My Approach to Setting Levels in Propellerhead's Reason

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selig
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08 Jun 2018

A quick tutorial demonstrating how I set levels in Reason, and what benefits are achieved by using what I call a “Consistent Peak Reference Level”.

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motuscott
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08 Jun 2018

Thanks again for your service sir.
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dioxide
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08 Jun 2018

Great video. Thanks for your dedication to the Reason community over the years also :thumbs_up:

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nickb523
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08 Jun 2018

Thanks for this. Although it appears that i've been roughly following this (granted, without really understanding what i'm doing), it's good to have that reassurance and education.

I like loud and proud mixes personally. The whole loudness war thing does my head in, i often think the anti-loud people just can't get decent mixes, so strike out at people that can. It's a perfect storm in a literal teacup.

Your videos are very good Selig. I think you should think about doing more going forward (possible youtube revenue?).

Kudos to you my friend. Very candid and educational overall.

Nick :)

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Reasonable man
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08 Jun 2018

Cool..............doffs cap

jimmyklane
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08 Jun 2018

selig wrote:
08 Jun 2018
A quick tutorial demonstrating how I set levels in Reason, and what benefits are achieved by using what I call a “Consistent Peak Reference Level”.

I love the super beginner-friendly work you’ve done here. You do, of course, realize you’re following a form loosely based on what we did in the days of analog!??!
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08 Jun 2018

nickb523 wrote:
08 Jun 2018
I like loud and proud mixes personally. The whole loudness war thing does my head in, i often think the anti-loud people just can't get decent mixes.....
I’d say check out my soundcloud account. I’ve got less than 1dB of limiting on any recent track....they are still “loud” to my ears.

Would love to hear what you think!!! Soundcloud in my signature.
DAW: Reason 10,

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wendylou
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08 Jun 2018

Giles, I set my Reason metering to K-20 long ago for the benefit of added headroom. But since I'm not scoring movies, that was pretty radical, so lately I'm using K-14 metering and still getting some extra headroom. But I believe you pointed out back on PUF that most Reason devices are best operated at higher input levels, and I have noticed this when I was using K-20 metering. My input levels were often too low on some effects. Anyway, if I stick with K-14 metering, would I simply subtract 2 dB from your suggested targets?

As an aside, the beauty for me of mixing with K-20 was having tons of headroom and not worrying about exceeding 0 dBFS. I also rarely needed a limiter. The downside was my inputs on effects were lower than they'd like to see. I would, of course. always bring the levels up later when mastering tracks in Ozone. I believe Bob Katz suggest in his book "Metering Audio" 2nd edition that working in K-14 is the happy compromise, even if later mastering at K-12 for mass consumption.

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nickb523 wrote:
08 Jun 2018
the anti-loud people just can't get decent mixes, so strike out at people that can.
When I brought both a limited and normal sound to the same loudness, I realized, the bigger dynamic changes sound more lively in the normal one.

In the past, I used to think we must make everything as loud as possible so we're high above the noise floor.

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selig
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10 Jun 2018

nickb523 wrote:
08 Jun 2018
I like loud and proud mixes personally. The whole loudness war thing does my head in, i often think the anti-loud people just can't get decent mixes, so strike out at people that can. It's a perfect storm in a literal teacup.
Well, for one the "anti-loud" people "strike out" at what they feel is over-compressed mixes/mastering, not at people (for the most part, I'm sure I've missed some personal attacks as well). I would say it's a personal thing how much you limit the dynamics of your mix. If you feel it makes your mix better, or even "louder", and are willing to accept the trade offs, more power to you! There is no right or wrong, right? or…wrong?

I too like loud mixes, or mixes that "feel" loud. What makes a mix feel "loud"? Typically it's because they are also at some point "soft", and so they can create more "impact" on the loud parts.

I see "loud" as a part of a duality that includes "soft". Just like there can be no concept of "good" without a concept of "bad", hot without cold, old without new (or any other similar "duality" based concept), there also can be no "loud" without "soft".

The only way we experience "loud" is because we also experience "soft" at some related point in time - without some of both, you get neither. That can come from micro dynamics, or how each note/hit is perceived relative to the the mix, or macro dynamics, how the song's dynamics change over the course of the piece.

To put it another way…A mix that is balls-to-the -walls from start to end doesn't always sound loud (or soft) to me because there's nothing to compared it to. I mean, you can play a sine wave (or even white noise) at a really loud level and it will sound "loud", right? But play it at a low level and now it sounds soft. Since there's no dynamics, micro or macro, it doesn't inherently sound loud or soft.

