Gain Structure and Headroom Mistakes


Fundamentals of Mixing Rock and EDM


Lesson Info

Gain Structure and Headroom Mistakes

I feel like this is that thing that for me when I would hear about ahead or in my book just shut up already to work like for so many years and then once I realize how bad I was not paying attention to buy ahead room and started fixing I went wow you're mixes sound good you should really have not told that dork to shut up but just think is the western we learn all through life pretty much does the dork was right and you were wrong anyway enough with my life lessons so um what is head room head room is basically the amount of space you have before your mix begins to clip in distort and sound awful so especially when we're mixing inside the box and since this course deals with mixing inside the box most of the time this becomes very very, very important so when I say overloading your head room what really and distorting what really is going to happen is one year transients are going to be told because while clipping could be great, we're going to talk all about how awesome clipping and di...

stortion is and how all the big guys using now you can use in the box clipping by overloading your plug ins and clipping by overloading your master bus is one of the worst sounds you you will hear in mixing just like I say there's very few rules I'm going to go as far to say this is in the ultimate ruling that some people do make this work, but ninety nine point, nine percent people, if you get your head room right, your transience just sound better, your plug ins going flow freely and your mix is going to sound more open big, clear and, well, your job just gets easier when you're doing it. So the real thing, a reason I want to go over this is because if you're not doing this right, everything else you're doing is going to get much harder to do and just not be as easy to deal with. So the other thing to remember is head room isn't just the mix bus it's also about every single channel in your mix, so you have to get him right? So in that case, let's go over to the pro tools real fast, and I'm going to show you all about how you control your head room in a practical way, because I think the biggest thing I see a lot of the time is that while we discuss how you make head room and some things like, oh, I get it, I get it, I get it, you don't actually get it, so this is a song by a band called nobody does this called everybody school as you're about to hear this song is pretty ridiculous if you want a really good laugh after this costs and you enjoy it you go check out their youtube channel nobody does this everybody is cool wanna have a little fun so where this and the song is also a really great example of a lot of complex things going on in mix so let me show you what the head room is like in a song what's first hit play on this I want you to pay attention to this master fader here and what it looks like because this is a mixed with a full master on it right now I basically mixed this as if this was the final product going out for master because it's a single I didn't need to match its other trucks we discussed this a lot my last class so um so no not you know I'm just kidding so as you could see when the song it's quiet it's the dynamics go down and it's not totally pin but then when the big rock part comes in it's totally pin so I'm pinning that with these mastering plug ins so if you watch the last class you saw all about me using these all the time so but what is the master fader look like when these air not on so no not use so as you could see there right at the bridge of clipping I'm not getting in over edge on the meter here but I am getting it's just the tip of this so the one thing is as you could probably hear the song is a little bit blown out right now so if we were doing this properly what we mean by head room and what proper had room is is about six to ten d b of a, um space here so that it's not hitting the top of this and we're not getting adult transits so how do we get that in your mix? You basically need to make a group where you can turn down everything now pro tools hd is these great thing called the fears we don't have the luxury of that ellie where you can turn down everything that's in a group with the fate or you could simply balance this but instead we're going to do this the hard way since a lot of you won't have that tool so I'm going to do now is every one of the audio tracks I have that is not subgroups through an ox which is pretty much all my audio tracks in this mix I'm going to make a group with so as you can see I'm highlighting each and every track that's actually an audio file I skipped these ox is here this is ah harmonizer a delay, a plate and then most of all my master faith because I don't want to pull them down in this process because they're all post fader so they're going to all get west signal afterwards so you are going to see is I'm about to highlight the parallel compression ideo so the reason I'm highlighting that is because this is a big part of the drum sound and gets pulled down because it's also pre fader so it's not determined by the output of these fighters so we'll get a little bit more into pre painter fader and post fader after this but the good this way with pre fader when I pull these down this won't come down as well so it makes a very big difference in how loud the track is so after I've all these audio files highlighted um I'm gonna make a group so this group is gonna be called head room because that's what I'm looking for from it and it looks like everything set right? So the next thing I'm gonna do is because I have a ton of automation in this track I'm not able to just pull down the haters because they'll snap back up in a few mixed in pro tools you will know what atrocious pain this is, so I basically just turned on that group I'm actually turn off every other group on this in case anything gets messed up just this file you know select all of it so everything in that group is now selected that I hit the select all key so that everything's highlighted so looking at this master fader I could see that I need at least six to ten d b since it's right at the