...or "you're too loud!"
This is an attempt to explain some of the gain issues that continue to give people problems in ninjam servers. If people are yelling at you to turn down, and it doesn't seem that loud to you, then please read on.
The goal of this post is simply to put you back in control of your levels. Loud isn't always bad, but when everyone else is playing soft, you will likely get hollered at for being loud. You should be in control.
The basic assumptions here are as follows:
You are using Reaper and ReaNINJAM. You are playing some instrument with a degree of variation in the level it produces (your axe gets louder and softer depending on how you play it). You are sending ninjam server a single stereo channel. You are monitoring the channel with your instrument on it. You have discovered how to send a signal with a manageable level to a channel in Reaper. These assumptions cover almost all of the practical situations. If the last one is giving you trouble, then stop and go solve that first.
First thing to check:
in Reaper, you will have a track with your instrument. This track has a fader, and a level meter. The generally appropriate thing here is to adjust your input levels in such a way that there is some remaining headroom. You should not be peaking at 0dB when you play your loudest. You should be leaving from 6dB to 12dB of headroom available to account for the fact that several tracks will be summed into a mix that needs to stay below 0dB mostly. Watch the peak indicators on your meters, and reset them (by clicking the numbers) occasionally to get a feel for your peak levels. If your levels here seem okay, then we are ready to move on to...
You will have a track with the ReaNINJAM plug on it. This track has a fader, and a level meter. I recommend that you set this fader to 0dB, and the gain on your send to this track should also be 0dB. In doing so, you should see comparable levels on each of your instrument track, your ReaNINJAM track, and your master (for the case where master is not the track with ReaNINJAM--see note 1 below). Any misalignment here is something you should sort out locally before connecting to a ninjam server. With that sorted, we proceed to...
Open the ReaNINJAM console (no need to connect yet). Here on the local channel side of your console window, you will see a fader, and a level meter. These controls are different
though. So far, when you moved a fader, you heard a corresponding change in the level (subject to the monitoring assumption as stated above) as well as seeing a difference on the meter.
With the local channel fader, you are controlling the contribution that your local channel makes to the master ninjam mix, which is local only. In other words--if you lower this fader, you do not lower the level you are sending to the server.
But you may well think you are, because what you hear of yourself will get softer. This is the first "gotcha." Keeping this at 0dB ensures that the meter accurately reflects the level you are sending. So don't move this fader off 0 in any case.
Also watch out for the fader (and meter) labeled "Master" at the top of your ReaNINJAM console window. This is a fader affecting the gain of the return signal path sent back to you, including your local and all the remote channels. If you have this too low, you can inadvertently send a much louder signal than you want. Notice how the master level being set to -120dB does not affect the level you are sending to the server in these screenshots:
You are best advised to leave this master fader at 0dB.
If you have a 0dB gain on the local channel fader, you should see equal levels on the local channel meter to the track meters we just got done with. (JS:Synthesis/tonegenerator is a big help in getting set up.) This is the right thing. Without that, you have no meter that accurately shows you what you are sending to the server.
You should be hearing yourself through your monitoring rig at a comfortable level. Please make whatever adjustments before connecting to a server to ensure this is the case. Also, if you have routed in a non-conventional way, discrepancies between these meters can alert you to the fact. That may be wanted or unwanted, but this meter shows what you are sending to the server only if the local channel fader is set to 0dB.
Just so that you understand--the analogous situation here is sending a direct input to a FOH system. You can't hear what gain changes are made by the soundman because the fronts are aimed away from you. You have some ways to adjust your level locally, but the level you hear on stage may not exactly depict your prominence in the overall mix. That soundman has to ensure he understands the range of levels you will play, and adjust his gain structure accordingly, just as you did above. The various channel faders on the ReaNINJAM console are like a custom monitor mix just for you. It doesn't affect anyone else's mix.
OK, now with all that work behind you, you are ready to connect to a test server and get some reactions from your fellow jammers. When you do, be aware that the ReaNINJAM client sends each of them your local channel signal. But they get it on their remote channel side, with a fader set to -12dB gain, and a meter. If you did everything right above, the loudest signal you will put into anybody's mix should be around -18dB.
Ideally, you shouldn't need to do a lot of adjustments to these faders on the remote side. If you are in a room without a full complement of jammers, then this level is pretty conservative. But when there are 7 or 8 other people, it's important that levels stay low like this for headroom reasons. Music is dynamic, and if the headroom isn't there, then the natural, exciting dynamics in your jam will instead be harsh, tiresome excursions into unpleasant, poorly controlled audio experiences.
If you are consistently under control of your levels at this point, then turning up is perfectly okay
. As long as you are doing musical things with your volume (not making people's ears bleed), and you're in control, loud is a good thing. But, which one of those various faders is the right one to crank up? I suggest that you use the first one we set--the local Reaper track fader. Why? Because of the important feedback (no, not like Hendrix) that you get since your monitoring reflects the increased gain. It will be louder to you and to the other jammers in a proportional way. So you won't get out of whack.
<- everyone else
...if you don't screw up the gain structure.
Note 1: If the ReaNINJAM plugin is on a track other than the master, then you should probably also uncheck the master/parent send box for every channel that you route to ReaNINJAM. If you do not, then you are hearing a different level than what you send to ninjam. That's because you are sending your instrument to master twice.
Note 2: How loud you are has less to do with your peak level than your average level. If you are having trouble getting heard in a mix, and you can't crank up a fader without violating the above guidelines, then you should be looking into how to increase your average level using a compressor. Digital keyboard sounds in particular have a way of being pretty wussy in a mix. Compression is a well-discussed topic, and well-covered elsewhere.
Note 3: Technical issues can make it impossible to achieve some of these steps. One guy I jammed with had a significant DC offset in his signal. That drained away all of the headroom available for the music, and made him sound awful. That kind of a problem needs to be fixed before Reaper anyway. If you see a level on the track meter that looks high, and you aren't sending a signal, then fire up Schwa's excellent audio statistics JS plug and have a look at the DC offset.
Note 4: Ninbot has been known to report users clipping at unfeasibly high levels. But you're in control of your levels now, right? So don't pay too much attention to that. Everything you need to know about your send levels is pretty much on the meter in the ReaNINJAM console.
Thanks for reading, see you next time on ninjam.