The easiest way to set up your gain staging is (before you start recording anything) to select the PRE Rack and insert it on the master stereo out and then simply reduce the Pre-Gain by at least -6db.
Now all your channel input faders will be reduced in volume. This will really help as I find many VST instrument presets can overload the input stage but by reducing the master Pre-Gain this cannot happen.
This procedure is very import because all your effects plugins, etc will sound a lot better because they will not be overloaded.
Also it is important to understand the fact that there is absolutely no difference between bringing down all channel faders and adjusting the gain control in the pre-amp of the Stereo Out. This has been confirmed to me by the Steinberg development team!
The manual is erroneous on this point. When you switch the meter position to ‘input’ the meters are pre input gain. You are metering the channel input signal BEFORE it gets to the PRE section. So when you move the input trim or the channel fader there is no change on the meters.
Gain staging is becoming more of a lost ability among ITB mixers today.
My suggestion would be to get yourself a really good meter, and always use it, so you get used to what happens - in the end - if you do this or that. For example, I usually start out with the sum of Kick + lead vocals (2 strongest parts) summing up to around -6dB on the VU meter (set to -9 or-10 reference). That way, the accumulated volume will usually not go too high. VU meter is still the best meter to ‘see’ the music move right, in my opinion.
Another tip would be to work it in the way analog mixers did it: put a saturator on your master channel. I’d suggest Waves REDD-17, it’s really good for this particular use. Set the “analog” control to 0 for it to work best. It will saturate the sound the louder it gets, gradually. If you make it too loud, you’ll hear a recessing weakening of transients, mushing up and finally distortion. Just like on an analog console.
If you back off on the volume, it will act as a glue, uniforming the mix very nicely. It will force you to constantly be aware of both individual levels and the sum level. You’ll need to check out the calibration on the meter though. I seem to remember it’s set to a sweet spot of -21dBFS RMS.
If you’re making mixes aimed for commercial releases though, you’ll need to end up around -9 or -8 db RMS. For that you need to utilize brickwall limiters on most channels, and forget about any saturator or the likes.
-18 db average tracking for me. I don’t mix hot either. I do that in Soundforge when I master the track.
I use the PSP meter to monitor tracking making sure that I don’t overload plugins with too hot an input - especially important with guitar if you want to keep it sounding sweet. It is so easy to get too high a level when you have a chain of plugins - the VU meter helps to avoid that. I set the colour of the metering in Cubase to help guide me as well.