“Gain staging?”

I’m setting up to play live with a band for the first time in 25 years and have my songs and set list all ready to go. The problem I’m having is big volume/gain differences between my various instruments. I would like them to be at a consistent level so I don’t drive our sound person nuts riding my volume from song to song.

My first thought was use a db meter and “gain stage” my plugins one at a time but with 40 songs in the set we’re talking a lot of time and fiddling.

So I’m wondering if it might work to insert an autogain plugin into the chain for each song and let it adjust for me, at least to keep things roughly even from song to song. Anyone think that would work? If I do so should that plugin be the last thing in the route before it heads to the main speaker outlet?

Also wondering if/how it would affect performance. Right now things are at zero latency or near to and I know I can adjust my buffertt size to try to compensate but before I get into adding the autogain plugin I was hoping someone might have tried it or something similar before I go adding it to all 40 songs.

Thanks all!


I use Performance Audio Tracks in my setup and set the levels for each of them (in my DAW) before rendering them to mp3s for the Cantabile Media Player with HoRNet LU Meter MK2:

You might be able to adapt it to fit your needs.


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I have that one, as well as HoRNet’s autogain plugin. For the price you can’t beat some of their stuff.

Maybe I could try somehow adding it to my background app so I wouldn’t have to throw it into every song on my list.

This isn’t about ‘gain staging’. It’s just about setting appropriate levels for each song, and that will include balancing live-played instruments against your backing.

I wouldn’t use any ‘autogain’ of any description. Just get your backing tracks into a DAW, set their levels accordingly and save the result, and get the job done properly once and for all. With Cantabile you can set a level for each backing track, and this you can use to trim the level for each song in the set.

Sorry, somehow I’ve managed to imply that there were backing tracks involved. I’m using Cantabile strictly as a host for virtual instruments. The rest of the band are real live people playing their own instruments.

I’m simply looking for a way to keep the general level of the virtual instruments even with each other so I don’t make the sound guy jump every time I change patches.

@Allen, when it comes to set the relative and absolute levels of my VSTs, I have found many useful advices in this thread:



No, you did not imply that you were using backing tracks. I was just using my method of operation as an example. So, that was my fault for the misunderstanding. I also use “youlean LUFS Meter” on my Main Audio Out channel to check levels.


In that case I would say run at sensible levels, with plenty of headroom (10dB at least), and ride your levels as necessary.

The rest depends on how sensibly your fellow band members manage their own levels. Ideally I would want to have everyone running through a programmable mix system and set their relative levels during rehearsal.

My advice if you have backing tracks that are a mix of pads and percussion, then mix the pads and percussion separately, as it is often hard to get the live balance right in a studio and it is best set at practice. And the overhead of a few media players synced as opposed to one is negligible.

In terms of setting levels, I just look for a consistent output on the final Cantabile output level meters, which I then also see on my Rack mixer that mixes the computer with my live instruments before it goes to Front of House, so I am just looking for a consistent average level across the songs.


Please be ready for the other members of your band to have zero concept of “gain staging” and thus to keep turning themselves up throughout the night. It seems to be a law of physics.

Do attempt to refrain from blasting the poor Front Of House guy or girl, for your own part. :wink:



Gain staging was the wrong expression. For some reason my brain couldn’t come up with the word normalization.

At any rate, I added HoRnEt’s “The Normalizer” to my background rack, set it to -10 db and it has done exactly what I was hoping for!

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Cool Solution, is there much added latency? Just curious what it may have added CPU work wise.



The only disadvantage of this approach is that this will also brutally pull down the volume of your “lead” patches, so to cut through a busy band, you’ll have to manually pull up the volume after the Normalizer.

So overall, the best approach is still to adjust the instrument levels in your songs before going out on a gig, so that “comping” blends with the mix and soloing cuts through well.

I usually do this against standard backing tracks to simulate competing with a loud band - and be sure you do your level setting at rehearsal-level volumes - if you do this at lower levels, you could be surprised when turning up the volume live.

