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Limiter before or after vocals?

Discussion in 'Studio Techniques' started by Taybot, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member

    I'm making beats on Logic 8 and then I just started recording vocals over them. I was wondering if I should put a limiter on the beat before I add my vocals, or after?

    I normally put the limiter on the out 1-2 fader when I finish the beat, so I can raise up the volume of the whole track. But now that I'm recording vocals after I make my beats, should I do a limiter at the very end, after my vocals are recorded?

    Also, I'm gonna mix my tracks down myself, but I think I'm gonna have someone else master them. I was wondering, does that mean I shouldn't put a limiter on it at all? I heard some people that master audio don't like all that stuff added.

    Also, aren't you supposed to leave headroom? How much do people normally leave?

    Sorry I know that's a bunch of questions but thank you for the help!
  3. Eli

    Eli Senior member

    I personally don't like recording anything live with any plug ins on the master outputs. I don't want to take the chance that it may mess with the overall latency - and by extension, effect the timing of the performance, or the perceived timing of the audio that is being monitored in the headphones.

    As far as mastering, conventional wisdom is that you should not be sending tracks to be mastered that have already been pumped up at the master output stage.
  4. Fr3ShiE

    Fr3ShiE Member

    Not to sound low brow or anything...

    Eli, would you mind expanding on that... I usually use a compressor to bump the bassier or softer instruments and then slap a Multipress and an Adaptive Limiter on the main out. ???

    I'm trial and error and that's what's seemed to have worked to get levels up to a CD you might buy. ;-)
  5. Eli

    Eli Senior member

    Multipressor and Ad Limiter on the main output is exactly right to pump up the final output. But this is a "poor man's version" of real mastering.

    You asked about sending your tracks out to be mastered. This stage of tweaking and processing the final two track mix is exactly what mastering is. So, if you are going to have someone else do it; don't also do it before they get the track to work with.

    It's kind of like washing your clothes before you give them out to be dry cleaned. Except worse, because by washing them beforehand, you are restricting the dry cleaner's ability to dry clean to his fullest potential. And you pay for dry cleaning because you like the way they clean your clothes better than when they are just thrown in the machine at home. So why wash them first with your average quality washing machine and then pay him to do it while tying one hand behind his back by limiting his ability to use his superior tools as a result of your pre-washing?

    Okay - I know I stretched the analogy - it's not the greatest one; but do you get the picture?? Basically, the more you process on the master output, the less headroom he has to work with and do his magic. By giving him a mixed track that's not squashed to death at the main outputs, he can do his superior quality squashing with way better tools than the multipressor and ad limiter.
  6. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Just to pick the headroom thing out of Eli's post because it was mentioned in the original question:

    The word headroom must not be confused with the highest meter readings in your output channel. For the mastering engineer it matters that you leave enough dynamics for him to work with. In other words, your level meters should really move and not just shake at a certain point.

    Don't worry about too much peak, you can go close to 0 dB if you want but not over of course. You can assume that the other guy has his own fader and will happily pull it down before he starts his job ;)
  7. Fr3ShiE

    Fr3ShiE Member


    "This stage of tweaking and processing the final two track mix is exactly what mastering is."

    So would I send a mastering house a two track mix one of music and one of vocals?

    In that case is it still ok to compress bass tracks for example?

    Is limiting something that sould be avoided all together if you're sending stuff out to be mastered?

    Would you ever limit individual tracks in a mix? These have been questions I've been unclear on for some time, keep rockin' and thanks.

  8. Fr3ShiE

    Fr3ShiE Member

  9. Markdvc

    Markdvc Administrator Staff Member

    That is a fair description of mastering, or, to be precise, pre-mastering.

    Some Mastering facilities accept so called "stems" - you can send them sub mixes of your project, such as drums as a stereo file, vocals, other rythm instruments, keyboard parts, scratches, and so on. In other words, the line between mixdown and mastering is getting blurred.

    Yes, compressing individual tracks is quite normal when mixing.

    Limiting on the sum should IMO be avoided when you are preparing mixes for a mastering house. They in all likelihood will apply some dynamic treatment to the sum. As Eli and Peer already mentined, if you already squashed it, it will greatly inhibit what they can do. In fact, it can be a good idea to send your mastering house mixes with NO processing whatsoever on the sum. I will often prepare two or three sets of mixes for a client, one with no summing treatment, one with moderate "mixing" summing, maybe some EQ and/or gentle compression, and one as a louder "pseudo mastered" mix to let them compare with the non treated mixes and get an idea of what they may ask a mastering engineer to do. If you recorded and mixed 24 bit (which these days you really should) it is usually fine to let the untreated mixes peak around -6 dB - the mastering engineer will thank you for that, especially if he is going to DA convert to use some analogue processing.

