How to Set Your Volume Levels for Multitrack Recording at Home

By Jeff Strong

There are a few things you need to remember about your volume levels if you’re going to be recording at home. Getting a sound signal to the recorder takes several steps. The path that the sound takes from the instrument or microphone to the recorder is called the signal chain (or the gain structure).

For example, if you want to record your voice, you first capture your voice with a microphone and then you feed that signal to a preamp.

From the preamp, you send the signal to the channel strip of your mixer, which sends the signal to the analog/digital (A/D) converter and then to the recorder. The signal chain may have all or just a couple of these steps, however. For example, a synthesizer is connected to the mixer, which is in turn connected to the recorder.

You need to be aware of the signal level at all these steps to get the best sound possible. Too much gain at one stage forces you to reduce the gain at another. Likewise, too little gain at one point may require you to overdrive (bump up the gain) during the next stage. Either of these scenarios reduces the quality of your sound.