Or simple, since loudness is subjected, "loud" is in the ear of the beholder.
:)
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selig
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10 Jun 2018

wendylou wrote:
08 Jun 2018
Giles, I set my Reason metering to K-20 long ago for the benefit of added headroom. But since I'm not scoring movies, that was pretty radical, so lately I'm using K-14 metering and still getting some extra headroom. But I believe you pointed out back on PUF that most Reason devices are best operated at higher input levels, and I have noticed this when I was using K-20 metering. My input levels were often too low on some effects. Anyway, if I stick with K-14 metering, would I simply subtract 2 dB from your suggested targets?

As an aside, the beauty for me of mixing with K-20 was having tons of headroom and not worrying about exceeding 0 dBFS. I also rarely needed a limiter. The downside was my inputs on effects were lower than they'd like to see. I would, of course. always bring the levels up later when mastering tracks in Ozone. I believe Bob Katz suggest in his book "Metering Audio" 2nd edition that working in K-14 is the happy compromise, even if later mastering at K-12 for mass consumption.
Interesting! I will just add that "needing a limiter" is not based on the audio level IMO. If you're too hot, pull the level down! I use a limiter to control the highest peaks, either to ensure just barely hitting under 0dBFS once or twice in the piece (for more classical or jazz type mixes), or to achieve a target crest factor on a series of mixes (for an album, or a music library project) when the raw mix is not quite there. But never because I'm clipping the mix!

I agree about the downside - there IS a point where your levels are so far below the nominal levels expected by any audio system that they may not even register on the meters (even though signals this low will still be 100% representative of the original dynamic range). That is to say, it IS possible for signals to still be 100% valid and yet exist beyond the range of a device's control (outside of it's nominal level range).

Another down side of extremely low levels in Reason is that the "silence detection" algorithm may assume there is NO signal, and cut off! This happens with Selig Gain, as one user learned when trying to pass extremely low signals and test whether they could be restored without change as they can be with extremely hot signals (hundreds of dB above 0dBFS).

With that in mind I can imagine using max peak levels much below -24dBFS would result in signals that were simply a pain in the but to work with 9but otherwise valid). Some compressors, for example, may not have enough range on their thresholds to reach that low effectively and still produce the desired amount of gain reduction, some saturation effects may not be able to give enough saturation for some applications, etc.
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RobC
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10 Jun 2018

The target loudness is an interesting one:

Due to extreme peaks, things can become needlessly dynamic, so it makes sense to take care of sample-thin spikes. I think the best solution would perhaps be to saturate, while comparing the dry and the saturated track, and only add as much as doesn't noticeably damage dynamics (including the clicks and knocks). I.e. wiping out what's not really audible anyway.

In search of lazy solutions, I wanted to reference the loudness of an ideal noise (closest technical one to human seems to be pink, as hearings can vary drastically), since it has random frequencies going on (even if it's crazier than a mix), check what it can squeeze in, and go by that as the limit. Now, when I made a test, probably accidentally, pink noise measured -16 LUFS. I mean, those standards are probably a coincidence. No clue how they came up with that.
Then, taking that -16 LUFS pink noise sample, and set/saturate the loudness of the given track (or just 1 instrument for example) until it sounds just as loud. Then when mixing, if every track has that dynamic limit, then once mixing is done, when it comes to mastering, there should be far less work to do to get those -16 LUFS.

Then again, my first thought might get very varied loudnesses, while the -16 LUFS would keep things more or less consistent.

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Voyager
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14 Jun 2018

Hello Selig and thanks for sharing your video. Got few questions here.

1. Do you apply this rules of consistent peak level for any genre of music ?

2. At 2:28 on this video you said :

"So two things that make our peak reference work, one is that not all tracks always play at the same time typically, and two is that you lower the level of a lot of tracks so all the ones that are lowered are coming in at -12 but they're gonna be lowered in the mixer so between those two things and the amount of headroom that we've are still very safe on our output levels"

Not sure i understand this correctly and i guess i'm getting this totally wrong but those mix channels faders are lowered only to match that -12 peak level ? So how do you do if you feel that your rms level get too low while setting your fader to hit -12 peak level ? Compressing ?

3. I understand this is a more organic track and thus make having a consistent peak level more easy to deal with. I for example produce electronic music and as you may guess the kick drum and/or the bassline is often louder than other tracks. So in this case how do you deal with consistent peak levels ?

4. In another topic, we know that the ssl mixer pan isn't one but act as a balance knob. So since you had a Selig gain and pan controls connected to the Fula Flute track why did you still prefer the ssl balance over the Selig pan ?

