Clayton’s Album Revisited – The Importance Of Gain Staging

Having finished the mixing and mastering of the new album for Clayton Black late last year, we thought that was that.

I happened to mention a few weeks later that if Clayton had any second thoughts about any tracks and wanted a couple of changes before release, I’d be happy to do so.

He mentioned a couple of small changes, so I went back and listened to the tracks again with fresh ears and decided that I’d like to have another shot at a couple of mixes and some mastering.

The tipping point was something we’d missed first time around. After a long break and listening with headphones in the dead of night I heard one tiny instance of digital clipping. Nobody we played the album to had noticed it, but once I heard it I couldn’t rest until I found the source. It was actually caused by a plugin on the mix bus running slightly too hot on it’s output and overdriving the following plugin. It only happened once and just for an instant, but it made me check and adjust the gain staging of all the tracks which resulted in a much better sounding¬† record. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of gain staging, especially in the digital world and there are many printed and online articles about this topic.

The other day I picked up my car after having a new fan belt fitted and that night it made a huge racket when idling. Next day the mechanic made a tiny adjustment to tighten the belt and now everything is fine. Maybe not the perfect analogy, but you get the idea. The first time around, we were way too involved with the album to notice that tiny mistake. A couple of months later and with refreshed ears, fixing that tiny glitch helped create a better version of what we thought was already a good sounding record.

Two lessons here: be careful of gain staging and give your ears a decent break if you’re going to master as well as mix the album.

In the meantime, I’d managed to get hold of the new Brainworx Acme Opticom XLA3 compressor plugin from Plugin Alliance and tried it on the master bus of one track. Wow! What a revelation!

The sonic possibilities that this costly but expensive sounding plugin opened up got me tinkering with almost all of the tracks again and it also found it’s way in to the new mastering chain.

Review here.