    Personally I have only come across one or two situations where I needed to do that, such as a very poor sounding bass guitar which I couldn't get to sit other than by limiting it, and even then it was a case of polishing the proverbial turd. As a rule, I would be reluctant to limit individual tracks or sub groups in a mix, but rules like that may deserve to be broken depending on what you are after.

    HTH, kind regards

  10. Taybot

    Taybot Senior member


    I try to not limit individual tracks, but sometimes I have to. Then again, if I take your advice that it is fine to keep my tracks down at -6db I probably won't have to limit individual tracks anymore.
  11. Fr3ShiE

    Fr3ShiE Member


    You know how long I've been looking for a clear explanation like that??? Rock & roll!

    I found what I think is a decent article about mic types...
    Too many words! ;-)

    One more lowbrow question to throw at you... In the final squeeze, how do you know you've removed too much of the dynamic, even to the point of distortion? Is that just something I'll pick up as I work on my hearing? I guess I could get into the manual and look up the Multipressor and the Adaptive Limiter... OK, two more.

    How would you handle a mix that has a few harsh dynamic changes that prevent a good signal to be pulled from the whole; random changes in drum hits for instance... Would you go in and automate volumes, compress the whole track or tracks, or???

    Thanks guys!
    Off to the lab...
  12. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    Yes. You got to make your mix sound as good as you can. If channels need compression to sound good for you, then compress.

    You should not limit at the output. You expect the mastering engineer to make your dynamics perfect, so don't take them away before you send your piece to mastering.

    Of course, if it is necessary. You ought to get your dynamics under control. Squeezing or overall loudness are not the targets within the mix, but controlling the dynamics is important.
  13. Gio

    Gio Member

    compress the tracks just to get a handle on them, then draw in automation.
    compressing individual tracks so they 'mix' together is one thing.
    compressing the whole mix is another thing.
    as you get used to 'hearing' your mix, try this, mix something that you are somewhat happy with,
    bounce it to a setero track and import that file, then look at it in the arrange. Are the spikes from the percussive hits SO much louder than the rest of the track? are they even? is the mx flat lined without dynamics?
    this way you can 'see' what you are hearing.
    When you look at your meters while mixing for each track, dont just look at the top spike, but look at how far the meter drops down to. that gives you a representation on your dynamic levels
    Good Luck
  14. steve_awesome_wells

    steve_awesome_wells New Member

    I know this is an old thread, but here is my 10 cents: using these things need not mean that you are going to squash the life out of everything. For example, I will often place a limiter BEFORE a compressor, so that the compressor has less work to do. I set the limiter to react very quickly to just the highest peaks, so for argument's sake let's say the limiter is taking 6dB out once or twice (or even ten times) each bar. OK, so we can't hear that. Now we can set the compressor to a nice gentle ratio, and it can take maybe 1-2dB out most of the time (which we can hear, as a nice fattening up of the track) instead of having a vicious ratio and working hard all the time taking 8-10 dB out, which we would DEFINITELY hear!
    As usual, there are no rules. Try anything, and if it sounds right, it is right. Of course, the public has to agree with you if you intend making a profit!!!! As to headroom, the comments about real movement in your meters are right on. Use your plug-ins by all means, but try to get the sound you like while still having a large range between the average level of your music, and the peaks. Try to find a plug-in with VU meters, they respond more to RMS or average volume, and can help you judge levels more accurately. We are in 24 bit land, so you don't have to be too worried about pumping the level up to zero. A good mastering process will raise the average level for you but still retain a dynamic sound. I know it is hard to restrain yourself, we all like to sound good and loud, I guess, but remember, everyone of your listeners has got a volume control, and all they have to do is turn it up to make your's the loudest CD. By the way, when you are playing with those maximising plugins, try this test: as you squash the levels more and more, bring the output DOWN to keep each adjustment at the same listening level, and bounce a minute or so of each setting. When you play it back, you may be surprised to hear that the more squashed the track becomes, the more crappy it sounds. It is just the extra volume we hear that makes us think the track now sounds better. In fact, it often sounds tiresome.

    All the best, I hope I have made some sense.

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