Hello and welcome to this mix article!
This article is linked to our Gain Staging one, so we will proceed on analyzing how to set the right input levels, which may seem something easy and to be taken for granted when it's not: it's the base for a good sound.
Botch the gain staging step while recording and you will never have a decent project to mix.
The one that we may call "TRIMMING PHASE" sets itself ideally before the BALANCING PHASE. The balancing phase it's the one in which we move the faders in order to create a mix which must be as stable as possible, so that when we will add processors such as EQ and COMPRESSION we will not overdo, we will use them just the small bit we need to keep our tone stable, intelligible and consistent.
How does the Trimming Phase work? Let's assume we have recorded a band: the faders or out DAW are all at 0db so the sounds are still a bit unbalanced; we need to play the whole track looking at the mixer section of our DAW (for example in the picture on the top of this article we are looking at the Cubase/Nuendo interface, but it should be the same for most of the Daws).
As we can see, below the fader of every channel we will have a number, for example under the fifth fader displayed we can see a -7,4, which means that the loudest part in that song played through that channel is -7,4db full scale.
Now if we have an integrated gain plugin we can use that one, otherwise we can download a gain plugin and set in in the first vst slot of our channel, so that we can deal with the gain of each track BEFORE start moving each fader.
If you have already read our Gain Staging article you will have seen that a good level to mix is around -12db, so we should aim to have all tracks around -12db before start moving the faders, to have more room to move them when mixing, therefore with our gain plugin (integrated or external), if we have a -7,4db peak we will need to set it to -4,6 in order to keep that track peaks at -12db maximum.
We should do this process for each channel in order to make the whole song to peak at maximum -12db, and this means that if some track is too low, for example it peaks at -15db, we could also use the gain plugin to add +3db, in order to bring everything up at -12db.
Why do we need to do this?
1) because 12db of headroom means that we have room to push our mix when in the Mastering Phase, making it sound loud and not overcompressed.
2) because if we find a good gain staging before start moving the faders, we will have room to move the faders. If we start mixing with already a fader all the way up or all the way down to correct a weird input gain, we would not have room to balance it during the mixing phase.
Hope this was helpful!
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