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Gain staging is a fundamental concept that often is misunderstood. A proper gain staging allows you disparate things: having headroom enough to don't clip on your master channel; don't clip the plug-ins introducing digital distortion, and use the analogue gears (or analogue gear emulations) at their sweet spot.

Doesn't it sound good? Well, you have to know that a well-managed gain staging can radically improve your mix.

In this article, I've provided some examples using ProTools, Fabfilter ProQ2 and IK Multimedia Black76. The same advices are valid for any other DAW (Logic, Ableton, Cubase, Nuendo, Reaper, Fruity Loops, Studio One, etc.), any plug-in and even for analogue gear.

ProTools meters

1 - No distortion on your master bus

To make sure that you don't clip on your master bus. Start your mix at a relatively low level. Starting with the kick at -14dBFS

usually works very well. If you are working at 24bits, there won't be any loss of quality.

2 - Don't clip your plug-ins

Fabfilter ProQ2 meter

Make sure none of your plug-ins is clipping at any stage.

Clipping introduces digital distortion and harshness, and this is something we want to avoid

3 - Analog gear and analog emulations

IK Multimedia Black76

On plug-ins that emulate analogue gears, you often find a VU

meter. With these plug-ins, try to work around 0dBVU. This value indicates the sweet spot of that unit. Usually,

these plug-ins have an input and out knob that you can use to

adjust the level if you find your signal being too soft or too hot

(same application for analogue gears).

Extra tip: sometimes is worth to try to drive harder these

plug-ins or analogue gears to give to the sound more character.

4 - Read the manual

Don't underestimate this resource of info.

It comes with the plug-in, and it can give you valuable info on how to use the plug-in at its best.

I hope this article was helpful.


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