Maybe a stupid question about levels when mixing (ear irritation/fatigue)

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by neurosis, Mar 29, 2015.

  1. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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    Hello all!

    For the longest time the way I have gone about recording and mixing my modest little projects has been to record everything in, without eq, compression and whatever else I'll do when mixing. At this stage I only look that nothing is clipping at the inputs and maybe to have a limiter to keep things in check so the master doesn't blow over.

    Then I get to eq on each instrument, panning and setting up levels for everything until I have things distributed where I want them. To tighten things up I then put compression and individual limiters as needed (depending on instrument) on the separate tracks.

    Now, for the past month or so I think my ears have started hurting. And I don't think it is fatigue. I think it mostly came from prolonging step one and keeping everything louder while monitoring through headphones.

    So my question is... how do you set levels for the five basic tracks (vocals, drums, bass, guitar, keyboard) when starting a project and for further insight how do you go about assigning levels after, when you go into mixing.

    I think I might be hurting my ears somehow because of my blunt approach.

    Thanks.
     
  2. Flemmigan

    Flemmigan Snoofin' your gear

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    I think you're definitely on the right track in terms of what might be causing your ears some pain. I do basically what you do, but with the addition of some reversible gain staging to get the volume levels about -18 pre-fader once you've started recording the track and have an idea where the input levels are. That way, you still get all the headroom associated with recording your tracks loud enough to avoid clipping, but can immediately bring it down to a level more conducive to ear health and more consistent with traditional gain staging.

    As an added bonus, once you get to the mixing stage, since you've already "standardized" all your tracks to about -18, you'll have to do fewer drastic changes on the faders! It also gives you a better idea of how your various tracks compare to each other when you do start moving the faders (rather than having a hi-hat that has to be at like +4 and a kick at -6 on the fader since the source tones are totally different in volume).

    Depending on your DAW, you should have some kind of built-in plug-in that can reduce volume levels on a track pre-fader. In StudioOne, there is a tool called Mixtool that acts as a pre-fader volume pot. I would check your DAW's guide and search for gain staging, or something to that effect.

    Hope this helps! Let me know if I can clarify anything.
     
  3. drgamble

    drgamble SS.org Regular

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    Headphones have got to be the worst thing to mix on. You should always check mixes on headphones, but to do total mixes on them aren't the best. If that is all you have I understand completely, but it sounds like you need to turn everything down a lot!!! With regular studio monitors, you should be mixing at a level where you could hold a normal conversation without adjusting the volume of the monitors. This can help to get the mid range right as your highs and lows aren't hyped from sheer volume. You should always check your mixes loud, but most of the work should be done at a very comfortable volume. That is the only way that you would be able to sit and work with mixes 8-10 hours a day without fatigue. At very loud levels, I would think that you cannot rely on your ears to make any decisions about mixing after a very short amount of time.
     
  4. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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    I looked into how to do this in logic and there seems to be a long-lasting discussion about the options. Right now I put a gain control on every track and lowered the output -9db. This is after I read that lowering the stereo 1-2 output is not recommended practice, even though that controls all faders at once, but different from the master is supposed to be pre-fader as far as I understood reading through people´s posts.







    Can you explain what you mean by this? I think I know but just in case. :agreed:
     
  5. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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    Right now all my tracks are hot hitting below 0db. After I did the gain control they are each now peaking around -5db.

    Just for reference what levels do you start with when you work on your recordings and mixes?

    I understand what you say. I have been doing the headphone thing because I don't have a separate room to record in my new apartment, so out of respect and to focus I have been doing the headphone thing. But I am tired. It has made me dizzy actually. So I am going to refrain from it for a while.
     
  6. drgamble

    drgamble SS.org Regular

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    As Flemmigan earlier stated, you want your levels at about -18 db rms. This equates to roughly 0 db VU. There are plugins with VU meters out there. I would say for a distorted guitar, if it is hitting -18 db the rms value is gonna be about the same because distorted guitars are compressed. For drums, you may get some peaks up to -12 db, but you should be in the -18 to -12 range for just about everything. What you will notice is that even with a full mix, your master buss will be peaking at about -6 db.

    Another thing to do is to make sure you don't add gain with your plugins. Most have an output gain control on them. Make sure that the level going into the plugin and the level coming out are about the same. Louder always sounds better. That being said, if you add gain with plugins, you may be tricking yourself into thinking that the changes sound better, when they really don't just because it is louder.