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selig
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14 Jun 2018

Voyager wrote:Hello Selig and thanks for sharing your video. Got few questions here.

1. Do you apply this rules of consistent peak level for any genre of music ?

2. At 2:28 on this video you said :

"So two things that make our peak reference work, one is that not all tracks always play at the same time typically, and two is that you lower the level of a lot of tracks so all the ones that are lowered are coming in at -12 but they're gonna be lowered in the mixer so between those two things and the amount of headroom that we've are still very safe on our output levels"

Not sure i understand this correctly and i guess i'm getting this totally wrong but those mix channels faders are lowered only to match that -12 peak level ? So how do you do if you feel that your rms level get too low while setting your fader to hit -12 peak level ? Compressing ?

3. I understand this is a more organic track and thus make having a consistent peak level more easy to deal with. I for example produce electronic music and as you may guess the kick drum and/or the bassline is often louder than other tracks. So in this case how do you deal with consistent peak levels ?

4. In another topic, we know that the ssl mixer pan isn't one but act as a balance knob. So since you had a Selig gain and pan controls connected to the Fula Flute track why did you still prefer the ssl balance over the Selig pan ?
1) 100% yes. The variables are the number of tracks. If you regularly use 50-60 or more tracks you’ll likely need a lower reference level. Or if you regularly record vocal/guitar or vocal/piano, you can use a higher level.

2) We may be talking about different things. My point was that when summing many channels you get an average of an additional 3dB total level for each doubling of the number of tracks, assuming all tracks play at the same time (and at the same level), and you don’t lower any faders. But this is not what normally happens, which means you can add even more tracks or use a higher level than this 3dB value would indicate because a) not all tracks play at the same time in every mix) and b) because some faders will be lowered to create your final mix. Only to say, this gives you additional headroom so you cannot simply take the 3dB rule literally. Also, not all tracks will play at the highest peak level throughout the track (dynamics), and not all track’s notes hit at the same time.

Of course, theoretically speaking if you use samples that play at the same level the entire song, and all tracks play the same rhythm and you don’t lower any faders, they the 3dB rule WILL literally apply. But that scenario is incredibly unlikely…

3) Nothing changes - if you choose a peak reference level for all your tracks that constantly clips your mix, you need to choose a lower peak reference level. Or if you consistently hit mix levels well below your target, increase your peak reference level! Tracks that I know will be “loud” in the mix, such as kick, bass, vocals, whatever, I leave those faders at unity (0dB) and lower everything that’s too loud. I like to listen to a mix for what is too loud as well as what’s not loud enough.

4) On that track it's panned +15 to the right, and because the sound is a mono sample (even though it's coming through a stereo track) panning ("balancing"?) in the SSL mixer won't affect anything in this case.


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selig
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14 Jun 2018

Just for comparison purposes (and to expand on question #2 above), I took the same track as I used for this video example, cut a note from each instrument and pasted them all on the down beat and made sure they were all hitting peaks @ -12dBFS. So now, every track plays a note/hit at the same time, all at the same peak level. From there I returned all faders back up to 0dB/unity, so every track is sending it's full level to the master.
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The test:
Playing one track, of course you get a peak level of -12dBFS on the master. Playing two you get -9dBFS. With four, you get -6dBFS, and with eight, -3dBFS. I didn't have 16 (I had 14) to play, but playing 14 gave around 0dBFS. Some of the samples had alternate versions, so the level varied a bit between -1 and +1dBFS, but you get the idea.

So with all my tracks playing their loudest note at the same time, my peak level on the mix bus was around 0dBFS.

BUT when playing the original track, because not all tracks play at the same time, and because not all tracks play at full volume, and because not all channels are sending the full level to the bus, I get between -6 to -3dBFS on my master which is exactly the range I want as a starting point. Make sense?
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RandomSkratch
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14 Jun 2018

Hey Selig,

Have you ever seen or used the pink noise trick for setting levels? I've seen it done a few times on YouTube videos where you play pink noise at the set reference level you want to hit and then you bring in each element just to the point of being audible over the noise. I guess the idea is that if your song contains elements that fill the spectrum equally, this supposedly creates a well balanced rough mix that will reach your intended level. Not sure how accurate this technique is though. Thoughts?

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Voyager
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14 Jun 2018

Ok i didn't work with Reason those last past months and didn't really had time to go in-depth with my last purchased rack extensions so bear with me for my ignorance..

From this topic i open reason to try something related to the peak levels measurements and notice something that confuse me and didn't realise until now...

When i place a Selig gain in the insert fx from what i understand the Selig gain is pre fader which means even if i move the ssl mixer fader the peak level indication on Selig gain doesn't change but does only if we change the level of the output instrument or the Selig fader.

