Show 104 – Metering and Using Your Time Wisely in The Studio

In this week’s show, we talk about Metering and using your time wisely in the studio.

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Brainworx TT Dynamic Range Meter

39 thoughts on “Show 104 – Metering and Using Your Time Wisely in The Studio

  1. Thanks for the show, guys!

    Whaddya know? I discovered the TT meter a while back and haven’t stopped using it since. By the time I have everything pushed to ‘client-ready’ levels (I don’t consider what I do ‘mastering’), I need to check that I’m not crushing it all too much. It’s easy to lose perspective after a while and the TT meter helps to bring you back on track. When you can *see it* you suddenly realise you can *hear it*.

    Similarly I often use a frequency analyser to help me out. And, of course, my method of touching the bass cone with my pinkie to balance bass…

    I try to finish my mixes peaking between -10dBFS and -6dBFS. That gives me headroom to run through some external hardware processors without over-exerting them, and results in a final product that sounds strident and clear.

  2. I agree, People dont spend enought time on The PRODUCTION… “Its good enough” is “NOT” good enough..If you dont care about your craft, no one else will either….. Just because you CAN physically record, Doesnt mean you SHOULD… Bands/Artists Used to have 50, 60 , 100 songs to whittle down to the final 10 or 12 tracks ..THE BEST tracks for the album ( ALA Fleetwood mac – rumors!! ) and get HITS.. Now, people record Any crap that comes out of their head…The songs have NO staying power, no hook, no special something, it takes for a hit album……Sorry for my Passion, but the music world has changed, and change isn’t always for the better… YMMV

  3. Great session Jon.. No disputes from me but just to add some interest in the subject different countries of course also have different metering systems for Audio (although the ones you discussed are likely the most common – or most common ground to use in discussion)..

    We all (probably) know about VU (Volume Unit), RMS (Root Mean Squared) and PPM (Peak Program Meter) level metering .. But some countries have their own unique metering systems too that people in say USA & UK are less aware of.. I have seen some of these in my travels around the world.. And they can blow your mind if you think about them al enough..

    I can’t put an image showing a few comparisons here but have sent one through to Ryan & the guy’s and maybe they can post it on the main page for interest sake.

    Kiwi Steve

  4. Thanks Ryan..
    Yeah.. mind bending if you think about it long enough.. Although obviously not that common where you live I guess.

    ps.. Note the IEC standards along the bottom showing that they are formalized and accepted standards.. And I might add not the only ones in teh world just a “European collection”… LOL

    But then there is the good old “LH” standard. (LH = “Lug Hole”) i.e. use your damn ears as they say…. Ha Ha Ha

  5. Love the TT Meter – although I’d love it if they had a toggle to make it smaller. It takes up a poop-load of real-estate on the screen and I find I have to close and open it many times in a session. I’d love to have it open all the time.

    I like the meters in T-Racks as well – a lot of the same stuff, but they also give you the option to choose different ranges of what’s “acceptable” dynamic range.

    I won’t bite on the Logic squabble – only to say that I’m like Jon and am notorious for being able to crash anything that I use: ProTools, Logic, Sonar, Cubase, Reaper … all have ungracefully crashed for me multiple times.

    A noble cause you’re advocating for Ryan! We’re in a screwed up world and yes, I’d say art in all forms is suffering from the shortened timeframes. I will, however, play devil’s advocate and caution against pushing clients too hard for the ideal.

    With the lower barriers to entry into any of our markets – whether it be recording, mixing, mastering, songwriting, composing… technology has enabled a exponentially greater number of competitors into the playing field and unless you can absolutely convince your client of the value and benefit of spending more money and time on you, then he or she will be picking the next person on the long list of competitors.

