Gain Staging is a significant part of the record, mixing and mastering process. It is even more critical in the digital world than the analog because digital is much less forgiving. My general rule of thumb is to have my meters peak at -18 DB. By keeping your levels around -18 DB you not only avoid distorting your mix bus but also avoid pushing your plugins into distortion. Many of the plugins we use are recreations of vintage analog gear. You must go into these plugins at the proper level in order for them to work correctly.
In the video below I go over how to properly gain structure in Studio One. However, the techniques can be applied to any DAW. Hope you find this helpful and if you would like a copy of my Template you can purchase below!


Hey, it’s Matty with Today I’m going to go over gain structuring in PreSonus studio one. I’m not going to get very technical with it. About 0 DB versus 0 DBFS, and all that. You can read about that online. I’m just going to show you what I do, which to me is more important as far as learning how this all works, as opposed to reading about it.

So, the first thing is, why are we gain structuring. Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One is not to completely distort your master bus and push everything through, so it’s overly loud and starts clipping, and sounds terrible. Digital distortion is not a nice distortion; analog distortion can be, but you got to know how to use it right.

Another reason is, a lot of the plug-ins we use now are analog emulations. They were emulated to be just like the analog source. So, if you’re going in way louder than analog would usually go into the plug-in, the plug-in is not going to react the right way, and you’re going to be over compressing or just distorting the plug-in, and it’s not going to sound good.

The third reason, for me, is I still use analog hardware, and so I need to be going in at a certain level. For me, that’s negative 18 DB. All my tracks are at negative 18 DB, all my masters are at negative 18 DB going into my master chain, and my converters are set to negative 18 DB, so everything equals 0 VU on an analog VU meter.

But, let’s jump in, and I can show you just how this all works, and hopefully, it will help you at home with your mixes and recording. I mean, recording is a big deal with this stuff too. I get so many distorted vocals these days, and it’s essential, if you can’t hear yourself turn the beat down, and not turn up the mic pre. Anyway, let’s jump right in, so you can check this out.

So, I do it in three stages. The first stage is on the individual’s tracks, kicks, claps, whatever. The next stage is on my buses, where I have drums, bass, music FX effects, and then some parallel stuff going on. You can check all this stuff out in my template video. And then, I have the third stage, which is the master track, which comes into my master chain. I want to be at 0 VU, which is negative 18 on the meter, which is right around here on your meter.

Now, with Presonus studio one, my biggest pet peeve is the pre/post thing. To me, the meters don’t mean anything, because they’re not the actual signal coming in, it’s where your fader is, and to me, that’s not very helpful. I’ve asked Presonus to change it on their forums; we’ll see if we get that in an update sometime. So, first off, a lot of tracks I get now are way too high. Let’s turn these plug-ins off, and I’ll play this kick. And, if we turn the VU on, you can see we’re peaking out like crazy. So, this is where this Hornet plugs-in.

Now, there’s a couple of way you can do it. You don’t need these plug-in. You can go and gain stage down this by a certain amount of DB, and then check here. And then, see if you’re now … You’re hitting more around 0, which is where you want to be. So, that’s an easy way to do it. I got this plug-in, and it’s not necessary, but I like it because … Let me just reset it. It just sets it for you. You hit the kick and hit auto … Let’s turn it on, that helps … And, it finds the peak and sets the gain down. You just turn auto off, and now if you look at our meter we’re hitting 0, a little below. This is a negative 12. I usually kind of switch this scale on individual tracks, just because I find it reacts better, but we’re still kind of hitting negative 18, around there, negative 12 is the peak. And that’s fine.

But, if you see, these are our same meters as here that we’re hitting negative 12. Okay. So, that gets our kicks in each track so that it’s not getting … This is a 10 DB difference, that it was going to go into my plug-ins at, which is over so that we would’ve been way over. And so now, when I use the Softube console one, which is the emulation of an SSL, or what am I using … I’m using the British, which is a 1073 emulation, it’s going in the way that it was intended to, and the mix is going to sound cooler that way.

So next, we go through here, to our drum bus. Now, we’re hitting zero; everything is cool there. Now, one thing you can do, which I’ve already done, is you can see all these meters, all these faders are down below zero, where they started. So, when this track came in it was all super high. So, you can grab all this … We’ll bring it up, to show up. If you look at our meter, it’s now over zero, right? So, I’ll grab all the plug-ins, I mean all the faders, and turn it down until it says zero, and now your gain structure is correct, and everything is okay.

Then, you go to the next phase, which is here on our master. Now that’s at zero. Now, this will get more complicated as we add stuff in. But, it’s still pretty good, because I’ve already brought these down to get the gain structure already. So, that’s all set. Now, the cool thing about this Hornet plug-in and this is why I use it, it’s the first thing on my master bus, because as I mix, you’ll be adding more plug-ins, adding more effects, compression, all this stuff, and you start pushing things a little more. That’s okay to push things a little more, and I have plenty of room to get there. But, because my master bus goes through my pipeline, which is my analog hardware, I don’t want it to go above zero. I want to stay at negative 18 DB.

So, I just turned this Hornet on, and it probably won’t be right now, but it’s a little low because I haven’t got the mix going. But, say we turned this guitar up … I’ll turn this guitar up, or more importantly, let’s turn the kick up because that’s what will blow this thing. Then we hit auto. We can fix that. Then, say I mix a little more, and I have the kick up more, it will fix it. That’s what’s incredible about that plug-in. It’s a straightforward, quick fix to get your gain staging fixed, and it will fix it as time goes on. That way, when I’m hitting my analog chain, everything sounds sweet. And then, where I like to push things, and go way over, and get things louder is here, because analog is a lot more forgiving of peaks and louder level than the digital world. Digital … Clipping is clipping, and it sounds horrible. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.

This, especially this over stare, can give me some nice warmth from the clipping and distortion. So anyway, I hope that helps you understand. I know I’m not the most technical guy with this stuff. I was just showing you how I do it, and how it works for me in studio one. But, if you want more information on it, there are tons of online resources that have the difference between it all. It’s good stuff to learn. I understand it; I’m not good at explaining it. But anyway, I hope that helped you guys out. Make sure to like and subscribe, and check out the site if you need your songs mixed and mastered. Thanks a lot.