top of it so I go in and I pulled down this sixty b just start so this just pulled down all these and the annoying thing with pro tools is then after that you get to raise this stupid volume note that have put the end so that everything's even so if I hit play on this ridiculous song again as you can see, I'm still not quite at sixty biu of head room now even though I pulled down everything sixty b it just wasn't enough because there was probably some clipping going on that we weren't seeing in pro tools so I'm gonna pull down another forty b just to see if we can get in that good range so after that's done race stupid volume node for the second time oh joy and what's it called you can also hear how good I am at editing out curses in the song so as you could see though we're now and just show you the meter we're reading off of it's right here on the right cause this is the digital side the meter we're now between the six and t ten d b head room that I loved to get so as a mastering engineer particular to when you're sending files, this is what I really want to see. Is that also your mixes air sitting here? And this is what any mastering engineer wants to see, because this makes it easy for us to work with the file. So now that we have that, if you noticed so there's a big thing that we I see often and she was that people hit the all button and think that works. The problem with the all button is when you turn on the all button and pulled down is your master fair gets pulled down? Your master fader should always be at zero there's no reason for it to not be, and that keeps it at unity and a general here's. Another great rule on wester fading out the song keep your master fader at zero or in western doing some volume rides by would even suggest that if you're doing overall volume rides, you make another group like this called head room and do it that way. So now, when we turned down these plug ins again, we're going to look at the meter and it's not going quite be the same, so then when it comes down to is so. The song now doesn't have as much impact and plug ins are in hitting I'm sure on this multi been compressor thing it's not hitting the same way that it was before it's barely hitting this so now I have to redo my master of it, so while that sounds like a gigantic pain it's really important to do this and have your head rooms because once you do this you're going all of a sudden notice that your mix opens up, you have more space, you khun dial things in easier and life in general just becomes a lot easier, so what I would do after this is I didn't go in and make sure that, you know, I would probably actually looked at way the compressor would say this and tried to replicate it, but mostly I'm just going to listen and I'm just going to because I trust my years most of all, I'm gonna also turn this way so I could face my speaker's while I do this since it's a little weird to master with just my right here everybody's way so one of the things to notice here so I kind of got that back to where I was now if I was really doing this, I'd take a lot more time to donald my master, but try to give you the gist of this, so if you watch with this head room thing is that you'll notice so obviously what the pundits were off were between six and ted d b of headroom, but here on the file think after all my mastering plug ins you could see we don't quite have that much head it's peaking somewhere around forty five d be here and I could see that on these cool meters at the l three does so while I'm saying six to ten d b of head room, you could lose a d, b or two or even three of that six to ten in this process and still have a great time, but to be honest with you, the way I like my mixes personally is I'd much prefer this fader down closer to ten d b, then forty be, um there's just this big misconception like cobb, I think one of the big things I should address too is that we first start mixing your like I'm going turn up the base to get big base. The funny thing about getting big base that will show you later is that a lot of time big bases about cutting base all over the place so you get a bigger, more controlled base the same thing with loud mixes is that loud mixes are don't necessarily mean that you're all the way at the top of pushing everything as far as you can it's about optimizing that loudness in a series of events part of optimizing this loudness is that yes we have in my six to ten d b of head room on this master fade before we ever hit a this pockets but then we get rid of about two or three d b each of these processes afterwards so which nice to see is that the end of this is that you are doing this wrong if any of these pockets clip and you get the red light on them or you're not seeing that you have a four d b of head room in here or as I'd like I'd like six to ten even still in here ten would be fantastic for may you want to make sure that this is not clipping is based on being so as we just discussed you know? So basically the concept this head room as you could see this was still like this from before I had some clips I'm adding a lot of game to this um you know, on my master for the song alone, it looks like I'm cumulatively adding eight, nine ninety bf gain and then cutting three off not counting what we're doing with the filter um so that's sixty b of game that we're adding to this file which could easily clip so if we don't have that six to ten d b gate this boost alone is going to probably send us over the edge and clipper our master bus um, obviously compressing here and not using makeup gain, we're going to lose some of that again because we're going to take down almost all the frequencies, but then I'm clipping it again here. So through all these processes, you have to turn on and off the plug ins and make sure you're not clipping anywhere. Now a great place to see this is on each of these meters, and almost all of these pockets have a meter for this, so but this goes for every single element in your mix that when you're on your kick drum, you have to make sure throughout the whole process, like as you could see on this kick, chermayeff sixty be going up at six kilohertz that's sixty b can easily click this