Benji here. We’re going to start a series of focussed tutorials for different techniques/processes you can use to make your music better. For now, it will mostly be me, but as we bring in other friends/colleagues you’ll be hearing from other creators.
If there’s anything you’d like know about - comment on this post and we’ll put together a tutorial.
What is gain staging?
Gain staging your beats is about making sure that all of your tracks are hitting the master bus at a good level and with enough headroom to encourage a solid master. Gaining staging well will give you a louder, fuller mix - as well as generally making the mix process easier.
It’s an important process to learn anyway, but it’s especially great for when sending beats out. You want them knocking on any system, and ensuring they’re properly gain staged is going to help with that.
It’s actually quite a simple process and can be broken down into 4 steps.
If you prefer to learn by watching, you can watch the accompanying video for this post on Youtube.
Step 1. Check your master and bring down the faders
First of all - check where your master level is at. We don’t want to be clipping past 0 on our master as that means added digital distortion and any mastering compression or limiting will just squash the mix instead of letting it pulse, knock and breathe.
Headroom on your master is vital for a full mix and for the best quality master compression and limiting. So the first step here is to bring down all your faders so you have at least a few dB of headroom on your master. Simply select all your faders in your DAW and bring them down until the master is not in the red or clipping.
Bring down all your faders giving your master at least a few dB of headroom.
2. Balance the drums and bass
Once you’ve done this - we want to start with the loudest and “largest” parts of your mix. For me, 99% of the time this is the drums and bass. If you have other very dynamic/loud instruments you might start with those, but usually getting the right balance and level for your drums and bass as they route into your master is going to give you a great final mix.
When I say good level, you want your drums and bass at their loudest point in the song to be hitting just under the yellow on your master - somewhere around -6 to -3 dB. Start by solo’ing your drums, getting them balanced the way you like (i.e. the snare at the volume you want and then the hat/kick balance etc) and make sure they aren’t hitting above -3 dB in your master.
Bring in the bass and make sure that’s not taking it past -3 dB also.
Balance your drums and bass together first, making sure that they are hitting the master at a healthy level.
Together they should be hitting between -6 dB and -3 dB.
3. Balance the other tracks (guitars/synths/pianos etc)
Now that you have the prime balance for your core elements, you want to mix back in any synth/music/sample elements, again making sure you’re not pushing the master into the red. If you are, you may need to go back and re adjust your drums and bass.
4. Check your master and test limiting
Now that you’ve re-adjusted your balances and got them hitting your master at an optimal level, put on a limiter - set ceiling to 0.1 and bring the threshold down till you’re getting a couple of dB of attenuation and the mix is knocking a bit.
A good level to be hitting your master bus with all elements in can be between -1/-2 dB. Now you can add some limiting.
Test the limiting and bring down the threshold to get the master knocking a bit.
And that’s it! Watch the video to see this in action and let me know what you’d like to hear about next.
Until next time!