    It is sad, but it’s a reality. The expectations of people are that music can be pumped out incredibly quickly. Yes, quality has suffered, but it’s something that we have to adapt to most of the time. Once in a while, a client will come by who has been burned by the rat-race of music commodities and will give you the time and space to do things properly, but until everyone gets to that point, churning things out faster and faster is going to be the norm…

  6. Hi guys !
    Yet another great show i´ve enjoyed very much. I started recording midi in the 80s with C-Lab Creator, the former Logic, on an Atari mega ST. Till now things have changed, although Logic didn´t very much. After ten years of not making music by myself I started with ableton live because it gives me full and easy control in songwriting in its parts in a pattern oriented style.
    In the last months I heard all of your podcasts and every pod out of 104 was as educational as fun to hear. So keep on!
    According to show #104: I really liked the segment on metering. This will improve my music and mixing techniques to a higher level. Thanks. Michael

  7. I’ll chime in with saying great discussion on metering. Figuring out the whole -18 thing several months ago resulted in a bump in my ability to get mixes to come together faster.

    Not only did it make a big difference in headroom at the main output, but it’s also made a big difference for me in the insert effects as well. So now even if I get tracks from someone else that is way too hot, my first plugin on every channel is a simple gain plugin. I get all my tracks to sit around -20 average.

    I also use the trim plugin to get every track sounding about right in a rough mix. then I have the full resolution of the fader to do the fine tuning.

  8. DAW meters are not to be trusted! Ryan’s advice to keep things well under the top of the meter range is a good approach because the GUI cannot possibly display all of the volume values with everything else on screen. Inexpensive meters are almost never rectified either, in which case you’re only seeing half of the volume info. There are some metering plug-ins that do a better job (as you guys mention in the show), but they tend to chew up a lot of CPU.

    The best measurement is how it sounds.

  9. Another good trick is to set ODbfs to an actual setting of -1Dbfs to leave an extra bit of headroom “just in case”…it seems from all the various discussions the main thing is to keep the channel faders well below peaking so you do not slam the master bus, which also has the advantage of not peaking out any questionable plug-ins….

  10. Well said Randy. When I’m tracking I tend to use the just hit the yellow rule in Pro Tools. While I’m mixing, I’ll go nuts. If I don’t hear any digital distortion, everything is fine. But when I do any mastering, it’s a must to use the metering plug-in.

  11. I am curious about one thing, lots of people seem to be able to crash not just Pro Tools, but their Macs as well. Outside of it becoming something of the “standard” by default, can someone explain to me why Pro Tools is really any better than other DAW’s? I mean, unlike PC’s and PC software, which are generally always backwards compatible, at least once the proper drivers are developed, Pro Tools and Mac’s both require you to essentially purchase all new software and even peripherals whenever there is an operating system upgrade. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people bitch because none of their old software works on the new Mac operating system (this is every time they change it), and it is just like Pro Tools. Pro Tools apparently suffers from a lack not only of compatibility with older versions, but even cross grade versions of their stuff. For example, as you all discussed recently, the fact the the new native systems are not compatible with the TDM stuff. And that doesn’t include the that whole ridiculously bloated, inefficient, intrusive, and horrible ITunes mess.

    I have never used Pro Tools, so I can only speak from what others have told me and what I have heard, but having used Ableton Live 6,7,and 8, Cubase up to version 5, Sonar 4, 5, 6, 7, and and what has become my favorite, Sonar 8.5 (and the new X versions, although I am still using 8.5 primarily, mostly because I am still running a single core processor and the new X versions are designed to run on multi core, but it does run on my old system, just gets bogged down at times…), exactly what is it Pro Tools can do or does that Cubase or Sonar cannot do? The best part about Sonar 8.5 and up is the addition of Matrix View now takes a completely full featured DAW that has incredible sound, but also out Abletons Ableton Live. My personal opinion is Matrix View is better than Live.

