Gain Staging Techniques That Will Make Your Productions Sound Better

Last updated: January 1, 2023
Written by Bradley J Simons
A diagram of a XY drum overhead miking technique on Velveteen Music's blog

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Reading time: 3-5 minutes

Hey all!

Today's video tutorial is all about gain staging. This has been the hot topic at the studio forever, just revisiting the idea and drilling down further into the concepts and applications.

What is Gain Staging?

Gain staging is the effective management of your audio levels throughout your production in order to reduce distortion and noise. Doing so will result in better sounding productions.

Levels of the Audio Regions

Alot of producers these days are pulling samples from Splice. One major issue with these samples is that they are essentially all at a “mastered” level. Typically, a sample will be anywhere from 9-12 dB over 0 dBVu or 0 dB PPM. For more info on dBVU and dB PPM, please check out Brad Smith's post titled “Metering Methods using the Klanghelm VUMT”.

So, there are a lot of plugins that specify an input level of 0 dBVU, such as alot of the modelling plugins from Universal Audio. Now given that a lot of producers are using these plugins, it is pretty important to ensure that we're sending the right level to them. If you want that “blown up” sound, you can still drive the plugin as it's meant to.

Therefore, we need to trim the level of each sample to reflect that. We all use the Klanghelm VUMT at our studio for metering. You can gain things back in Pro Tools by using either a trim plugin or clip gain on the actual region. Get the levels right and your mixes will instantly feel better.

Setting Your Levels With Each Plugin

Whenever you have a chain of plugins, ensure that you set the level at the end of the plugin back to 0 dBVU or peak. By doing this, you'll be able to actually hear what the plugin is doing, rather than thinking it sounds better due to an increase in volume.

Additionally, I find this allows you to be more creative, as you might make more aggressive moves if you're managing your levels as you go. Even if you make a crazy move like a +15 dB boost at 8 kHz, managing your levels will help you understand if that is actually the right move or not.

Manage Your Levels All The Way To The Mix Bus

This same concept can be applied to any busses you have along the way. Let's say you have a drum bus that is comprised of all your drum tracks. When setting the initial input level, group all the drum tracks and adjust their levels on the fader until you're at an optimal level on the bus!

From there, you can use plugins on the bus just like any other track. Simply make your moves and manage your levels.

Finally, apply the same principle to every track or bus that sends to your mix bus. Ensure they are collectively hitting them mix bus at an optimal level, and then your mix bus plugins will operate in the best way possible.

After that, enjoy your great sounding mixes!

Thanks for reading guys,


Juno nominated canadian musician, producer, and founder of Velveteen Music, Bradley J Simons

Bradley J Simons

Bradley is a Canadian musician, producer, and is the founder of Velveteen Music. His work has been nominated for 3 Juno Awards, and he has toured Canada and the US as a session guitarist. In addition to making music, Bradley also develops software for Velveteen. Logo

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