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3 Things You Need to Know About Gain Staging

Hello, it’s Warren Huart. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

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So what are we going to talk about in this episode? We’re going to talk about gain staging. This is a very hotly debated and discussed subject over the last few months, both here on YouTube, on Facebook, in forums, and all kinds of fun stuff. I’ve watched gain staging change dramatically.

When I was a kid first coming up in the 80’s and the 90’s, gain staging meant something completely different to what it does now.

When I first started, it was all about signal to noise ratio. So what does that mean? It means that you’re printing a signal around about here, and below was tape hiss, and analog signal chain hiss, like, tons of equipment. Basically, tape hiss was our biggest problem, but there was all of these different things in the chain adding noise, and every time you would bounce a signal, the tape hiss and the noise would get worse and worse and worse.

When digital first came out, one of the theories with converters was if you didn’t print a hot signal, you would get a degradation in the quality of the sound. Whether that was true or not is kind of immaterial now. Converters are infinitely better, as we have talked about many times before, your average, inexpensive converter now can record at the most incredible quality compared with the way of the 80’s and the 90’s. Even the early 2000’s.

Now, converters are infinitely better, and if you’re printing a decent signal into it that doesn’t clip, you’re doing a great job.

So what does that mean? Well number one, you don’t have to print hot like you used to. When I open up some of my older sessions from the 90’s, I’m printing huge, fat tones, and then I put them into my mix template, and wow, everything is slamming and just like, insane! So if you’re working in at least 24 bit, some people now are working in 32 bit, but if you’re working in at least 24 bit, you have 144dB worth of dynamic range. A massive amount of dynamic range. You really can print little tiny signals to massive signals. I mean, you’ve got so much room in there.

Modern converters, when you’re working in 24 bit, have an enormous dynamic range. You’re not going to distort them easily unless you are printing ultra hot.

So give yourself enough headroom so that you’re not getting any digital clipping when you’re going in.


Secondly, when you’re mixing, the last thing you want to do is have all of your tracks slamming your master buss so you’re just in the red the whole time, so make sure you give yourself a lot of headroom going in there. Get a rough mix going, and if it’s slamming your master buss too hard, just grab all of the faders simultaneously and bring them down.

Give yourself the ability to have a lot of headroom, because that headroom will allow you to be able to do things like parallel mixes, let’s just say you’ve got your drums, they’re hitting your master buss too heavily, but you want to add a parallel buss in there, you’re not going to be able to, because you’re going to suddenly like, you’re already slamming and adding more energy, and before you know, your mix buss is just a solid red line of clipping distortion, so give yourself plenty of headroom.

Digital is a wonderful world to be mixing in now. We have so much dynamic range, we have so much ability to create incredible mixes. You don’t have to slam everything super, super hard. Now if you are given tracks to mix that are super hot, just turn them down. Just turn them down. Simple as that. You can just pull them down and allow yourself the flexibility of having lots of headroom.

So what I would suggest you do is to keep your faders to where they default to in your DAW when you’re recording, and then you can monitor your master buss. That will give you a really good idea of just how hot you’re printing. Allow yourself the luxury of having enough headroom. It doesn’t mean you want to print a signal that’s barely audible of course. Use logic. Print something that’s just at a level where you know you can mix with tons of headroom.

It’s easy to turn a signal up, especially once you put compression, and you start EQing and boosting things, and running parallels and saturating, and all of the fun stuff that you do, you’ll realize you need that headroom, because it starts piling up on your master buss.

Remember, if you’re mixing and your mix is too quiet, just turn up your monitoring. Don’t use your master fader. Don’t turn things up. I know that sounds really obvious, but so many of us have made that mistake. If you just got to swing around and just turn that master volume up in your room, then do that if it’s too quiet. Don’t use your master buss to turn up your mix. Simple as that.

I know that sounds really obvious to many of us, but I think when you’re a beginner, you see that as your volume control for monitoring.

No, that is what we’re going to be printing through, that master buss. So we want to have enough headroom in it so we can do whatever we like, so we don’t clip and we can have fun with plugins, and you know, parallel compression and multi effects, and all the other fun things.

Okay, thank you ever so much for watching. Please, as ever, subscribe, go to Produce Like a Pro, sign up for the email list and get a whole bunch of free goodies, and of course, click that little bell down there.

Have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I’ll see you all again very soon.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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