Reduce master volume to create headroom for mastering?

I mixed a track for a friend’s band, and it turns out that they plan to use it on an upcoming EP. That’s the good news. But the final mix I sent is too hot and I GENTLY used a Waves LL-1 to raise the levels, which are not slammed. Frankly, I thought they planned to post the track to their website for download, and not send it for mastering since mixing is just a hobby for me.

The problem is that if I take the LL-1 off, I have a few spots where the peaks are clipping the master buss (only about +0.9 dB), and the overall loudness is still fairly hot.

So my question… can I simply lower the master buss volume by 6 dB or so to avoid the clipping while maintaining all of my automation moves? What I mean is, is that an acceptable way to create headroom and will it keep the overall dynamics the same?

I have a fair amount of automation and I really, really do not want to go back in and have to change it all. I am not using compression on the master buss, but I do have an instance of the Slate VTM. The final mix moves, all automation, were to the LL-1 as well, but I am satisfied with the overall blend even with the LL-1 off (working in 32-bit, so I can hear it fine with the “clipping” but dithering to 24-bit makes the clipping audible). I just need to avoid those peak clips, and I need to provide headroom.

Also, looking at the Control Room loudness meter, what average loudness should I shoot for in my final mix to go to the mastering engineer?

Rookie mistake mixing too hot, I know, but I am hoping to avoid a complete remix to shave off the gain. Any help is appreciated. I need to get on this tonight, so any quick response is really appreciated!!

As discussed roughly every 3 months - yes it is if your whole signal path is 32 bit fp - Although someone will probably tell you something about gain staging.

Whatever you think is necessary for your mix to sound right. Unless you need to deliver to a TV or radio station, that require EBU 128 R standard, then you should mix for that target level.

Thanks. I know, I should have searched. Let’s say I was crunched for time. But, thank you for the response and the help! Much appreciated.

I agree with Thinkingcap, but I will add that during mixing I try to shoot for a K-20 (sometimes even K-14 if working with pre-processed samples and VSTi’s). By doing this it is almost guaranteed that the levels on my Master Bus will be around or under -3dBFS. Obviously, every mix is different, but that is a trend I’ve noticed since I started mixing using the K-System (included as one of the selectable options in the Cubase meter).

Who? Me? No - uh-uh. Not me…

…can I simply lower the master buss volume by 6 dB or so to avoid the clipping while maintaining all of my automation moves?

As TC said, yes you can.

Typically, an ME will want the track as uncompressed and unlimited as possible. That’s not to say every ME wants nothing, but the less dynamics and the more squashed the material is, the more pigeon-holed the ME is.

You can try adding some slight compression to get rid of some of those peaks, If the compressor is good, if you gain stage properly, and just in general use the compressor properly, you can get rid of all of those peaks without having to bring down the master bus, while maintaing the dynamics and without squashing the music. Which brings me to…

If the peaks are clipping the master buss at +0.9 dB, why would you want to bring down the master bus 6db?

Thanks again for the responses. I was only clipping by about +0.9 on my master output meter, but got the impression that the ME wanted more headroom than simply ensuring that the peaks did not clip, and was looking for peaks in the -4 to 5 range. But, I am getting the feedback indirectly through the band member overseeing the mixing and mastering.

I obviously have some work to do to understand the appropriate levels for mastering. Actually, I have A LOT to do to understand it all.

Since this is my first mix for mastering, I hope to learn from the process. I also went back and watched the loudness meter tutorial again. In the end, I produced two mixes, one with the master buss fader down to where peaks were hitting -4.5 or so, and one where I left the stereo buss at 0 and reduced the pre gain on all of the channels/groups/FX feeding the master bus by the same amount. Most of the tracks were sent to groups and I had very little processing on the groups, so I could make minor tweaks and not have to worry about redoing my automation. I liked the second one better (master at 0), so that is what I sent off.

Hopefully I won’t drive the ME nuts and he will tolerate a newbie (and provide feedback?).

Hopefully I won’t drive the ME nuts

Wishful thinking.

and he will tolerate a newbie

Tolerate, maybe. Probably if he is relatively new, and/or is not a brand name. If he is a brand name, he’s more than likely going to be annoyed at you if you didn’t provide him with something useable. Does he know you are a newbie?

