Are my mic levels too low?

Hi everyone. I just attempted my first recording, (some hip hop vocals for a friend of mine). Im not sure how well it went yet, I’m a little concerned that the gain was too low on the mic, but I’m too inexperienced to tell.

I read that the input level should be set somewhere between -12 and -10db ideally to avoid clipping and allow room for effects. So I tested out the mic, and thats about where the levels were. On the cubase track, the waveform seemed small compared to what I usually see in photos. I always thought the range was supposed to be wide. When I play it back, I can hear it fine, but it’s very low compared to when I play music through the same speakers on youtube or itunes. Is there something I did wrong? Its my first recording but I still want it to be good, any tips?

I like to have my levels peaking around -6db (24bit) but with hiphop
they usually like to get up on the mic and so the peaks can go over
into the -5db to -2db range. Also remember that audio from the likes of
Youtube etc has usually been mastered and will be quite a bit louder.
-12db is slightly low though, nothing wrong with peaking near -6db
to make better use of your bit depth.

When tracking vocals to a stereo file that has been mixed and mastered
already, I usually need to reduce the gain on the file somewhere between
-12 and -6db. Do this with the gain setting and leave the fader at unity.
Then the vocals get some form of the following…
De esser, compressor, eq, another compressor, another eq, maybe some
exciter action and then finally, perhaps a limiter.

Hipass usually around 50-90hz.
DeEsser 1st in line to shave any obtrusive “Ssss’s” if needed.
1st compressor is usually only doing 2-3db of gain reduction. (LA-2A type)
1st eq is cutting annoying things.
2nd compressor is doing more like 3-5db of gain reduction. (33609 or LA-2A or 1176 type)
2nd eq is cutting and boosting where needed.
Find a good Exciter and start with the vocal presets to see what goes on.
Then back it off or boost until it gets silky.
Final limiter shouldn’t be doing more then 2-4db of occasional gain reduction.
Some like to have the de esser last in the chain.
Some like to have eqs before compressors.

The files that people bring in to track to are usually way over mastered.
Do what it takes to get the vocals consistent and clear.

wow thanks so much for the in depth reply. you have no idea how much I needed the advice! if you don’t mind me asking, what is the purpose of reducing the gain more than once like you described? also what does “backing off” mean?

never mind about the "backing it off " thing, I misread that…but yeah, all the gain reduction I’d still like to understand better

what is the purpose of reducing the gain more than once like you described?

If you mean having two compressors in the chain,
I like to split up the compression duties so no one compressor is getting hit too hard.

If you are talking about where I said,

I usually need to reduce the gain on the file somewhere between
-12 and -6db. Do this with the gain setting and leave the fader at unity.

Above, I am talking about reducing the gain of the music backing track, the beat.

I think the OP means when you talk about “Gain Reduction” on your compressors and limiter.


Your recording levels are fine. Aiming for peaks around -12dBFS will generally give you audio that hovers around -18dBFS RMS (this varies based on the transient material of the source being recorded, of course), which is what a lot of the LA-2A and 1176 type compressors are calibrated to use anyway. If you happen to record louder than this, yet without clipping, then you may want to turn you channel gain levels down to where the signal hovers around -18dBFS RMS to prevent the signal from driving your plugins too hard. This will yield the best quality inside the box.

Also, it is a good idea to check what calibration your analog equipment uses at nominal levels so that you can better gain stage your signal and get the optimal sound quality during tracking. That includes converters, preamps and any other outboard gear being used. Generally, you want to aim for 0dB VU = +4dBu = whatever your analog gear is calibrated to. Read the user manual of each device to find that out.


What jose7822 said :slight_smile:

You might do a search for “gain staging” on Youtube, there are numerous tutorials explaining and showing how to do this.

Regarding the size (I assume you mean apparent amplitude) of the waveforms on the track, use the magnifier control on the side of the project window. :wink:

thanks a ton everyone. this advice helps a lot!