it or to normalize it actually not limit it, but to normalize it, uh, which is not, should not be suckered.

Nope, that's off topic, but, uh, kinda it's gain, but. Especially logic users, please learn about that stuff. It's so frustrating. Yes. It's like the Google drives of

Benedikt: [00:32:52] yeah. In a way. Yeah. Um, and, and yeah. Good thing. You bring that up because [00:33:00] we've been mentioning a couple of times that you cannot clip within your dart. You can very well clip at the end of the door at the output. Yes. You cannot clip it. The, the input of the master, although. We highly recommend you don't clip that as well, just as a good practice.

Um, just make sure you don't clip any bus, um, unless it's intentional, but at the output of the master bus, you definitely don't want to clip that. Totally. But also there's some misinformation out there. And you'll know that as a mastering engineer, of course, Malcolm, that people will say, um, Oh, we believe that there's a certain amount of headroom that they should leave at the end because that's what you're supposed to send to mastering or whatever.

The thing is that the misinformation here is digital gain is digital gain and it's, it's clean. You can add five or 60 B, you can take away five or 60 B. It doesn't any does not do anything to the sound. So. As long as the master out is enough clipping and you send something somewhere, the person, you [00:34:00] can always turn it down a little, if they need more headroom because of their plugins or here or whatever.

Um, and if they tell you they want a certain amount of headroom, then just do it, but just know that there's nothing wrong with your signal, unless like, as long as it's below zero. So there's no Sonic difference between minus 0.1 and minus 10. Yep. 

Malcom: [00:34:21] The only difference that you cause some people. I think there is a difference because they can hear it.

And the difference is actually in your monitor controller at that point, yes, you are turning up your monitor, uh, feed to your, on your maybe chief interface. And it's having a harder time sending that out. That that's where the difference comes is in those kinds of things. It's not, but in the actual digital file, there's no difference.

Um, so yeah, not a problem. It can be loud or quiet. Just don't clip. 

Benedikt: [00:34:47] Yeah, unless it's intentional because as we've learned, it's okay to break all the rules, which has told you if you do it intentional. 

Malcom: [00:34:55] Uh, that distorted part of my, my voice in this podcast where I cranked up [00:35:00] my preamp, uh, I use that as a guitar tone every once in a while, completely pinned the preamp.

And it sounds super fuzzy and awesome. And yeah, so you can do it 

Benedikt: [00:35:10] totally. Um, this might be an episode where. If you have any more questions or if anything's unclear, what we've been talking about, because it is kind of an abstract, like weird topic to talk about, especially when you're just starting out.

So if you have any more questions, there are any follow up questions. I post every episode of this podcast in our Facebook group on like it's just surf recording band community on Facebook. You can easily find that, uh, by the way, the direct link is the self recording, pant.com/community that will forward you to the Facebook group.

And, um, you can just. I post every episode in there and just start a thread below this post, like, just put your follow up questions there. Let's start a discussion if anything's unclear of all the things we've just tried to, to describe and explain, um, just put your question there. We'll jump in and answer.

Maybe some other people [00:36:00] will jump in and, um, Yeah. Just just know that these threats are also served for you as a, uh, an opportunity to post follow up questions and, um, get into more, more details or things that we might have missed in this episode. 

Malcom: [00:36:14] All alright, thank you for listening. 

Benedikt: [00:36:16] See you next week.


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