Also: using a loudness- or RMS meter does help in level-setting, but not enough for getting it really right. RMS loudness and cutting through the mix are different animals - compare a clean guitar and a distorted crunch guitar - at the same RMS level, the crunch will feel much louder. Same with an acoustic piano vs. a Rhodes. That’s why I recommend doing the final level setting against a backing track.

One other important aspect for sitting well in the mix is EQ: most hammond or rhodes patches (but also a lot of acoustic piano sounds and synth patches) are far too powerful in the low mids (100-250 Hz). Sounds really nice and warm when practicing alone at home, but wastes a lot of energy and volume on frequencies that essentially muddy up the mix. Cleaning out these frequencies with judicious use of EQ in your piano or organ rack will make your sound far more audible - at the same “measured” RMS level (once you turn up the gain to compensate for the reduced level due to the EQ cut).

And to pre-empt the question: I do have specific piano and rhodes patches with less of a cut in these EQ areas for quasi-solo situations (typically intros) where I need the rhodes to fill the sound stage…

Hope this helps!




I haven’t noticed any appreciable difference. I did go ahead and tweak my buffer size just a bit for insurance, though.

Wise words from Torsten…


For me, over the past 6 years, I have delivered a consistent output to soundmen by simply having the Waves L2 at the end of my audio path using the Hi Res CD Master preset (each VSTi is directed to it) and a single knob that adjusts my volume after the L2 slightly for when I solo. The only way I know that this is a good choice for me, is the feedback from sound men, that my levels are very consistent.

Having years of experience and learning as a sound man, I feel a sense of responsibility to deliver consistency to the audio engineer/sound man.

Nevertheless, I only use Keyscape, B3-X, and Omnisphere VSTi’s, the rest comes from my Yamaha Montage 7. So it is a very simple setup.

Leave gain staging to the sound man.

I agree in principle, but as you wrote, I see it as the responsibility of any instrumentalist to deliver (at least roughly) consistent levels to the desk. Having a solo boost in your setup is both a bonus to the sound person (no need for them to know exactly who is going to solo when) as well as an insurance against sleepy or drunk sound techs who couldn’t give a rat’s a** about your solo drowning in the overall noise :wink:

Dealing with actual “gain staging”, i.e. making sure levels are at their sweet spot throughout every part of the processing chain is mostly relevant when using dynamics processing plugins (compressors etc) or drive and amp plugins. For these, it’s relevant to feed them their correct level to operate as expected. For the rest (EQ, reverb), in the days of 32 bit float processing, it usually doesn’t hurt to feed them with too high or too low levels - but you could have issues with “analog emulation” plugins (e.g. pultec EQ) that aren’t level-transparent.

So I try to keep my levels pretty consistent throughout the chain to avoid any nasty surprises - it’s still good discipline…



No…they DO care about your sound, and perfectly set monitor levels where one can hear everything in the mix. They are always gracious and go to great lengths to make sure everyone on stage is happy, and satisfied. They never leave their post like dutiful soldiers. Drunk? Nah! They are so loved, everyone buys them drinks, and what are they to do? Wasting a drink would be rude. It’s such a demanding job.



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Ha ha! That is true, actually. I am pretty aggressive with sound men. If they are incompetent, I just tell them to get the F*&^ away from the board and I will send a mix. I do a fine job mixing from the stage. I have no problem telling a venue that their sound is $h*7 and we will pass on future events. Also, all of our IEM mixes are controlled by each musician. Larger events and Casinos, the hired sound companies here in California are great. Genuine pros. I trust and respect them. I just route everything to the soundman, and they do a great job with our IEM system. As I tell venues “The responsibility for having a following rests with the venue, depending on the quality for which they are willing to pay, and the quality they deliver. If they are too broke to do that, we have no further business.” Strangely, we stay busy.

This has been my struggle for years. The way I feel about it, if their venue can’t produce customers, then I don’t need to perform there. It is NOT my obligation to bring my “following” to their failings. I always have some followers at every gig, but promise nothing to the venues.
Sorry for the OT rant… :grimacing: