Volume levels

Hi team,

I am totally confused about how to set recording levels so that my final mix matches the levels found on the best CDs like those from David Foster or Buble. I know this is a huge subject but there seems to be so many ways to deal with volumes at the recording and mixing stage that I don’t even know where to start.

My usual workflow is to record MIDI using my Genos keyboard as the controller for the VST instrument, and then render to audio. Hence, the volume on the Genos is set to zero because it is not sending any audio. I do know the differences between volume and MIDI velocity. I’ve checked YouTube but there seems to be few topics for beginners. They all dive into the deep end.

The only other information I can give you is if I play a David Foster CD through my UR-44 sound interface over my Yamaha HS-8 speakers, I set the output knob at 3:00 for a decent level (for example) – I know, real scientific! When I finish mixing my songs to stereo and play them back, to get the same approximate level, I need to push the UR44 volume to about 12:00 on the dial.

Any hints welcome. Thanks…

Recording levels will never get no where near the loudness of fully mixed and mastered song. The volume you hear on released songs are a result of good mixing and typically some delicate moves done by the mastering engineer like compression, soft clipping and limiting.

Set your recording level so you wont clip the preamp and then start to learn the whole process of mixing and mastering and a song.

I sort of figured that, thanks KHS. I’m already that far, so it’s nice to know there’s nothing more to do. I seem to be on the right track (no pun intended).

Does David Foster do house calls and work for free :slight_smile:?!

When I am exporting to mp3 (for personal use - if it was for release I’d pay someone else to do it) I have a limiter as the final plugin on the stereo bus with it’s output set to -0.3dB and threshold at -3. Before that I have a compressor with slow attack, adjust the ratio and threshold till there are a couple of dBs gain reduction and then bring up the makeup gain so that the limiter also shows a couple of dBs of gain reduction.
I try to leave about 6dB of headroom on the mix bus with all processors bypassed. This generally gives me a pleasingly loud but not over compressed mix. If it’s EDM you are into, you need to know about side-chaining too, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
I recently watched a youtube video about gain structure in Cubase which might be useful (you’ll need to search!), plus there are loads of videos about how to master.

It’s a pretty general wide open topic ever since the beginnings of digital recording.

Start with good song composition skills. Really know and understand frequencies (harmonics, overtones etc) and what instruments/sounds do and do not work together. Know about bad/good energy in the low end and bad/good air in the high end.

The best engineers prepare their pre-masters relatively hot. -12dbRMS to -9dbRMS is not uncommon, however never rely on numbers and every track will be different. I just toss out these numbers to give a general idea.

Don’t rely on an ME to get the majority volume, even though he can and will if advised. How well he masters it depends on how well it was mixed. The ME can polish a turd, but it’s still a turd. Good volume at the mix stage is a combination of good composition, gain staging, EQ, sometimes M/S EQ, compression, sometimes parallel compression and even series compression. Then leave a little room for the ME to take it to the next stage.

Back to gain stage and addressing transients…especially transients…

This is a good start because you are hand-preparing your track for your compressor. Feed your compressor a track with transients and volume already addressed, and your compressor will love you back 10-fold. Same goes for limiting if necessary. You could slap a tool on to do this work, but nothing works better than you actually listening and doing it right from the start. Vocal or Bass Rider can get you partly there, but there is no substitute for what Crazy Dom does in this video.

You can get volume close to David Foster pretty quickly. Just copy any “Gearslutz whats in your mastering chain” thread, slap on a limiter and call it a day. But volume quality will be questionable. Careful listening, and in different environments often results in a sonic compromise, which takes lots of experience. Listening in a sonically engineered room can manifest quality issues not heard in a typical room. Getting that last 10%, and bringing it up to David level can take years of practicing.

Thanks, all!

I record Jazz, Blues, and Country. Other styles like EDM, Trance, Hiphop, Rap, and Metal are of no interest to me. So my demands are pretty basic - just clean recordings.

It also explains why it’s so hard for guys like me to find really good drum programs. They all contain so many styles that are of no use to me and hence, are not cost effective. I needed a drum program that was set at a good price where I could select specific libraries. I settled on Addictive Drums 2. It works very well for me. But I digress…

I really appreciate the detailed posts. Very helpful! It seems like I’m a first year medical student who wants to perform a heart transplant! You’ve taught me that my basic approach is correct. I’m able to achieve a clean recording with a reasonable mix and some decent headroom. Now, I need to learn about mastering, where the gains are successfully achieved to match those of commercial recordings. I know that’s a huge learning curve. It’s also an art form.

Once again, thanks for the help and encouragement. If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be locked in my studio for the next 30 years. Please hold my calls :slight_smile:!

I was actually referencing mainstream pop…ie David Foster work where his results are mostly 80s & 90s. However considering the age of those popular works, a lot of those have been re-mastered by others so it may become difficult to distinguish him from other ME’s.

Jazz. If you mean pure jazz, there is relatively very little treatment. M.E. Bob Katz might be a good reference since he wrote a general book years ago, and has revised it a couple times, about the science and art of mastering. He is very experienced, yet more of a purist when approaching treatment of classical or jazz. Actually a purist when approaching most genres. :smiley:

Blues & Country certainly take it up a notch. If you mean current country pop, then that’s similar to mainstream pop.

Good luck! I got lucky breaks in the 90s, because Sony Music had a CD plant in Springfield, and I found a great resident mentor. You can get 90% there quickly. That remaining 10% can take some time.