Headroom use to resemble air your mix requires it to be able to breathe. Ask any mastering engineer and he will say the same thing: If a mix comes without headroom, there is literally less room left for improvements.
The good final mastering you are looking for starts with good habits while you are mixing music. And keeping the headroom in audio is in mind when you start your mix is the best habit you can have.
The two crucial qualities of the good mix are dynamic and headroom. A dynamic mix has a lot of variation between the high and quiet parts. The energy use to change over the time and use to keep the mix attractive. Making sure to optimize your headroom at every step of your mix is the best way to avoid unwanted fluctuations.
What is Headroom?
In the world of digital audio – definition of headroom is the space available in dB (decibels) between its highest peak level (think transients) and 0 dBFS (decibels full scale). It is a buffer that you leave unused. Imagine the headroom as your “safe zone.”
Remember! Audio headroom is the space between your highest (transient) peaks and 0 dB, and NOT between the average (RMS) level of your range and 0 db (which will still clip).
Leaving headroom is crucial. It will help you:
Prevent your clipping mix and distortion.
Give the space needed for you to work the mastering.
Tips To Help You Perform The Headroom In Your Mixing:
- First focus on the dominant feature of your mix.
Decide in advance which elements of your mix will be front and center in terms of presence. Then integrate the other tracks underneath.
Try to loop in the highest section and mix first (often the choruses). Then move to the less intense sections (verses) and finally the lower ones (intros, others).
- Use Your Eyes and Ears
Keep an eye on your master fader. The clipping on a DAW is 0 (zero) dBFS. It is best to keep your peaks at some dBs below 0 dBFS. Aim at about -6 dBFS – it’s nice and safe.
- Think before Automating
A traditional way of automating is recognized being “mounting your faders” used often for vocals and other instruments to get smooth and controlled levels throughout the song.
Automating effects and volume is a powerful and flexible tool. But jumping to this stage too early in the mixing process can lead you to a dead-end street if you are not careful.
- Work on 24 Bit
When digital audio began to take control of the analog, many of the practices that engineers were accustomed to were taken. Including the idea, that you had to record as loud as possible to keep your signal above the noise of the room.
This was definitely a concern when recording on tape. Even a lot of 16-bit digital tracks can start to have an audible room noise.
But 24-bit solves all that. The room noise is so low in 24 bits that you can give yourself lots of space (15-20 dB) between your peaks and 0 dBFS without worrying about noise or loss of resolution.