C-11 How to Avoid "Mission Creep" Hot Tracks?

This is embarrassing but as the screenshot of the chorus (and so loudest part of the project) shows, the right side console where my Group tracks are for this for still simple project are way too hot already. I have more instruments and arrangements to add.

I like to keep the meters at or around the green level (goes to yellow at 12 Db). A bit of yellow is OK, but I don’t like going above that within tracks and Group tracks.

And as you can see, even the original tracks faders on the left side are pretty low because they are linked to a VCA fader shown on the right before Stereo Out, but it’s way, way down below 1/4 volume and still burning hot.

Because instruments are not all the same in volume or amplitude, I tend to use Pre-Gain automation along the Volume in my original tracks, which is probably not a smart thing to do.

Not sure using Q-link is the solution since the VCA is already set so low.

Going in to each automation lane and try to calculate and adjusted each one (volume and/or pre-gain) by say 5-10 Dbs would be a total headache for they are not the same or whole numbers.

This drive me nuts for it all starts fine at sane levels, but in the fog of composing and mixing, the “hot” surprise eventually bites me in the butt. Over and over.

What do you do to avoid this and/or what could I do to apply some first aid to this project? Thanks.

What’s more concerning is that the faders are at -30 and the level still goes above 0 dB ?

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Using pre-gain and automation together is what I do and I think it’s a very good technique - the automation controls the relative level at different points in the track and the pre-gain controls the overall level. It easy to use the pre- gain to make small adjustments quickly in mixing.

Using Qlink you can adjust the pre-gain on all selected tracks by the same amount - it definitely is a very good feature.

Your faders are very low, so I’d be tempted to sort that out by raising the automation levels and reducing the pre-gain to compensate. Or changing levels in your VSTs.

There are number of ways of adjusting all the automation points in one go but one of the simplest is to select all the events on the automation track. Once you’ve done that you can change the one automation value shown in the info line and all the rest will follow.

When you adjust the pre-gain, you do need to think of the implications for dynamics plugins on the channel, such as compressors. These default to pre-fader so if you change the pre-gain the signal level fed to the compressor will change and that will affect the level of compression.

It’s quite possible to leave things as they are if you want to and simply reduce the pre-gain on the stereo out until the signal is OK. In your case I el think the fader levels need sorting out though!

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@Louis_R and @RichardTownsend - Thanks for replies.

Richard: You wrote, “…one of the simplest is to select all the events on the automation track. Once you’ve done that you can change the one automation value shown in the info line and all the rest will follow.”

I’ll try what you suggest and what else you mentioned - fortunately I rarely use compression, be in-channel (where I have none) or on tracks - with very rare exceptions on the latter.

I also better do a backup of the project before I attempt this first-aid in case I mess up. :sunglasses:

P.S.: You mentioned affecting dynamics - would this also include EQs, channel or track based? Most track have EQ (including Cubase’s Multiband Envelope Shaper). It is a compressor of a kind, so maybe I have to be careful here…

That’s right - if you right-click on the automation track you’ll see an option to select all events on it.

Note that if you try to change the automation level and it won’t change, it means that at least one of the automation points would be shifted beyond the maximum allowed (+6 or +12dB depending on your project settings, or below -infinity)

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No, EQs won’t be affected, unless you are using ´dynamic EQs´ where the EQ applied varies with signal - but you’d know if that was the case because you would have had to deliberately set it up!

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Before tweaking automation I’d take the issue from the start and look at the recording levels in first place.

What are the levels when you record ?
It should not go above -15 dBFS at great maximum, as it would allow comfortable headroom.
But looking at your Brass track peaking at +4.4 while the volume fader is at -31.2, is extremely concerning, in fact this is the first time I see something like that. It means that with the fader at 0 it would peak at +35.6, how is that even possible ?


It’s possible if the pre-gain is set very high! Or maybe these are instrument tracks with VST volumes cranked up.

But you are exactly right about recording levels if these are audio tracks.


But is there a reason for that ?
The pre gain should be left at 0, and this is especially true when using VST instrument, you first adjust the level with the volume knob inside the instrument.

Pre gain is generally used on audio tracks if the level is too weak or too loud, and you just set it once and forget. Pre gain is the first thing to set after importing or recording, and before any other processing. If you tweak it after adjusting your plugins then it will affect how the plugins behave.

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@Louis_R - You wrote: “…looking at your Brass track peaking at +4.4 while the volume fader is at -31.2, is extremely concerning, in fact this is the first time I see something like that. It means that with the fader at 0 it would peak at +35.6, how is that even possible ?”

