How to Get a Perfect -6dB Mixdown With Gain Staging

Get a Perfect -6dB Mixdown

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Here’s Our Game Plan

 

In this tutorial, we’ll teach you the importance of careful gain staging and demonstrate a powerful workflow tool to make it easier to achieve a perfect pre-master every time. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Vespers’s Mixing Philosophy
  2. Why it’s important to mix down to -6db
  3. An in-depth demonstration of Vespers’s production and mix template you can have

 

Vespers’s Mixing Philosophy

 

A lot of people ask when you should mix, while you’re writing the track or after.  Our philosophy is that you should actually do as much of the mixing duties as possible before you even start by using a well-designed template.  Every professional mixing and mastering engineer, no matter if they are mixing rock, pop or dubstep will have a specific set of tools, integrated with a tested workflow to make their job more streamlined. These tools(EQs, compressors, transient shapers etc.) usually find their way into a specific arrangement in a custom template that can be utilized quickly and efficiently.

The template included in this tutorial is something Vespers first made about 10 years ago and has been refining ever since.  We wanted to give this to you guys as a gift to help you with your production. If you haven’t grabbed it already, you can download it from THIS PAGE.

 

 

Why mix down to -6dB?

 

Pretty much all mastering engineers use -6dB as a standard because it gives them some room to work with. When you deliver your pre-master to your mastering engineer if you’re already peaking near, at or over 0db you’ll most likely be asked to make some revisions to your mix (which can be a pain on huge projects). This is exactly why it’s very useful to complete most of your mixing tasks as you are producing with that -6dB peak in mind.

But how do you mix so that everything sums up to perfectly to -6? Easier said than done. Keep reading for a slick workflow and a couple simple techniques that’ll help you nail this every time.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is gain-stage everything down by 16 dB. You’re going to want to do this because as you add things to your mix, you’re really quickly going to be clipping the master. For example, everything in most sample packs is normalized right up to 0 dB. So if you add a kick and clap together, you’re already maxed out in the red.

There’s a tendency when most people are mixing for the levels to get louder and louder. This is because it’s easier to turn one thing up, than to turn everything else down. Say you’re wanting a lead synth to take center stage in your mix…well, it’s most people’s first instinct to just turn up the lead relative to everything else.

By gain staging everything down initially in your template, it gives you lots of headroom to be able to do this.

 

Get a Perfect -6dB Mixdown

Vespers’s Production and Mix Template for Ableton live 10

 

The Ableton template has got an EQ Eight with Macros mapped for low and high shelving filters for quick mixing duties, and a Utility Device that’s set to -16 dB.  In addition to setting our levels up right, we find this Rack to be really useful to do common mixdown edits, like removing the lows of everything except my kick and sub with a highpass filter, or boosting the high shelf to bring certain lead elements closer to us.
If you’re using Ableton Live, you can set a custom track as your default simply by loading the effects or Rack that you want, right clicking, and selecting “Save as Default Track”.  You’ll need to do this separately for Audio and MIDI Tracks.

The Master Bus in the template has another custom Rack.  This has a Spectrum, EQ Eight, and a Utility with various parameters Macro mapped.  You’ll use these when mixing to see and hear what exactly you’re doing while you make changes.  For example, use the lowpass filter from the EQ Eight to focus in on just the bottom end of the mix to get that right.

 

Get a Perfect -6dB Mixdown

The final piece of this template you’ll notice is a Utility device pushing the gain of the Master up by 6 dB.  If you have all your tracks gain staged to -16 dB, with a plus 6 dB on your master, a normalized kick from a sample pack will be peaking at -10 dB.

But why even have the +6 dB on the master right? Why not just have all the tracks set to -10 dB and be done with it? Well, that’s where this perfect 6 dB of headroom comes in.

Think about it this way. If you have the +6 dB on your master, all you need to do is mix your project so that peak levels are just beginning to tickle the red on your master fader. Then, when you’re all done, all you do is remove the Utility on your master and BOOM you have a perfect, clean -6dBFS pre-master.

This is such a powerful addition because you get a nice visual indication, by the master fader going red, that you’re over. Every time that happens, you know you need to hunt something down and fix it in your mix.