    You should be recording at 24 bit. This allows you to get away with more conservative levels going in without having to worry about noise. I've heard several engineers say "Yellow is the new red." Keep that in mind when setting levels and I'm sure your mixes will improve.
     
  7. Flemmigan

    Flemmigan Snoofin' your gear

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    It's more of a point of aesthetics and convenience than anything, but what I'm saying is that with proper gain staging pre-fader, when your faders are all set at 0, your tracks (which presumably have very different source tones) will actually be relatively similar levels. Then, when you start pulling faders, the position of faders across tracks gives you an idea of how loud those individual tracks are relative to each other. So, if everything is peaking at -18, when you have one track, say your hi-hat, boosted on its fader, it actually is louder than your kick that is set at 0 after pre-fader gain staging.
    (Again, this just by way of example---I don't think I'd ever actually want hats louder than the kick.)

    As opposed to if you just mix with the levels you happened to track (and assuming those weren't standardized in any way on the front end), the relative positions of the faders won't really mean anything. To re-use the example in this context, you could have hi-hats at "+4" on the fader but it still actually be quieter than a loud kick drum that's at "-6" on its fader, because their pre-fader levels aren't anywhere close to the same (in this case, the hat pre-fader levels being much quieter than the kick, hence the "needed" boost on the fader).

    Again, not a crucial point, but it's something I find useful. Everything I'm telling you, I pretty much learned (and maybe bastardized/butchered a little bit :lol:) from the Systematic Guide to Mixing. An excellent resource if you haven't checked it out.

    One last thing, -18 is totally arbitrary. Some use -12. Others use different levels. It just depends on the headroom you want, and what you get in the habit of using.
     
  8. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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    You guys are helping me a lot. I will report back with my findings after I play with it a little more. I think I am starting to understand and I think somehow, intuitively I avoided screwing up. Since I am mostly just writing and mixing at the same time... sort of to collect ideas and learn in the process I was sketching out everything inside the daw... so the only thing coming in from outside was the guitars. Everything else is midi for now.

    I put my apogee one on yellow/orange coming in. Then in logic I did what you guys suggested for every track: lowering each fader, including that to -12db. Now after everything is recorded and I start assigning buses for effects I'll pan and set levels however feels best.

    Now, the levels I'll be setting should be the post levels right? So, the levels for each track output, not the pre-fader levels right?

    I wanted to give rep but just realized there is no option anymore. Thank you guys!
     
  9. Dominoes282

    Dominoes282 Mixing Engineer

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    I mix as low as damn possible. On both the summing and monitoring side. It achieves a way better mix.
     
  10. cwhitey2

    cwhitey2 BlackendCrust Metal™

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    I'm glad read this thread... I have been doing literally everything wrong with my mixes :wallbash:
     
  11. atoragon

    atoragon SS.org Regular

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  12. AliceLG

    AliceLG \m/^_^\m/

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    I make sure that I am tracking at around -18 dB, either by controlling the source (lowering the pre-amp output, lowering the amp volume, etc) or trimming the track with a Gain plug-in pre-fader. By the time I'm set to start mixing all my faders are at 0 dB and pretty much every single track has trimming.

    For mixing I monitor at 3 different levels. Most of the time, say about 90% of it, it's conversation level. Even when referencing with headphones, standard speakers, PC speakers and so on. When I feel the mix is satisfying at this level I do 2 things: first I turn the monitors down (3-6 dB should do it) and check if I can still pick the mix's depth and instrument placing, and adjust accordingly. Then I turn them up (again, 3-6 dB) and see how much the lows and highs get boosted, and adjust again. These adjustments are usually very small, -0.3 dB on the kick for example. Then I do another round of referencing at conversation level just to check if the mix is translating well.
     
  13. Narrillnezzurh

    Narrillnezzurh Sir Clipsalot

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    This is backwards in my experience. Speakers are great, but unless you have an expensive pair and a well-treated room they'll always be less clear than a half decent set of headphones. It's a very different sonic profile, so you should always check the mix on speakers, but once you get used to it mixing in headphones is far more precise in a budget setup.

    Adding to this, mixing at conversation level on speakers is gonna be really tough if your room isn't very quiet. If your room has a high level of background noise it'd be better to mix at just above conversation level, or with headphones.
     
  14. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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    Nice. I am going to try this!

     
  15. neurosis

    neurosis SS.org Regular

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