    ONe other quick note, for acheap interface, try the E-MU 1212M PCI or PCIe card. While it only has two analog inputs, it has the exact same converters as Pro Tools HD 192. The Patchmix virtual mixer is incredible as are the 32 bit effects that run on the card. It has full capability ADAT (including full SMUX), SPDIF, AES capabilities also and it integrates seamlessly with my Saffire Pro 40. I usually run the Pro 40 as ADAT into the E-mu card because it uses less CPU than running it as a firewire interface and I get the advantage of using the extra two inputs on the E-Mu card and still have the ability to use all the SDIF and AES inputs of the E-MU* card as well as the same inputs chained through the Pro 40. And I can run all of that on my old Dell Dimension 3000 with a Pentium 4, 2.80Ghz processor and a mere 2GB of RAM. I usually only have crashes when trying to do too much processing on previously recorded tracks. But even that is only when I try to do too much at once and thus has minimal effect. The best part? The E-Mu card was only $149 and yet combined with the Pro 40 I can record a total of 18 tracks simultaneously, including adding some minor compression and such using the E-Mu effects. While it may take a bit longer to do my production work, it really hasn’t been much of a factor.

    So, considering the cost and the non-backwards compatibility, can someone explain me why Pro Tools is so much better and what it can do that Sonar cannot do? And remember, Sonar not only can do 24 or 32 bit floating point, it can run at 64 bit floating point, even on a 32 bit system.

  12. Something else I’ve been wondering about is latency issues. A lot of people complain about them. Maybe it is because my sound card has zero latency hardware monitoring (as does the Pro 40), but I never seem to have trouble with latency. I simply play the DAW and monitor the cards output for it as well as the vocal, guitar, or whatever analogue input I’m recording and there is no latency for whoever is recording and their tracks blend perfectly in time. I mean, I can send the outputs from my E-Mu into my Allen Heath Zed 10FX playback input (great board and pres for the money, better than Mackie any day!)and monitor the full mix either directly from the board’s headphone out or monitor it all through the playback using the card’s direct out for the track being recorded while I am actually recording the track through the AH at the same time. And even when recording from the board into the E-Mu and although the offset is very visible in Sonar while recording, the minute you stop the track it immediately lines up in perfect time with everything else and with no actual latency heard while recording. I never seem to have any problems with latency unless I monitor the DAW output of the track being recorded which obviously is totally unnecessary. I can also add the E-Mu effects with no latency. One other nice thing about the 1212M’s effects is they can be run as a VST with delay correction in any DAW so you can still get extremely low latency/low CPU usage effects. Can you not do zero latency monitoring with Pro Tools?

  13. You audio engineers are all a bunch of two faced hypocritical morons!

    After all this talk about dynamic range and why the loudness war is so wrong… How come the theme song for this show is so much louder than the audio from the rest of the show, that I end up yanking my ear buds out of my ears and scrambling for my volume setting to get things adjusted… Can you guys please put a sane level on the theme song? I know that when you “Mastered” it you most likely thought it had to be loud but come on! Practice what you preach!

  14. Great show again guys!

    In the name of Caleb Hawkins The Great, I think we need to make the ‘Vancouver’ announcement at the end of next show louder to honor him. Jest kiddin’ Sir!!!

    Not really.

  15. @ Caleb
    Nice personality combo Caleb, passive aggressive and a wanker.

    Surely if you felt the need for the sound to be adjusted in the music, then it would simply be a case of pointing it out in a more reasonable manner. Instead you regressed back to being a spoilt brat where the only way you got your way was to insult people.

    The utter confusion in your post between calling someone a ‘two faced moron’ and then asking them to ‘please turn the volume down’ makes it clear that you can’t conduct yourself in public without the help of a care assistant or your mother – on that basis, next time you want to post this kind of pissy childish bollocks, then get one of them to check it first, slap your arse and then once it’s been filtered by one of them into a more meaningful adult conversation, to post it for you.

    Well done Jon and Co. we love you – don’t loose any sleep over this kind of wanky bullshit.