So from my understanding again the only way to measure the peak level after the fader is to place a Selig gain in the Master section insert fx.
Now what confuse me is that in the video while you scrolling through the various Selig gain to show the different peaks levels some of the ssl mixer faders aren't at 0dB unity.

So if the ssl mixer fader isn't at 0db unity and the Selig gain pre fader why looking at the Selig gain peak level indication since it's not the true post fader peak level ?

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selig
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14 Jun 2018

Voyager wrote:Ok i didn't work with Reason those last past months and didn't really had time to go in-depth with my last purchased rack extensions so bear with me for my ignorance..

From this topic i open reason to try something related to the peak levels measurements and notice something that confuse me and didn't realise until now...

When i place a Selig gain in the insert fx from what i understand the Selig gain is pre fader which means even if i move the ssl mixer fader the peak level indication on Selig gain doesn't change but does only if we change the level of the output instrument or the Selig fader.

So from my understanding again the only way to measure the peak level after the fader is to place a Selig gain in the Master section insert fx.
Now what confuse me is that in the video while you scrolling through the various Selig gain to show the different peaks levels some of the ssl mixer faders aren't at 0dB unity.

So if the ssl mixer fader isn't at 0db unity and the Selig gain pre fader why looking at the Selig gain peak level indication since it's not the true post fader peak level ?
For the way I work, post fader gain level has no useful meaning. Fader levels create my mix balance, they are where they are based on how I want to hear the mix. That’s all done by ear (mixing/balancing). If something is too loud, I turn it down - from there, if it works in the mix, then I don’t need to know the individual level that’s hitting the mix bus - the only thing important to me at that point is the SUM of the mix bus.

BUT, it’s easy to know the exact Post Fader peak level because I already know the Pre Fader peak level (-12dBFS). So if the fader is lowered by 6 dB (reading: -6dB) I know the post fader peak level is -18dBFS. Or like you said, you can solo the channel and read the master.

Though I’ve never needed to know the post fader level in my work, still I’m curious how you would use that information?
:)


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Arrant
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14 Jun 2018

Thanks for taking the time to do this excellent tutorial, it's a big help.

A question, how do you handle sub groups in this setup? Say you have two lead sounds that you want to process in a group bus, if both are at -12dB average peak then the group is obviously louder than that. Should you pull the individual sounds down, pull the group down or just accept that the group channel is louder than -12dB?

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selig
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14 Jun 2018

Arrant wrote:
14 Jun 2018
Thanks for taking the time to do this excellent tutorial, it's a big help.

A question, how do you handle sub groups in this setup? Say you have two lead sounds that you want to process in a group bus, if both are at -12dB average peak then the group is obviously louder than that. Should you pull the individual sounds down, pull the group down or just accept that the group channel is louder than -12dB?
Sub groups are covered in the video, where you can see all my percussion is grouped and hitting above -12dBFS because of this. It's the individual channels that I keep at my peak reference level.

I acknowledge that CAN be confusing if you're working with the main output of a drum machine like Kong or ReDrum vs using individual outputs, so it's a matter of choosing an approach that keeps your levels where you want them.
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Voyager
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14 Jun 2018

Still few questions if you don't mind Selig,

1. If i understand correctly you lower or raise the output volume from each instrument to get the closest to -12dBFS and from there, if necessary, you use the ssl mixer fader to adjust the needed volume ?

2. So basically you choose -12dBFS peak as reference to be sure to have enough headroom once all tracks are summed up in the master bus ?

3. Do this means that while mixing you never touch your master fader and thus leaving it always at 0dB unity ?

4. In what condition would you use the ssl gain input knob ? ( because i notice on your video that they're all unused )

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selig
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14 Jun 2018

Voyager wrote:Still few questions if you don't mind Selig,

1. If i understand correctly you lower or raise the output volume from each instrument to get the closest to -12dBFS and from there, if necessary, you use the ssl mixer fader to adjust the needed volume ?

2. So basically you choose -12dBFS peak as reference to be sure to have enough headroom once all tracks are summed up in the master bus ?

3. Do this means that while mixing you never touch your master fader and thus leaving it always at 0dB unity ?
1) Yes, but I would describe it by saying I set all sources to peak at around -12dBFS, then I simply mix from there.

2) I choose -12dBFS peak level for headroom, and specifically because that’s what the Reason manual suggests for audio signals and that what the newer factory sound bank samples are set to. I would use a lower reference level if I was consistently mixing hot, or a higher ref if consistently mixing too low.

