All throughout production, mixing, and mastering, there is pretty much 1 universal rule that everyone follows; NO CLIPPING. That means you need proper gain staging for EDM tracks.
Clipping is when an audio signal is pushed beyond its limit which ends up creating unwanted distortion. So how do you avoid clipping? Proper gain staging is going to be your best friend in every level during the song writing process.
What is gain staging in EDM?
Gain staging is the process you take to ensure that no elements clip through the entire songwriting process.
This includes production, mixing, and mastering. Though most of you may think of clipping at a volume level, it’s not just there.
Through proper gain staging in EDM, you need to be looking at the VST’s you’re using, plugins, and any other processes you may use in production, mixing, or mastering.
Just like normal volume, your plugins can clip the exact same. If you place an audio signal through a limiter, then push that limiter to the max, what happens? The initial audio signal isn’t clipping when it’s going through the limiter.
It isn’t until the limiter processes the audio signal that it then starts to clip. The same can happen with a VST like Serum.
If you pay attention to the volume bar in the top right of Serum, you can see the meter bar jumping up and down. When this bar starts hitting red, then you know you’re clipping. Let that process go on without correcting the issue, and you’ve ruined any chance of proper gain staging.
Any other processing you do will continue to add more and more distortion on the original audio signal. By the time you hit the mastering stage, the signal may be pushed so hard that any compressing or limiting going on will make the sound lose more energy.
How can you ensure that you have proper gain staging producing EDM?
This is actually a lot easier to answer than you might think. Gain staging begins from the moment you start producing, all the way until you wrap up the project.
With that in mind, you should be consistently paying attention to your plugins and volume meters. Check to see if you’re hitting in the green or the red. If you notice you’re in the red, do some digging into what is causing the issue.
Are you distorting a sound that you’re using in Serum? Is it a plugin you’ve applied to your lead? Are you over-compressing, or over-limiting?
Do you need a better visual representation of gain staging? Check out this 5 minute video that Graham Cochrane from The Recording Revolution put out about gain staging. He lays it all out on the table for you with a great in depth video about gain staging.
When it comes to gain staging in EDM, don’t overthink it. It’s not this big idea that complicates your process. It is something that you should be consciously paying attention to. Don’t clip, watch your levels, watch your meters.
In the end, you’ll have a more dynamic, cleaner, and sharper mix that will allow your master to shine.