(and provide feedback?)

Not if you dont ask - no he won’t.

Thing to do is:

  1. touch base with the ME before sending anything over. He/she will tell you what they prefer, in terms of level/headroom, compression, etc.
  2. Take what the bandmember says with a grain of salt. Most musicians who are not engineers think they are, and think they know their stuff.


your a newby ??? with all this gear ?
N 6.0.6 (64) w/ NEK | Cubase 7.0.6 (64) | PCAL i7 6-core 3.2GHz | 12 GB RAM | Win 7 (64)| AMD Radeon HD6700 | RME HDSP9652 | UAD2 | Lynx Aurora 8; Mytek Stereo96 ADC; Lavry DA 10 | Waves | Lexicon | Sonnox | Slate Digital | SoundToys | Spectrasonics | NI | Izotope | Focal Solo6 Be

If I was you I would box it all up and buy a ur22 until you have learnt the basics because all that gear for a newby will fry your brain :wink:

If a ME tells you, what he prefers in terms of compression, you should look for a new one…


I wonder what kind (or lack thereof) of mastering engineer do you do business with that would be rude and wouldn’t provide help in order to make the mix, and ultimately the master, the best it can be? I guess I have been fortunate to deal with mastering engineers that care to provide feedback and won’t get grumpy even if I was a noob. Maybe you need to change over to someone else? :slight_smile:


If you - b/c you don’t yet knwo better - ask an ME what’s the best way to go…heavily compressed, lightly compressed, or none, and he doesn’t tell you, you should look for a new one.

Communications with the ME were indirect, through a band member. I was told to “take everything off of the master buss,” so I took the L1 Ultramaximizer off (but left the Slate VTM… don’t tell). As I noted before, I mixed it thinking that, given the recording conditions and comments from a band member, the track was headed for free download on the band’s website, hence the L1 and higher levels. Taking off the L1 left some clipping, plus I needed to build in some headroom.

I have since obtained contact information and reached out to the ME. Whether he is annoyed or not is not my real concern so much any more, but rather making sure that I provide a good, usable track.

your a newby ??? with all this gear ?
N 6.0.6 (64) w/ NEK | Cubase 7.0.6 (64) | PCAL i7 6-core 3.2GHz | 12 GB RAM | Win 7 (64)| AMD Radeon HD6700 | RME HDSP9652 | UAD2 | Lynx Aurora 8; Mytek Stereo96 ADC; Lavry DA 10 | Waves | Lexicon | Sonnox | Slate Digital | SoundToys | Spectrasonics | NI | Izotope | Focal Solo6 Be

I am a newbie to mixing for mastering and preparing that deliverable, not to recording or mixing for direct release. I have been recording and mixing for years, starting with a 4 track cassette, then 8-track mini disc, then an Akai DPS24, and finally computer systems building up to what I have today. I have what I have, equipment and software wise, to produce usable live drum tracks for projects, which is my main recording purpose. I’m afraid a UR22 wouldn’t cut it for the drum tracking! I also enjoy assisting local bands/friend’s bands with demos, assisting local organizations with voiceovers for video and some music for video, and assisting various friends/artists in publishing some decent tracks for internet distribution. I have added plugs and equipment as time, money, and the “need” presented themselves, but I also clearly have GAS (or with plugins, is it PIAS?). Do I have too much for my skill level and use… um, YES. Do the choices fry my brain… sometimes! But generally, no, because I have my go-to’s and only play with the others as time/need presents.

But, in this case, a friend’s band had some tracks recorded in an untreated basement using “less-than-pro” equipment, with no real isolation. I took one track and did my thing, and based on the result, the band decided that the recordings were worth putting onto a CD. So, I would say my efforts in mixing were successful, and used what I own to produce something that excited the band and saved the good performance from the less-than-ideal recording situation.

But, I did not prepare it for mastering (and frankly, I have not done that before), and much of my automation was made to the L1, so I did not want to lose the automation moves by having to reduce the levels of each track.

The thread and responses were helpful, and appreciated. I ended up doing the mix twice, one lowering the gain/trim in each track that directly fed the 2-buss, and one just lowering the master fader. I tweaked some automation and adjusted some compressors on a few tracks, and it worked out. So, thanks everyone!