I’m not making excuses for my bad mixing so far, but that particular track is loud only because it is low-octave, essentially acting as kind of strings-bass.

But I’ll take your and Richard’s advice to heart and do what I can to remedy this mess. I just can’t do it right now. I’ll return when I’ve applied your suggestions.

With all the VSTs I’ve played so far, I agree there’s some level disparity between the presets, but the maximum level I’ve recorded was something like -5 dBFS, and that is already very loud, considering that my setup is normalized to -18 dB.

Such high levels usually come from presets that haven’t been created carefully by the designers.
With most “quality” instruments, the levels generally won’t go above -15 or maybe a bit higher, but never above -10, it always stays within “normal” recording levels.

So it is very unlikely that your instrument would have a level of +35 dBFS by default.

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Yeah this is probably the root of your problem. And just because the audio on it is in the lower frequency range doesn’t matter. Most likely either the gain on the VSTi or the Channel’s Pre-Gain (or both) is setting the signal way way way too hot.

I think you want to study up on the concept of Gain Staging which is basically how at each point in your signal flow you want the output level to be appropriate as the next stage’s input level. There are several threads on this forum on the topic and I’d imagine some videos out there too (although I have none to recommend).

Ultimately you want to have the channel levels -14-ish but the fader up by zero. This is because the fader has a lot more resolution at 0 than -40.

Until you get comfortable with your gain staging I’d recommend not using VCAs and instead set the common levels via your Group Channels. A VCA adds an extra layer of adjustments that can obscure what’s really happening.

Also don’t automate your Pre-Gain levels. Figure out where they need to be and leave them alone. And for VSTi’s whenever possible adjust the level on the Instrument & not Pre-Gain.

Lastly, what’s up that none of your MixConsole Channels have Mute, Solo or Listen buttons?


Also, @Newsoniclight, have a look at what your meters are actually measuring.

Check the gif below.

Metering at different positions

Edit: Pah, cropped.

In the first part, the meters measure Input. This means that moving the fader does not have an impact on what the meter shows.
In the second part, the meters measure Post-Fader. This means that moving the fader will affect what the meter shows, since the meter measures just after the fader.
Finally, in the last part, the meters are set to Post-Panner. This means that the meter will measure NOT only after the fader, but after the panner too. Depending on pan law, there can be an up to 6dB difference in the center for the same signal.

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That might actually contribute to your problem here - maybe you have large transients peaking your meters, and well-chosen transparent compression would get those dynamics under control, making the rest of your gain staging much easier.

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I agree with Raino and Louis_R that you need to understand gain staging. It’s not too complicated to get to grips with and it will really help for future projects.

Here’s a good article


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@raino @Louis_R @ggmanestraki @Louis_R - Thanks for your additional input. A lot to take in.

In the SOS article " Gain Staging In Your DAW Software" suggested by @RichardTownsend, this caught my eye before it gets technical and certainly partially explains my erroneous ways…

“I’ve seen plenty of online discussions in which seasoned engineers are shocked by the ignorance of many would-be engineers about managing signal levels. I’m not surprised: to anyone who learned to mix with analogue consoles and outboard gear, this is all second nature, because the gear effectively forced good practice on you.”

"In the modern software-based production environment, though, many people don’t completely appreciate what appropriate levels are, or even correctly understand the notions of headroom and dynamic range. *

This is understandable: after all, at least one generation has now grown up trying to teach themselves mixing using no more than a computer, a piece of software and the vast resource of conflicting, variable-quality advice on the Web.

Bad advice aside, I believe there are also several reasons why the DAW software itself leads people to make mistakes."

As with many, I am completely self-taught and therein the pitfalls. But I definitely have to get a handle on gain staging, for it lies at the root of said mission creep.

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Odd thing happening while doing a Render in Place:

Just one track’s Spitfire Audio Mandolin MIDI events with settings below but after it’s rendered the entire mix of the project goes into all-in-the-red, heavy distortion to worsening an already bad situation where I have to mute my system’s audio for it could damage my 5" near-field monitors. So I have to do an instant undo.

What’s going on here? Thanks.

I didn’t notice that but you’re right and this hasn’t happened to me before and so far I haven’t found anything in the console settings menus to correct this. The generic Mix Console 2 and 3 do have those buttons.

Maybe I’ll have to switch to 2 and set it up as a mirror of the default or 1.

If you zoom in a bit do they come back? I’ve seen this on my laptop that uses old onboard graphics and outdated drivers, but it’s just cosmetic.

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