Gain Staging into a DAW

This is my first informative post, and I excited to get started. So, lets jump right into this!

When it comes to gain staging into a DAW there are mostly two main areas for this topic. The first is pre-recording and the second is post-recording. While these topics are touched on in other tutorial videos or articles, they usually don’t include both areas. I will try to explain as much as possible for both areas starting with:

Pre-Recording: When you are preparing to record into a DAW, whether you are a singer or instrumentalist, you need to set up a proper gain stage for that take. Typically, you would be going through some sort of interface then into the DAW. If not, then let me first explain that. If you are recording straight into your computer or laptop it would either be with a USB cable or 3.5mm cable. Also, your noise level may be quite high, and you should consider getting an interface. If you are recording with an interface then you would be either using a mic cable or 1/4 cable. (I may go more into signal flow for your interface on another post) Whichever method you are using, just follow these steps:

1. Adjust the source sound volume. Sometimes there is a volume control on your mic, and there is almost always a volume control on your connected instrument. If so, adjust the sound on your mic/instrument to about halfway.

2. Adjust the gain/volume on your interface. Add a little bit of gain. Then slowly increase the volume until your input reads between -18dBFS and -12dBFS on your DAW.

3. Find your tone. Adjust your source sound and interface gain/volume until your desired tone is achieved and the input on your DAW peaks around -12dBFS

About the parameters of dBFS (Decibel Full Scale): I will definitely cover more of this in another post, but the basics are that between -18dBFS to -12dBFS is an ideal spot for recordings. It allows for a breathable headroom and doesn’t distort the sound. Two things you will quickly realize is how quiet the recording will be and how small the waveforms will appear. This is okay. Simply turn up your monitors to combat the quiet issue. As for the waveforms, most DAWs have a magnifying options to increase your waveforms view. This level of sound will allow for less distortion when adding plug-ins and makes it incredibly easier for your mastering process.

Post-Recording: After you have tracked all of your instruments it’s a good idea to get a balance by gain staging again. Gain staging on your DAW for post-recording is quite simple. Just select all of your tracks and add a gain plug-in to every single one. Once you’ve done that, start adding (or in most cases subtracting) gain on these individual tracks until you hear the balance you are going for. It’s a good idea to have a balance already in mind for your song so you can just follow that. After you finished what I like to call Macro-gain staging, then go on to Micro-gain staging. This is for groups of instruments. such as drums kits, guitars, vocals, etc. Focus on one group at a time until your create your balance for that specific group. When you’ve completed this, overview the entire song again just to be sure there isn’t anything instrument too high or low. Now, you are ready for the mixing process.

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