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2) MESSING UP THE GAIN STAGING: moving on to the top 2 mistakes to avoid when mixing and mastering we find the gain staging. This is a topic often overlooked when mixing, but I assure you that is the basic thing to learn if you want to create a great sounding song.
Gain staging means setting the input level of all the processors of each single source before getting into the DAW, then finding the right mixing level so that when we export the track for mastering there is enough headroom to work.
In the analog domain going over 0db means saturation, which is not bad, but In the digital domain, it means clipping, which means that the song will be ruined, and this is a mistake that we need to avoid as much as we can.
Assuming we're working on a 24bit project, thing that I recommend, we don't need to use all the headroom possible, with the risk that the strongest hits will peak and clip: the ideal is to enter in the audio interface with a level of -8/-6 db, and from there to record the signal in the DAW at a level of -12/-10 db, without touching the master buss fader. That way we will have enough signal to mix without problems and without worrying of peaks, at at the same time we will have, when exporting the song, a track that will have around -10 decibels of peak level, which will leave us more than enough room to do a nice Mastering and to have a powerful final track.
1) OVERCOMPRESSING/OVERLIMITING: this point is linked to the previous one, but in my opinion it's the single mistake that can completely screw up the whole castle of cards that is a well balanced mix.
This is a topic we've already covered in some other article, especially in the loudness war one, but it's very important: if we overcompress (during mixing) or overlimit (during mastering) we will lose part of the transient, which is, simplifying to the extreme, the snap of the snare, the body of vocals and guitars.
Compression is important but each istrument should be compressed the right amount before losing its snap, and the right amount of compression is obtained when you lower the threshold until you start hearing the transient disappearing, and then back it up a little bit, so that you have the maximum level of transparent compression available before affecting negatively the sound.
Once in the mastering phase, instead, with limiting we should be even more cautious, since the damages we can produce to our song are even bigger, therefore I suggest you to read our basic limiting guide, but the rule of thumb is to never surpass 3 or 4db of gain reduction: if you limit more, the amount of transient loss will really screw up everything.
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