3) I don’t often need to adjust the master fader because of leaving headroom. But there’s no reason not to adjust it if need be. Since I often add the Master Compressor to mixes, I can adjust final levels there in cases where that’s necessary.


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Voyager
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15 Jun 2018

selig wrote:
14 Jun 2018
Voyager wrote:Still few questions if you don't mind Selig,

1. If i understand correctly you lower or raise the output volume from each instrument to get the closest to -12dBFS and from there, if necessary, you use the ssl mixer fader to adjust the needed volume ?

2. So basically you choose -12dBFS peak as reference to be sure to have enough headroom once all tracks are summed up in the master bus ?

3. Do this means that while mixing you never touch your master fader and thus leaving it always at 0dB unity ?
1) Yes, but I would describe it by saying I set all sources to peak at around -12dBFS, then I simply mix from there.

2) I choose -12dBFS peak level for headroom, and specifically because that’s what the Reason manual suggests for audio signals and that what the newer factory sound bank samples are set to. I would use a lower reference level if I was consistently mixing hot, or a higher ref if consistently mixing too low.

3) I don’t often need to adjust the master fader because of leaving headroom. But there’s no reason not to adjust it if need be. Since I often add the Master Compressor to mixes, I can adjust final levels there in cases where that’s necessary.

1. Make sense, basically i wasn't understand that you were simply set your sources from each instruments output level to get a peak around -12dBFS. That box is ticked now.

2. So let's say once you have set all your sources to match around -12dBFS and after you've mix your levels you notice you're too hot and not having enough headroom, then you simply lower your reference peak level while keeping your mix faders were they're at initially ?

3. In which situation would you use the ssl gain input knob ? ( because i notice on your video that they're all unused )

4. I also notice on one of your track you used the Selig gain fader. Why did you choose it over the instrument output level ?

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selig
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15 Jun 2018

Voyager wrote:
15 Jun 2018
selig wrote:
14 Jun 2018


1) Yes, but I would describe it by saying I set all sources to peak at around -12dBFS, then I simply mix from there.

2) I choose -12dBFS peak level for headroom, and specifically because that’s what the Reason manual suggests for audio signals and that what the newer factory sound bank samples are set to. I would use a lower reference level if I was consistently mixing hot, or a higher ref if consistently mixing too low.

3) I don’t often need to adjust the master fader because of leaving headroom. But there’s no reason not to adjust it if need be. Since I often add the Master Compressor to mixes, I can adjust final levels there in cases where that’s necessary.

1. Make sense, basically i wasn't understand that you were simply set your sources from each instruments output level to get a peak around -12dBFS. That box is ticked now.

2. So let's say once you have set all your sources to match around -12dBFS and after you've mix your levels you notice you're too hot and not having enough headroom, then you simply lower your reference peak level while keeping your mix faders were they're at initially ?

3. In which situation would you use the ssl gain input knob ? ( because i notice on your video that they're all unused )

4. I also notice on one of your track you used the Selig gain fader. Why did you choose it over the instrument output level ?
When your mix is too hot, quickest solution is to lower Master Fader if not using dither on insert, or lower Makeup Gain on Master Compressor if using. Then the NEXT time you start a similar project try a lower reference level.

I've used the SSL Gain knob on bus groups to lower the overall bus level coming into the Bus Channel. I've never needed it otherwise because my levels are already where I want them, and as such there is nothing to "fix" at that late stage in the game.

I used Selig Gain all over this video to show peak levels, since you cannot read individual channel peak levels anywhere in the Big Mixer (SSL) except on for the Master Channel. Sometimes, if there is no other way to compensate for an increased/decreased level due to additional processing (like when using Saturation Knob), I'll use Selig Gain for that since I can quickly see the peak level while making adjustments.
:)
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jimmyklane
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15 Jun 2018

Voyager wrote:
14 Jun 2018

3. Do this means that while mixing you never touch your master fader and thus leaving it always at 0dB unity ?

CORRECT if you leave headroom in the mix to begin with you won’t need any sort of brickwall limiter or anything other than DESIRED processing at the mix bus

4. In what condition would you use the ssl gain input knob ? ( because i notice on your video that they're all unused )
A good use for the input gain knob is to properly drive the compressor/gate. You may notice that you cannot always get much compression or your gate will “chatter” even when set at extremes. Selig May have another answer, but this is generally what I use it for
DAW: Reason 10,

SAMPLERS: Akai MPC 2000, E-mu SP1200, E-Mu e5000Ultra, Ensoniq EPS 16+, Akai S950, Maschine

SYNTHS: Mostly classic Polysynths and more modern Monosynths. All are mostly food for my samplers!

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