How to set levels for final mix help

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jason r
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2009/12/12 06:25:00 (permalink)

How to set levels for final mix help

What is the best way to set final levels ready for final mixdown/mastering.
For example if I have a song that contains 16 tracks of audio/midi and all
the individual track levels are set so none of them clip above -0.2db,when
the song is played back more often than not the MASTER bus meter can read
upto and over +5.0db. So do I
1.  pull back the sum of the individual track levels to avoid the Master Bus
    clipping(then apply mastering plugins)
2.  Leave the individual levels alone and pull back the Master level fader to
    set sum of mix to -0.2 db (then apply mastering plugins)
3.  Leave all faders alone despite excessive clipping(then apply mastering
    plugins) and use compressors,limiters and Boost11 etc etc to bring down
    level
#1

31 Replies Related Threads

    fitzj
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 07:03:58 (permalink)
    jason r


    What is the best way to set final levels ready for final mixdown/mastering.
    For example if I have a song that contains 16 tracks of audio/midi and all
    the individual track levels are set so none of them clip above -0.2db,when
    the song is played back more often than not the MASTER bus meter can read
    upto and over +5.0db. So do I
    1.  pull back the sum of the individual track levels to avoid the Master Bus
        clipping(then apply mastering plugins)
    2.  Leave the individual levels alone and pull back the Master level fader to
        set sum of mix to -0.2 db (then apply mastering plugins)
    3.  Leave all faders alone despite excessive clipping(then apply mastering
        plugins) and use compressors,limiters and Boost11 etc etc to bring down
        level

    No need to keep your tracks so loud. Remember if you go into the +'s the red light comes on and you get clipping which will not sound good.  Keep the master at 0 and the mains at 0.
    Use the faders to control the levels going to the Master Bus. Some instruments could be -12db it all depends where you want that instrument in the mix. You can also use send and envelopes to control the levels. going to the Master Bus. Hope this helps.




    #2
    mike_mccue
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 09:06:55 (permalink)
    The 64bit mix engine in SONAR allows you to choose just about any fader without a down side.

    Use the faders and mix

    You can go find a list of rules or steps for mixing... any list will do... or you can just start pulling down the faders and reestablish a balance at the proper output level.

    Have fun and remember to listen a bunch... then step away... then come back and listen some more.

    Have fun.

    best regards,
    mike

    I enjoy using a StudioCat DAW.
    #3
    emwhy
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 09:23:40 (permalink)
    Jason, most mastering engineers I have dealt with want a mix that is consistent around -6 db on the main output of SONAR with the occasional transient peak hitting no hotter than -3db (and that's assuming you're not compressing your mix before you master which is also a good idea).

    From what I read on your post it sounds like you're mixing way to hot. I pull the elements of your song down to a more acceptable level, then render the song and master it seperately. You'll be happier with the results and hopefully have more dynamics and depth to your song.



    #4
    jamescater
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 09:24:12 (permalink)
    jason r


    What is the best way to set final levels ready for final mixdown/mastering.
    For example if I have a song that contains 16 tracks of audio/midi and all
    the individual track levels are set so none of them clip above -0.2db,when
    the song is played back more often than not the MASTER bus meter can read
    upto and over +5.0db. So do I
    1.  pull back the sum of the individual track levels to avoid the Master Bus
    clipping(then apply mastering plugins)
    2.  Leave the individual levels alone and pull back the Master level fader to
    set sum of mix to -0.2 db (then apply mastering plugins)
    3.  Leave all faders alone despite excessive clipping(then apply mastering
    plugins) and use compressors,limiters and Boost11 etc etc to bring down
    level


    In theory the 64 bit mix engine and some 64 bit plugins are accurate enough to do any of your options

    However you should be aware that many legacy plugins do not work with 64bit real math and will cause clipping if pushed above 0db

    Therefore I would recommend you take option 1 and pull back all the individual tracks 6 - 10db.

    I generally like to see my Kick in the -12 to -6db region on the Sonar peak meters and then take the mix from there



    #5
    mike_mccue
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 09:32:03 (permalink)
    "and will cause clipping if pushed above 0db"

    Which is why I recommend listening... if you do not hear the clipping you are not actually mixing.

