What is Gain Staging?
In terms of producing music, one of the difficult elements of the entire process is nailing your mix.
However, there’s one essential element of mixing that’s usually ignored by producers, inflicting their mixdowns to sound unprofessional and incomplete.
We’re speaking about what is gain staging, a critical process that can take your mix to the next stage. By the end of this text, you’ll have a greater understanding of the what is gain staging process, and the way to use it to maximize the quality of your mixdowns.
To start, a gain stage refers to any level in a production where you possibly can control the volume stage of a device or track. Gain staging is the method of managing all of those volume levels inside a project with the aim of reaching the cleanest mix possible.
What is Gain Staging?
To know what is gain staging, we should first understand what the phrase “gain” means when it comes to music production. Gain is basically the level at which your authentic audio signal is being performed.
Whereas it sounds like it’s serving the identical purpose as volume, the gain has a really distinct difference that separates the two. A gain function would normally control the input stage being produced by the instrument whereas the volume could be the final output being given by that very same instrument.
The audio signal begins with its initial gain stage and finally works its way to the final stage, which is the volume at the sound is being performed at. We always need to be sure that our gain ranges are balanced and never overlap too much with our track’s volume.
Using gain staging correctly is all about giving your tracks sufficient headroom and space for the final mixdown of your project. Not gain staging your project correctly may result in various issues while finishing your last mix.
Check some common gain staging mistakes in our article here!
How Gain Staging Improves Your Mix
If you’re working with a strong gain construction, the result’s a mix that’s cleaner and in the end louder. Your tracks gel collectively better, your mix breathes better, and also you’ll have the ability to master at a better level.
However when gain staging is executed poorly in your tasks, you aren’t making the most of your DAW’s full capabilities, and generally, you may even create frequency balance issues in your mix. This may end in your music not translating properly throughout a number of sound systems.
Moreover, when you have issues with your levels all through your project, notably if they’re too loud, it winds up cutting into the general quality of your audio.
By not leaving sufficient headroom all through your mix, it will probably simply turn out to be overloaded with undesirable distortion that can leave it sounding muddy and weak.
Is it better to be too loud or too quiet?
This can be a difficult one to answer. On the one hand, if one thing is simply too quiet and requires that we increase its volume throughout mixing, it should seemingly introduce some noise.
Alternatively, if we record a source so loud that we’re overloading the track and clipping, we can have audio that sounds harsh, ugly, and distorted.
The true answer is neither is right. Nonetheless – if I had to choose one, I might slightly have my track be too quiet. Whereas it could introduce noise, there are at least methods to reduce it and it won’t be distorting. A track that’s distorted is unfixable and has many different issues that come with it.
Say we had an empty glass in front of us with a pitcher of water able to fill it. There may be only so much room for water in that cup – and although we have a pitcher that may fill a number of glasses, it will be unwise to pour the entire pitcher into it. In reality – we couldn’t. You’ll finally fill the glass which make a mess with the rest of the water because it continues to pour out.
Filling a glass of water is effective comparability to mixing sound to “fill up” your master bus
The glass is a symbol of the dynamic range of our track. There may be only so much volume you possibly can squeeze out of one track. For those who go too far, you’ll exceed the dynamic range of the track and overload it, which can create issues equivalent to clipping and distortion.
Continuing, once we pour ourselves a single glass, we seemingly wouldn’t fill it right to the brim. We may – however picking it up and consuming it will likely be a problem, we might even spill some as we try and grab it. So what can we do? We pour sufficiently to leave a little bit of room on the top so we will sip our water without making a mess.
That room on the top of the glass is the headroom. When you find yourself mixing, you need to protect some of the dynamic range of your track so as to stop it from clipping during transients or louder moments that happen all through the music. The headroom acts as a buffer zone for loud peaks and increases in volume which will happen all through the performance.
By preserving the headroom, you’ll give yourself and/or the mastering engineer the flexibility to show up in the mix later throughout the mastering process. This would be the time when the record comes up in volume to an industry-acceptable stage.
What happens if done wrong?
Without correct gain staging, we’re holding the mix back from sounding pretty much as good as it might be. This poses an issue later with regard to mastering, as we won’t be able to turn up a mix that’s already too loud or take away noise that’s already present. Moreover, music that’s gain staged too loud tends to sound weak, skinny, flat, distorted, and usually unpleasant. Tread carefully.
This lesson was one I discovered later in my profession and took me a while to completely understand. Looking back, strategic gain staging in a mix has taken me farther than compression and different processing. Mastering this as part of the process will enable you to achieve louder and cleaner mixes by yourself as well.
We may clearly go deeper and deeper—and longer and longer—into gain staging, however, this is sufficient to get you familiar with the topic. Plus, that list of considerations will certainly turn out to be useful
So the next time you’re at a music meet-and-greet and fellow mixers sling around phrases like what is gain staging, noise-floor, and headroom, you’ll have a better thought of what they imply. After all, now that you know, you possibly can skip the party altogether and get back to what actually matters: a vibrant mix, one that you just control at each stage. The stage is now yours to gain!