MIX LOW, pt. 2

I’m not a digital audio expert, but I read up on it a fair amount and do my best to understand it. I’ve come to the conclusion that headroom is a valuable resource at every point in the mix. This means I’m keeping an eye  not just on the master fader but also on the little meters in between devices:

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…as well as individual track volumes. When using Group tracks or buss tracks, it’s really easy to let individual track volumes get out of hand:

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Ableton says that it’s ok to go over 0dB at all of these intermediate points in the mixer because of the 32 bit audio architecture – but that doesn’t mean it’s a good practice. It just means that the mixer can be forgiving of overs and not produce obvious clipping.

The issue that’s less obvious has to do with plug-ins. Everything that processes a signal operates more cleanly and produces fewer errors with extra headroom. Plug ins can clip and distort signals without it ever showing up on the meters.

This means you should watch levels coming out of virtual instruments, audio clips and audio effects alike. If you notice that you can only get a certain sound by blasting something into the red, that’s one thing – more often then not, though it’s just bad news that adds up to a more distorted track.

Finally, running things too hot is just sloppy workflow that makes your life more difficult. If you’re mixing everything super loud, it becomes that much harder to make level adjustments. Maybe you want to crank up a part during one section of the song. If you’ve already got that fader at +4, you don’t have far left to go. When you’re mixing too loud, you’re always a volume tweak away from clipping the master. Work at a lower level and you’ve got a better shot at creating mixes with real clarity and dynamics.