    Guidelines and rules are most useful for folks who don't intend to listen. :-)

    Sooner or later you realize the faders are there for a reason. :-)

    all the best,
    mike

    I enjoy using a StudioCat DAW.
    #6
    jason r
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 09:58:26 (permalink)
    Thankyou all.Ok,pulled back all the track faders to around -6db which has got my master track(before applying plugins) to around -3 to -2db.The mix is already sounding a lot lot better(hearing the individual elements of the song now).Then I have applied in order SONITUS EQ (with treble boost preset),  BOOST11(with final mix preset)
    and LP64 MULTIBAND(with mastering lighter preset). I have rendered original too hot mix,pulled back fader mix and this one with the plugins mentioned.
    Difference is night and day. (While A/B the mixes)
    Mix 1 is just a mess
    Mix 2 sounds a million times better,just quieter
    Mix 3 like mix 2,but louder and crisper.

    Very pleased so far.Must start working harder now and practising on finalising the songs to sound better than I have done previously.
    One finished song I have been applying the same technique to just still does not sound good though(muddy sound),so will concentrate my efforts on this.Thanks for the tips so far though,it really has made a difference(was mixing down for too hot).
    #7
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 10:19:06 (permalink)
    You don't need to use fader to pull back level.
    If your project is 24-bit or above you could pull back on the input gain (trim <- John :-)) while faders at zero. Get all tracks around -20dB RMS. Use K-20 meter system on your master and then start mixing with the track faders. That's an easy explanation. If you need it louder, turn up your speakers. And as mentioned above, do mastering seperate, e.g. using k-14 metering system ...
    You should not peak tracks while recording. If you peak tracks while mixing it does not mean problem. Use your ears. But some plugins reacts like hardware and can't take to hard input signal. And do not peak master out!

    Edit: If your mix sounds muddy you may try eq tracks to separate them. BTW the best book I ever found on mixing is this book called  Mixing Audio. Very recomended. Have a look at the sample .pdf chapter. The rest of the book is in same detail going thru a lot.
    And this 80 page long tread about The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes is a good read :-)
    post edited by Wrang - 2009/12/12 13:20:22
    #8
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 10:47:38 (permalink)
    You don't need to use fader to pull back level.
    If your project is above 24-bit you should pull back on the input gain while faders at zero. Get all tracks around -20dB RMS. Use K-20 meter system on your master and then start mixing with the track faders. That's an easy explanation. If you need it louder, turn up your speakers. And as mentioned above, do mastering seperate, e.g. using k-14 metering system ...
    You should not peak tracks while recording. If you peak tracks while mixing it does not mean problem. Use your ears. But some plugins reacts like hardware and can't take to hard input signal. And do not peak master out!

    Right thats why all mixing decks and control surfaces have motorized faders for trim and not for volume.

    Best
    John
    #9
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 13:33:36 (permalink)
    <John> I don't know if I understood you, but I ment the input gain trim in Sonar. Do not have sonar right here. Did not remember exact name :-) And I may not be correctly using words as loud(ness), volume and level ... Was a quick reply. Edited my post slightly but not perfect. My english is not the best and I'm at work having my boss around the corner, hehe
    #10
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 13:51:35 (permalink)
    I was being sarcastic. The point that Mike was making is the right one. Setting gain (trim) on the channel for volume is not what the trim knob is for. Use the faders that is what they are for. If you can't get a good level with the faders then use the trim to make up the difference.

    Best
    John
    #11
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 14:10:29 (permalink)
    John


    I was being sarcastic. The point that Mike was making is the right one. Setting gain (trim) on the channel for volume is not what the trim knob is for. Use the faders that is what they are for. If you can't get a good level with the faders then use the trim to make up the difference.

    I guess I misunderstood the main post :-) I believed his tracks were recorded hot around -0.2dB which would have ment he have probably already had clipped. And I did not mean to trim for volume. I ment to trim to not clip inputs on plugins (not all plugins have input trim) or to get a sain level before start mixing with the faders. Just in case he was lost. But I guess it is me who is lost :-)
    Sending a track out to some hardware it would be important knowing the right signal level, 0VU could e.g. be anything from -12dB to -20dB depending on the hardware.
    post edited by Wrang - 2009/12/12 14:15:28
    #12
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 14:14:01 (permalink)
    I don't know where you might have gotten the idea he recorded hot. He said none of his tracks were clipping. It was the buss that was clipping.

    Best
    John
    #13
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 14:16:30 (permalink)
    John


    I don't know where you might have gotten the idea he recorded hot. He said none of his tracks were clipping. It was the buss that was clipping.


    Exactly, as I said, I misread the first post :-)
    #14
    j boy
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 17:55:05 (permalink)
    The OP doesn't say what levels the recorded tracks come in at (or maybe I missed it).  If the meter on a track is showing -0.2 dB with trim and fader at 0.0 that's too strong.  But maybe he's got the fader set below 0.0...?

