Mixing to Pink Noise

A detailed mix tutorial on how to use Pink Noise as a reference to control levels

Gain Staging




Over a decade ago I wrote an article on my website on the subject of using pink noise to gain stage your DAWs channels. I then took it a step further and wrote an article for Sound On Sound Magazine entitled Mixing to a Pink Noise Reference. This article took the original principles and expounded them to include mixing. I found a quick and easy way to balance your mixes, irrespective of track counts, and get a ballpark level mix. I wrote that article in 2014.

In 2017 I took the technique to another level and wrote an article again for Sound On Sound entitled DIY Mastering Made Easy using the same principles but this time to master music.

And now I bring you the same technique but explained in video form. Please refer to the articles I wrote as the technical content in those articles are quite detailed and very helpful and when you have conquered the theory behind this process you can jump in and master any music and master it both quickly and intuitively.

Balancing the mix

The first and foremost process for any engineer to perform is what I call a ‘level and pan mix’: a stage during which you establish the initial gains for each source and create some basic separation through panning. You end up with a kind of rough, static balance that, later, you can go on to refine with dynamics processing, automation, mutes and all your own neat little mixing tricks.

The usual approach is to choose one sound to act as your main level reference, and balance all the other tracks against it. A lot of people start a mix by setting a level for the kick drum, snare and bass, for example, reasoning both that these will form the rhythmic spine of a track (and so are worth focusing on early) and that, as they’re energy-rich sounds, they’ll register higher on the meters than most sources — so setting them to an appropriate level reduces the risk of ‘overcooking’ things at the master bus as the mix progresses. Others might choose to focus on the lead vocal if that’s going to be the star of the show, and build the mix around that. And that’s all perfectly valid…

But there is another way, which is quick, pretty easy and, surprisingly, fairly accurate: instead of referencing a source from within your mix, you use a pink-noise generator to provide your level reference and balance each and every track to that, one by one. It might sound like crazy pseudo-science but it works — and in this video I’ll tell you why and then prove it.

Plugins used in this video:

Toneboosters TB EBU Loudness

Brainworx BX Meter

MDA Test Tone Generator

Klanghelm VUMT

Topics covered in this video are:

  • How to Rip and Extract Profiles
  • Matching Gains
  • Understanding Linear and Logarithmic Processing
  • Frequency Banding and Filter Slopes
  • Compensatory Processes