out, especially if you record your kick drum and hot and you're like one of those people who likes to record your kick drums. You're getting every decibel that you pay for as up didn't like the joke. Um, yes, I have a question. Look, I'm just wondering if there's a tool that allows you to see if your what plugging your clipping on overall already have teo, I see you looking through it for a single to we'll hear the nice slogan the nice one on pro tools is that when you clip a plug in the it turns red on the read out so you could kind of see that and then on these meters like you could see right here on this overhead, I didn't do as good a job as I thought I did and I actually thought I went through all these, but I had to redo these mixes a little last night for some plug ins that we're working this overhead tracks clipping a little and basically when you see these reds you optimize the game you know, if you turn the gain down to b two d b on your compressor and makeup gain, you could then put it up a little bit on the fate or afterwards and listen again and you know, don't do it as exact math if you pulled down your makeup game one point sixty b that doesn't mean necessarily that once point sixty be as we said, the order because if you're compressing that's clipping the sound it's clip, it gets a little bit or harsh on your face it's not going to balance the same it is a difference in sound, so don't get to mathematical about it but the big pressure about make is that yes, you can easily see this across the board in fact, I bet you one of these rivers have been using eyes way hotter than the ones I use at home and like it keeps clipping on a lot of these mixes and we'll probably see that way during the class, but it gives us a works through it all through there's red lights so you don't need to click through everyone and be this like fanatical nitpicky nerd who like, since they're like, oh my god, is this one clipping? I better watch it through the entire song make sure my kick drums perfect it's going to tell you question question on that? I know that you know, some there there some kind of gotcha is about the pro tools meters a cz faras the overs you touch on that a little bit, so waves plug in particular have this analog clipping that won't necessarily tell you if you're clipping that's a soft cliff something's say you're clipping because you're using all the bits, which is like this really nerdy thing of that yet again. So when we get to this head room, a lot of this is also about how you record and how much headroom. So, um there's a really great while I give the speech, I'm going to open up one of these other songs because it's a great example of this that I use real fast, so if you're recording your tracks way, way, way too hot and I think the thing to remember that you know when it's reading this out it's not reading out like, hey, dude, your mix sounds about a magical mr pro tools mouse that I sit in here and go hey, this is sounding a little funny and there's no mouse detecting this for sale or they have stirred the wheel that makes the internet run what there is is a math that basically says you've used up all your bits, so twenty four bit recording with this is basically saying is that with each process you're adding on bits and that's why we now have thirty two bit floated sixty four bit processing is this allows higher headroom like pro tools eleven as the most head room I think of any mixer developed in the box now because of this extra stuff, so you'll get these false overs just by adding an extra process if you're running, you're signaling to I so this is another reason tio tell you kids out there you don't need to get your kick drum to be a the loudest point it could possibly be like you don't need to normalize all your files if anything, you should be doing the exact opposite so I have a track into here and for some reason on this mix I think they like lost the original instrument or was a demo when they wrote the song or something but here's, what you can see here is on this track. This thing is clipped to help. But this is the thing is, when you listen to this part of the song it's, not the most pleasant. So what you hear quite as abrasive as it is, what it solo so it's, not the end of the world, but what we do to deal with this is as you could see, this has that isil they've gained afterwards, no matter what I did like I pulled this down, it's even still pulled down three d because I had to add some make you do it. I needed room toe work on this, so I gained this down sixty b just so I had some room t q compress it definitely didn't want to clip it anymore. If you have ah too hot track, you could pull it down. If it's hitting your plug its gain it down toward the input job down, but sometimes even the input knob just like it's, not even as pleasant as gay down like it's, always shocking to be what I get really over ganged tracks to master that I don't know what the mathematical thing is, but like there is up was funny, I remastered record for bad timing records by bands called valencia, and this record it kind of got a bad rap for being a little too clipped, and it was funny when we went to remastered for vinyl, all I did is hit the game down sixty b and then re process that a little brought it back up to our normal volume, and it was all of a sudden, much more pleasant, even though all mathematical logic I know dictates this shouldn't be the case. So the lesson to get out of this without getting so nerdy with it is that, yes, your plug ins sometimes tell you there's an over there, there's, not sometimes they don't tell you what it is, but if you're hearing some clipping, bring your game down, don't track as high as you need to and turn the input on the first plug in, down and see if that sounds better. Do you mess around with it? See what it is, and especially if you're not like in the tone, and you're feeling like the tone is a little like crispy or, like splattered instead of punchy, you know, a lot of time, spotty is really good code for you clipped it, or you're over processing, or you're overdoing the dynamics splotchy, in particular, is just doled trends it's a lot of time they've been doled in a bad