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Q. Can I set vocal levels using clip gains?

By Mike Senior
Published March 2018

Mixer FadersMixer Faders

Is there anything wrong with riding the vocal levels in my mix using clip gain settings rather than fader automation?

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SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: I wouldn’t honestly recommend trying to set your final vocal levels in the mix in this way, because the gain changes you’re making with clip gain settings will precede any processing you have on the vocal channel. This is particularly relevant given that dynamics plug-ins such as compressors, de-essers and dynamic EQs are so commonplace on vocals at mixdown, because your clip level changes won’t just affect the vocal level, but also the degree to which the level and timbre are affected by the processing. While this might actually constitute a good reason to use clip gain changes in their own right (ie. to finesse the sound of your compressor, say, from section to section of the song), I think it’s probably more sensible to separate this job from the work of finalising the vocal level in the mix.

Another potential weakness of the clip gain approach is that your channel dynamics may fight against your desired level changes, making them less effective. So, for instance, you might want to push up a specific word that’s proving hard to hear, but find that the vocal compressor then simply kicks in more as the clip gain level rises, undermining your intent. In short, I’d stick to fader rides for the final levels, and leave clip gain more for situations where you want to adjust the vocal character or timbre.