Setting Good Levels At The Recording Stage

recording Mar 23, 2020

I mix dozen of records every year for clients all over the world. These artists have their music recorded in all different types of recording studios. Some are more high-end studios while others are the simple 1-room studios in a friend’s house. Regardless, I see a very similar pattern in many of these recordings.

I first will import the audio files into my DAW of choice or I will simply open the session files that was sent to me. I then put all the fader at 0db and hit play and guess what I see? 85% of the time when I look at the master fader it’s a wonderful shade of RED! Yes, clipping right from the get go. I look at each individual track and they are almost always peaking at around -1db to -3db. Even sometimes specific tracks have audible digital distortion as well. I put my hands over my face and shake my head.

This weeks lesson is about recording / tracking at constrictive levels. I teach all my students that you should be tracks in the digital domain at -10db to -12db. Yes, that’s right you heard me.

Back in the good old days of analog it was the common practice to push the recording levels to just below clipping. We did this to make sure we were above the noise floor. So if we pushed the signal harder into the analog tape the signal would have an ear pleasing type of harmonic distortion and warmth added. When we did not push the signal hard we would hear the tape hiss that would be way too audible. It was a different time and much different technology.

In the digital domain the harder you push the signal it only gets louder. There is no added analog benefits or added color or added harmonic distortion, only volume. So leave yourself enough headroom so when you start adding plugins like EQ, compression etc. you wont run the risk of running out of headroom and therefore you wont clip. Not too mention, once there is digital clipping that is audible in your “perfect” take. You cant remove it and that performance could be a waste and moves straight to the trash can.

Remember -10db to -12db and you will thanks me later!  



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