  16. Hi guys,
    I have been listening to your shows and thought maybe you guys know the answer to this one question i have beed reasserting for a long time now. It’s a bit off topic though. I want to go to school for sound engineering and can’t find a good school to go to. Full said is a really good school and people say its one of the 5 best sound engineering schools in USA but nobody knows what the other 4 are. I looked at SAE in NYC and it seems like a nice school but im not sure. do you guys know of good schools that teach you to be a professional sound engineer?
    Thank you

  17. I’ll vouch for Caleb – he’s a good guy. I think we just caught him on a day of anger. I had one of those yesterday, so I can relate. The theme can be a little abrupt, especially after the end of a segment when everyone has settled down into their quiet, out of breath, voice. Caleb, I must tell you that making a weekly podcast is a huge commitment of time. They COULD control the dynamics of the spoken segments as much as the music, but it would increase the time by about ten. That’s just not going to happen. If you listen on speakers at a low volume without much background noise, you should be fine. That’s how I listen and I’ve never been injured by the theme music.

  18. @ Randy
    Caleb’s ‘goodness’ isn’t at question, it’s his manners and the attitude that because he’s in a forum he can say stuff he wouldn’t have the balls to say face-to-face.

    If he is the good guy you suggest, then he should apologise for his childish outburst.

    Until then the jury is out for me and he’s acting like a wanker!

  19. Jon, loved the segment on metering. Ever notice, though, that most virtual instruments’ default volume is like -3dBFS? So, when you bring the VI’s down, do you lower the master volume on the plug-in, or just bring down the track fader? And do you do it differently if your triggering samples verses a synthesized sound? Thanks.

    • Hey Cory Yeah a lot of time synths are WAY too hot. I’ve had +6dBFS on some patches. There’s a couple free amp sims I have to pay attention to because they have like 90dB of gain so I have to keep the output level on 5%.

      To answer your question I lower the output of the synth so it peaks at -12dB to -6dB or a more manageable level at least, rather than having the faders way down at -20 or something. This alone doesn’t affect the sound but it will affect all plugins other processing on that track.

      Try to get in the habit of inserting a brickwall limiter on your master when trying out synths to prevent blown speakers.

      I was going to wait until the show to answer but it’ll be next week when it goes out so don’t want you all to think we’re not reading.
      Honestly I laughed out loud at Caleb’s comment. I thought it was hilarious and I wasn’t offended in the least.

      We can’t please everyone and there’s no standard for mastering podcasts. We’ve had complaints on either side, too quiet and too loud. To make matters worse, we have 3 engineers rotating on the show production with different tools and styles.
      Despite all that – We still have one of the best sounding podcasts out there. To crank out FREE content at a regular pace we really can’t be spending more than a couple hours on editing the show. Yeah it takes a couple hours already.

      When we have the new theme we’ll work on better production and consistency for the shows, provide our families will give us the time to do it.

      thanks for listening

  20. “Despite all that – We still have one of the best sounding podcasts out there. To crank out FREE content at a regular pace we really can’t be spending more than a couple hours on editing the show.”

    Can’t disagree with any of that – especially the “ONE of the best sounding podcasts” bit. 😉 I think the majority of folks out there realize that this is an unpaid labour of love for podcasters and blemishes are all part of the territory.

    I, personally haven’t had any issues with the volume levels – sure, the theme song has come in hot, but setting your volume at decent levels shouldn’t give you bleeding ears when it hits.

    @Cory – I’ll second what Jon recommends. Treat the output of your softsynth as the input gain to your channel to set proper levels. Another thing you might try is stripping unnecessary effects from the synth itself – unless it’s crucial to the sound you’re after, a lot of that processing can be done with more nuance using ITB or outboard FX units.

  21. >> ONE of the best sounding podcasts” bit

    Absolutely. Free, regular weekly/bi-weekly, top-notch quality content and he’s complaining about the intro being too loud (which isn’t). Seriously?

