Saturday, March 29, 2014

Recording Tip 40: When mixing better to have your faders plus or minus 10db of “0.” Insert trims if you find them far from that

This tip came from a project I mixed a few years ago, and I’m finding the problem happening pretty often these days. I was mixing a project which had been sent to one of the best guitar players on the planet for him record his parts. The tracks he recorded were mostly power/crunch guitars and they sounded great. The problem however, were that all of them were recorded at near full scale, almost totally filling up the meters. (This relates to TIP 3-4.  where I advise to only record percussive instruments that hot.)

This was a problem because I had to pull the faders almost to the bottom of the fader track in order to balance them in the mix. The reason this is a problem is at the bottom of the fader track, there’s not enough resolution to make small changes. You can easily see this on the faders with their dB marks. When the fader is near 0 the distance between dBs is fairly large. On my screen moving the fader about an inch near 0 gives about 7-8dB of gain change. But at the bottom of the fader track, an inch is maybe 15dB or more. I’m not going to get into the math of that. You can search that if you want more information. The bottom line of it all is there’s more resolution a the top half of the fader track than near the bottom. So if the fader is down near the -20 mark it’s really hard to make a small level change...and consequently, hard to get the balance of that track just right.

All to say, I needed better fader resolution for my rides. So what I did was to put a Trim plugin on those track at -20dB. That allowed me to raise up the fader so it was more like -5dB or so for a good balance. From there I could make the small rides more accurately.

Using the trim plugin in this situation will also help keep from any plugins from overloading, especially if you add a good bit of EQ. Maybe you’ve wondered why an equalizer overloads when you add EQ. If the level going in is too hot, when you add gain at certain frequencies, you’ve maxxed out the plugin. Lowering the level will also give you more room with the threshold setting if you’re compressing it. When you find tracks like this, put the trim plugin first, so the following plugins have better gain structure.

One last thing. Don’t deceive yourself that hot recording levels will make for a loud record. That will happen when you mix. Super hot recording levels are likely just to give you unintended distortion. While you may get a thrill seeing all those lit up levels, all they’re really doing is making it harder to make a great mix. Healthy recording levels are important for sure. But again, re-read TIP 3-4.

So use that Trim in and get those faders back up to where they should be. Your moves will be much more accurate, you’ll not be as likely to overload your plugins, and your mixes will sound better as a result.

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