bad bad way and as I discussed with the first start discussing head room with a lot of the time when you're cutting off this tragedy it's that's the bad part of the head represents the first thing that hits the top and that's what makes it sound terrible? So a couple other questions a few people have asked some variation of this, which is basically, you know, rather than bring down all your failures, why not just create a pre master bus and bring that to send everything to that and bring that one down? So this is one of the things we're gonna get into it a little bit too, so you're pre master bus could that also be clipped on the way? And the whole idea is so think of it this way we're taking sixty four tracks and some peace mixes and then shoving it down into a hole that only allows to you have to have room when it goes down into this hole because even that pre master bus that is clipped that you're just clipping your bus instead of clipping your master no matter what your clipping somewhere so that's one of the things too, so basically there's there's no substitute for there is no substitute for taking down the haters and keeping him well you will see over and over and over again if you watch look at dave pence, otto's mixes does the into the layer things on to any other video. What you'll see that a lot of these big guys would do is you're not seeing favors at zero a lot. You're seeing failures at minus twenty, you've got to keep that game down because you're that bus is still getting clipped. The others think of us, say is is a lot of these mixers, while the nerves will tell you it's just ones and zeros and it's not diluting the sound fox's do dilute your sound using too many locks is we're going to get all into this later can muddy up your mix you don't want to use fox's unnecessarily if you don't need to use the knox, spare yourself the ox, another note on the headroom thing, and I'm only harping on this so much because the stuff that you have taught me about headroom made such a absolute a massive difference in my mixes. It really did sound crazy. Different, yeah, uh, and ale pointed this out, especially like with a lot of the waves stuff that's modeled after an line here, a lot of those air calibrated for, like minus eighteen d b, so when you're sending him stuff it zero d b it's not react you're you're not using the play in the way it was designed to be yes and I think that's another thing that crucial like you know those waves pockets haven't analog button and you gotta listen to that on and often like are you getting an unpleasant artifact from that like, you know, I will be honest like I use that analog setting very, very rarely and I love like especially new waves ready to I'm you know, I'm having a serious bromance with that piece of software like we're we're cuddling up a lot and but I don't use the animal on function because I don't think it works for the way I track I think you have to do some listening and figure it out that out for yourself was there any more questions or should keep going on this? Okay, so we kind of got into this with the foxes too is that head room is everywhere? So we have these oxes right here is my drum us, you know, on the drum bus I haven't q a compressor and then a distortion on the strong luck bust in the song all making these drums work I have to make sure that especially since these air the drum transients that they're not clipping on the way in every part of this process has to make sure it doesn't clip and you keep it low it's everything down to your tracks to your ox ed's tio even your river but I mean I was struggling so hard with the vocal though they're weak and that I realized how bad I was clipping out my harmonizer and because of that clipping out the harmonizer there was this honky nous and the vocal and I don't mean that he was white it was just, you know, really, really, really awful sounding and I realized I'm running this ox and you know, I use I often use this waves doubler for my harmonizer and the waves dubler runs really hot compared to the other one I use, which is called little micro shift and one of them can handle more than the other one of them out puts more and it's just being conscious of those things because like I think like the rial take away with the head room is is if you're not monitoring your head room when you're not being careful to like look around and I know this is boring but it's a great time to like rest your ears, check your head room you know, look around, get it, get into your break and just make sure everything's cool there's a lot of times we're getting overwhelmed with artistic doing this will make dialing all your tones so much, so much easier so really take this seriously check it don't output mixes without it. And, like also, check it often like you don't want to get to. The idea of mixing like this is rocking. And then see, it could be way more rocky. And then you're used to that sound in your got to stick with that sound, and then your mix is never as great as it could have been. It could have been even better if you didn't get used to that sound. So it's really, really, really important tell, like, make sure this is always, always right.

Class Description

While it’s easy to get distracted by the latest and greatest gear, plugins, and flashy tricks, the real key to a great mix is mastering the fundamentals. In this online class, veteran producer/engineer/mixer Jesse Cannon (The Cure, Animal Collective, Senses Fail) shows you all the essentials of mixing rock and electronic music.

In this 3-day class, you’ll learn how to set up a session the RIGHT way — including routing, gain structure, listening techniques, and other best practices. He’ll show you how to mix vocals, bass, drums, guitars, and synths. You’ll also learn how to use compression, reverb and EQ to make your mix come together, while achieving the punch and separation that takes it from good to great. The class is taught with Pro Tools, but the concepts easily translate to any DAW.

Whether you’re new to mixing, or are a seasoned pro looking for a refresher on the basics, this class will teach you how to seamlessly merge individual sounds into polished, cohesive tracks.