    The way I would say to think of the trim vs. faders is you use the trim to set up to do a mix, like setting a table before you eat.  Pre-mix you would set trims so the signals are optimal for each track - remember faders have greater resolution closer to 0.0 dB so you want to be in upper segment for greatest fine tune control - other things you do before starting a mix would be trimming the silence away form clips, basic housekeeping stuff like that, setting up send fx etc.

    Then when you mix, you mix for expressiveness, including automation moves.   The control surfaces are intended to use for mixing.  Although with the Mackie you could I think assign an assignable knob for trim but since this parameter doesn't need to be "ridden" there's not much point really.

    In a perfect world if your tracks all get captured at perfect gain levels than you wouldn't need trim but rarely does this happen, usually ther are at least small adjustments to give an optimal starting point.
    #15
    Rodar6
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/12 19:37:04 (permalink)
    Hey Jason,

    This is a highly subjective area!

    Have you ever played your home music collection on shuffle and realised how the volume on some of the tracks varied drastically from the others, leaving you to constantly adjust the volume knob on your hardware.

    To get past this nuance when mixing and mastering it's good to create reference tracks. This is made up of 20-30sec samples of songs you like that are the closest to whatever style your recording in sonar and put them on one track. When trying to adjust for levels I usually unmute this track to get a reference.

    Hope this helps

    Rodders

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    #16
    jsaras
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 10:33:33 (permalink)
    Wrang was on the right track.  If you want to go to the ''next level" (ha!) in your mixes I would strongly suggest that you record in 24-bit and keep the recording input levels much lower. Basically aim keep the track meter filled up at around 50%, and allow the peaks to do whatever they wish...and completely out of red zone.  I could have used more technical language to describe this, but I think you get the gist. 

    Everyone who has actually tried this approach has reported back how much more open sounding their final mixes sound.   

    Give it a try on your next song and give us a shout back.

    J

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    #17
    mike_mccue
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 10:47:21 (permalink)
    "Everyone who has actually tried this approach has reported back how much more open sounding their final mixes sound."

    Who is "Everyone"?


    re: " I could have used more technical language to describe this"

    Thanks for refraining... I find it nauseating to see something so simple turned into something that seems complicated.

    No clipping in the mix routing.... NO PLACE.... mix to taste.

    Everything else is just a bunch of baloney.

    all the best,
    mike


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    #18
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 11:11:44 (permalink)
    Wrang was on the right track
    How? By leaving his faders at unity and adjusting the trims?  Pardon me but that is not mixing. Also are you saying to record your tracks at 50% of full scale? Is this what you are saying? Because if you are that is not very good advice. We are talking about recording and mixing not mastering. Jonas I have tons of respect for you and the advice you have given this forum through the years but here you are going against all that makes any sense.  No one BTW is talking about running into the red either.  -6dB as a rough point to have you levels at for recording is plenty for headroom and keeping out of the red.  But this all depends on what is being recorded and how.


    Best
    John
    #19
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 13:35:28 (permalink)
    John, I guess you misunderstood me. I ment he could use the trims to get a good starting point if tracks are very hot or in very different levels. Then start using the faders and mix like we are supposed to.
    Not to be rude, but have a look at the long 80 page tread I link to in a post above.

    <Mike> There is enough headroom inside the DAW (64-bit) to peak tracks without clipping. But of course it is a bad habit, and some plugins may not handle it very well or not at all. If you take a 0dBFS sine wave on a track, insert a gain plugin pushing it up with e.g. +6dB and bussing it to another track with a gain plugin pushing it down on that track by -6dB, then it should NULL and the sine wave will be just fine.
    Edit: The only DAW that does not handle this very well is Pro Tools HD because of some 48-bit limit in hardware/TDM ... or something.
    post edited by Wrang - 2009/12/13 13:40:18
    #20
    jsaras
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 13:38:42 (permalink)
    Hi John,

    I wasn't referring to using the trims as a means of mixing.  To put it into slightly more specific terms, -6dbfs = the new 0.0, i.e., keep the peaks completely out of the red zone.  