    It’s unfortunate that the 1 or 2 bad apples tend to stick out. Just remember that the show’s not made for them but for us who truly appreciate all the time and effort that’s being put in.


  22. Hi uys I was relistening to the podcasters round table from January 2010 where you said this will be an annual event. So is there another one in the can??? Also, I hadn’t realised “Sound on Sound” do a podcast till now. Man oh man it is dreadful – endless ads for gear with horrible sequenced music ticking away in the background. As Jesse might say, it sucks el grande!

    • I am editing the new roundtable show for 2011 right now. There was a mix up with some audio files that were sent to me, so I am waiting to get that dialed in. I hope to have it posted tonight… likely pretty late!

  23. I don’t think anyone shared this link already but a while back a guy did a shootout between the summing of various DAWs.

    You can purchase his DAW Summing CD. I haven’t done this yet, but frankly, after reading about it in various places on the Internet, I’ve come to the conclusion the differences are minute at best (and not worth really worrying too much about).

    – KR

  24. Another roundtable discussion about to come out?!. That’s awesome!. The last one was great, and very funny. Bet you weren’t late arriving for this one eh Jon?!. ;-)… You sounded a bit crapped off when they started without you last time.
    Really appreciate all you do for us Ryan, Jon, Jesse and Dave (Chick).

  25. Not to change the subject, but I just wanted to be sure people understood I was not trying to dis Pro Tools. My questions were sincere and genuine. I have never used it and although I used to have a Mac, I have been using PC’s only for several years now. Since they got the kinks out of XP and made it stable and Windows 7 is also very stable, it is hard to give them the bad rap they used to get. But again, I am really serious about the “pros” and cons of Pro Tools and how it compares to the new versions of Sonar, Reaper, Cubase, Ableton, etc. Thanx! for any responses!

  26. Long-time listener, first-time commenter… commenting here because the Zoom registration is still not working for me.

    re: Metering.

    I think you broke my brain.

    I went to radio/TV school back in the early 1990s, and yeah, it was just before the switchover from tape to digital. We were the last class to do everything on tape.

    I’ve always, always, always understood that we should be metering to get *the most signal possible short of clipping*. Your report saying we should be peaking around the middle completely challenged everything I’d understood up ’til now.

    IIRC, one of my radio tech teachers taught us a whole mess of measurements — VU, dB, dBu, dBm, and now I hear dBfs in this podcast. To me, it all boiled down to: on tape, aim for a 0 VU average, but with digital, go as hot as you can without clipping.

    Seriously, why the change? Is it because 24-bit has such a low noise floor that we no longer *have* to put the signal so strongly above it?

    In all my digital endeavours, I’ve used what I understood, and my stuff comes out fine. I have to pot the tracks down lower to mix, of course, but I thought that was par for the course. I could imagine that tracking at a lower level could let me leave my pots at unity more often, but other than that… what’s the case for recording with a lower level?


  27. “Seriously, why the change? Is it because 24-bit has such a low noise floor that we no longer *have* to put the signal so strongly above it?”
    Yes. That’s about it. There’s simply no need to hit the inputs so hard any more.

    The idea is to leave proper headroom throughout the chain to the final mix.

  28. @Dave Chick Yeah, I thought about that, and you’re right, having looked at the versions on the CD.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that adding a uniform distortion to your 2-bus helps blend an overall mix together. However, I never know if Dangerous 2-bus or reel-to-reel tape something worth investing my money.

  29. Pingback: Transients: Is BIGGER (taller) better? N00b question? Screenshots attached!

  30. Just wanted to say I started at episode one and just got to 104 today and feel I would like to add something about the quality. I agree this is a free show and I applaud the efforts of you guys but DamN John Titties mic is F’n killing me with the sibilances. I have to turn the treble in my car all the way to zero just to be able to listen to the podcast. Please stick a pencil in him or the mic PLEASE… ok on to the next..

    love you guys.. WORD

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