Monday, December 26, 2016

In - Out level matching when mixing and mastering

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a topic related to psychoacoustics: if we eq or compress a sound making it louder, somehow, regardless if it's actually better or not, it will probably sound better to us. 

That's why people usually starts mixing at -15db, and once the sounds of all instruments are done and balanced, the peak in the mix buss is -5db: because we tweak one track to make it sound better and it ends up being louder, and then to compensate we rise the volume on the others, then we pass on the next one and make it louder, and then rise all the others... and so on... and then eventually before mastering we turn the master volume down when exporting like real cheapos.

The experienced producers can start with a chosen project level (for example -12db) and arrive at the end of the mixing phase without touching the master fader with the maximum peak still at -12db, because they did level matching when mixing, and they have kept the volumes of the single tracks at the same level of the balancing phase, thus preserving all the headroom of the project for the mastering phase.

Why not to just turn down the master fader at the end, e.g. 10db down to create headroom for the mastering phase? Because this way we will just raise the noise level 10db in our tracks, since the noise point is always there, in the same place, therefore if we sink the whole project 10db lower, it will eat up 10db of signal, the final result will sound dirtier and data will be lost for no reason.

What to do to keep the level of the tracks stable? 
Match the in-out level when mixing or mastering, both when using Equalization and Compression.
While we have seen already how to do with compression, we haven't yet talked about the equalization; on an equalizer like the Pro Tools one (as you can see from the picture on top) you can monitor the level of input and output signal, which means that for every db of boost that we apply on the sound we can lower the overall output knob of the plugin in order to match the same level of input: this way we will avoid the process of raising and raising the volume of all the tracks that I have already mentioned.
If we don't have the input and output level in the plugin ui, we must use the track metering tool: we must see how loud is the signal with the plugin bypassed and compare it to how loud it is with the eq on: if with the equalizer on the signal is louder, we should lower the output of the plugin until it matches the loudness of the bypassed one.

Once the tone balancing phase and the tone shaping phase with compressors and equalizers are done, in theory the additional processors that we can add to our mix (like modulation effects) shouldn't impact much on the level of the single tracks, therefore we should be quite safe not to raise too much the volume of our single tracks (watch out for the group tracks and the mix buss though!).

Merry Christmas and Happy new Year from Guitar Nerding Blog!

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