Do you find yourself always dancing dangerously close to clipping?
Give yourself a break and turn everything down. Create a big, fat buffer between the signal and clipping.
Musicians are notoriously inconsistent. And oftentimes they play or sing much quieter during rehearsal than when they’re actually recording.
If you’ve set your levels conservatively, you’ve got plenty of headroom to absorb the extra volume without clipping.
Otherwise, you’ll blow the first take, and the first take might have been the best take in the history of the band, but you set the levels too loud, and everything clipped.
Don’t let that be you.
Clipping matters during mixing, but not as much. If I’m mixing something and my drum bus occasionally clips, I almost never hear it. It’s clipping inside my DAW, which has way more headroom than any of my outboard equipment.
That said, it’s still a good idea to keep levels conservative. Turn your speakers up and your tracks down, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable mix. You won’t be constantly chasing down the culprit that clipped your mix bus. Everything will have plenty of headroom, and your mix will still sound great.
A Note On Mastering
Remember that album I was talking about earlier? The one that clipped on the big downbeats? If I had to guess, I’d say this was a mastering problem.
Someone got bitten by the loudness bug, and rather than using his or her ears to see if the master sounded good, he ran the mix through his Super Duper Loudness Maximizer 2000. Did he get it loud? Yep, sure did. But it clipped. At least on that one song it did.
Don’t let the robots tell you when your music is good. Use those ears God gave you. Trust them over meters and software.
A Final Thought
I know I used a lot of words to simply tell you “don’t clip your tracks,” but it’s good to hash these things out. It helps remind us of what we do and why we do it. We’re beauty capturers. And I want to save you and me both from ruining that beauty while it’s being captured. I’d rather safely capture it and share it with the world than aggressively capture it, only to realize I ruined it…and now no one gets to hear it.
Do no harm.
Share it with the world.
10 words to live by.
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Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.