    I give this as a suggestion for recording input levels for the primary reason that it works exceptionally well with prosumer A/D devices and a lot of plugins, which is what the vast majority of the folks in this forum use for their productions. 

    http://www.audiorecordingandservices.com ("one minute free" mastering)

    http://tinyurl.com/3n6kj (free Sonar mixing template and Ozone mastering preset)
    #21
    mike_mccue
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 13:53:44 (permalink)
    "I give this as a suggestion for recording input levels for the primary reason that it works exceptionally well with prosumer A/D devices and a lot of plugins, which is what the vast majority of the folks in this forum use for their productions."

    When qualified with those details it seems to me to be more valuable info. :-)

    best,
    mike

    I enjoy using a StudioCat DAW.
    #22
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 13:56:09 (permalink)
    John, I guess you misunderstood me. I ment he could use the trims to get a good starting point if tracks are very hot or in very different levels. Then start using the faders and mix like we are supposed to. Not to be rude, but have a look at the long 80 page tread I link to in a post above.
    We must be talking past one another then. However I do have a problem with routinely adjusting trim on a DAW.  If you are recording then you have control on the recorded levels. You shouldn't have to mess with a DAWs trim to readjust the level. I have been using a mixer as a front end to digital audio for many years now. I am careful with levels before they ever get into the DAW.  This is one reason I find the often posted advice to use the trim as bad practice. Sure it can be used for fixing mistakes or even for find adjustments. But I really look at this as somehow due to poor recording technique. Of course I use the trims on the mixer and the faders as well but that is before it gets to the DAW and before its digitized.  Some call this proper gain staging a fancy name for checking your levels before the record button is hit. That also means rerecording if ones first run was off.  I look at this as a kind of "fixing it in the mix" way of doing things and not paying attention to detail. The thing that seems to missing here with Sonar is the audio in on the disk unaffected by the trim control. If its well recorded that audio will need very little processing or adjustment.  The other thing as you know multi tracks with sum and cause overs in the master buss. The best way to deal with this is lower all the faders. Leave the buss along if at all possible. I didn't read the link you gave but I know what I am saying works and works well. I hope this clears up this subject.

    Best
    John
    #23
    John
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 13:58:22 (permalink)
    jsaras


    Hi John,

    I wasn't referring to using the trims as a means of mixing.  To put it into slightly more specific terms, -6dbfs = the new 0.0, i.e., keep the peaks completely out of the red zone.  

    I give this as a suggestion for recording input levels for the primary reason that it works exceptionally well with prosumer A/D devices and a lot of plugins, which is what the vast majority of the folks in this forum use for their productions. 


    I knew we would not be in disagreement.  I guess it was the way you worded it that threw me off.

    Best
    John
    #24
    Wrang
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 14:37:43 (permalink)
    Good recording technique is of course best. I seldom use trim too. But I recieved tracks from other people which sometimes are not the best, and then the trim can be helpfull. The "resolution" on the lower part of faders are not so good as on the top. So if you need small changes in level it is better working on the upper part than down at let's say -25 dB on the faders. So trim can help.
    We don't know what Jason (tread starter) have in that project. Could be anything from loops to selfrecorded stuff or what ever.
    post edited by Wrang - 2009/12/13 15:30:39
    #25
    j boy
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 14:44:27 (permalink)
    John



    However I do have a problem with routinely adjusting trim on a DAW. 


    Sorry, John, but that's just a rather bizarre point of view.
    #26
    ...wicked
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 15:40:07 (permalink)
    This isn't that magical is it? Just lower the vol on all tracks and watch the summing volume in the master bus. Oh, the OP is using a master bus, right?

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    #27
    dontletmedrown
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 16:20:24 (permalink)
    j boy


    John



    However I do have a problem with routinely adjusting trim on a DAW. 


    Sorry, John, but that's just a rather bizarre point of view.


    I kinda agree with John.  If you find yourself having to adjust trim values on a regular basis, it is most likely because your gain-staging was not ideal when you hit the record button.  The trim is a band-aid.  Having said that, I'm sure if I was forced to, I could mix a song just fine using the trims instead of faders.  Maybe I'll try it someday when a client pisses me off.
    #28
    ...wicked
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 16:57:49 (permalink)
    Yeah it's rare I use Trim when mixing, and it's usually a gain-staging issue to just get a minor tweak. Volume is volume for a reason.


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    #29
    mike_mccue
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    Re:How to set levels for final mix help 2009/12/13 19:05:02 (permalink)
    I use trim on a bus all the time... it's hard to imagine a need on a track... unless you want to route to a send in some specific scenario and ride the trim before it to effect both the send and the primary output simultaneously.

    best regards,
    mike

    I enjoy using a StudioCat DAW.
    #30
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