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This one is for the Saint

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rosshogarth:
Ron
would you expound on your feelings about compression and your use or lack there of ....
I would love your thoughts on this .....

saint:
Hey Ross,  Thanx for asking.... Compression... THAT'S a big one (I know Brauer & I go around this one a lot, but different strokes for different folks!). I COULD rant for days, but it's just a fact of audio life these days. Rupert Neve, pretty much the UNDISPUTED KING of the analog recording desk in ALL Audio history, labeled that device "Neve Correction Units". THAT pretty much sums up my entire approach to their application. A device to be applied to constrain those spurious transients (peak limiting with a fast attack & fast release) that were unpredictable and unmanageable with manual fader manipulation during the actual recording process as well as to help pull the lower level audio up louder to help hear it better. The trade off being a louder, more even recorded dynamic, therefore a better 'signal to noise' ratio on tape. Dynamics were CRUCIAL then, as was controlling signal to noise ratios as well as distortion (the inevitable result of over modulating the tape with high levels).

In todays audio world, the overuse and total ABUSE of compressors has become the drug of choice among MOST of the top mixers. WHY??? I remember it starting with engineers wanting to present their mixes to the A&R guys at the label in a way that enabled their mixes to sound louder than the competition and more like songs on the radio BEFORE the mastering. With the advent of the digital recording format EVERYTHING changed, but specifically as it relates to compression, our entire approach to recording had to shift. All of a sudden we had to use up ALL the 'bits' available to achieve full bandwidth (before the emergence of the HD format & higher digital 'word' lengths). To get recorded all the way up to '0' WITHOUT going over, precipitated the "I must limit &/or compress everything in order to get the best sound". This has since evolved into what is now the standard in virtually ALL commercial releases today of "Squeeze the F_ _ k out of EVERYTHING" until the dynamic range is around 1.5Db! Sometimes I look at the meters and I swear that look like alignment tones! I have seen several mixers routinely (BEFORE even LISTENING to the tracks they are putting up) patch source (tape or digits) out to a compressor in, compressor out to line in. Then Insert out to compressor in (&/or one or more E.Q.'s), to insert return. Then assign ALL the groups of audio to stereo sub groups, i.e. drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals, background vocals, strings, etc. and patch each of those busses out into a compressor and return those to separate line ins, and AGAIN, out of the insert points on those sub group faders into other stereo compressors, too! Additionally, and this is the real kicker, in addition to the Sissel (SSL) onboard bus compressors, add another stereo compressor (&/or E.Q.) to the Master 2 Buss input and (yep, were not done yet!), STILL another stereo compressor (&/or E.Q.) to the insert point of the Master 2 Buss!!! One famous 'Star Designer Mixer' had 78 compressors on a 24 track mix!!!! He was wondering why he had no level at the 2 Buss until his ASSISTANT reminded him of the fact that not only did he have at LEAST 2 compressors on EVERY channel, but 3 stereo compressors across the Mix Buss and he NEVER ONCE checked a SINGLE one for 'unity gain'!! Not that 'unity gain' would have meant MUCH at that point, but a SERIOUS reassessment of the very CONCEPT of gain structure, much less signal to noise is certainly in order in today's recording environment.

We have the technology to reproduce a dynamic range of 120+Db with tolerable results in the higher (24/176.4 or 192) sample rates, yet are content with 1.5Db! Radio has NEVER been a good place to judge how good a record sounds. Radio compress EVERYTHING to death, NOT for audio, but to maintain MAXIMUM POWER OUTPUT to reach their listeners with their ADVETS, NOT their music! The music has always suffered as a result. The vinyl product, however, was the BEST way to hear what the REAL record sounded like and to this day, is STILL the best SOUNDING representation (though certainly NOT as portable as iPods, cassettes, etc.) of the final product. I am so SICK of listening to music that 'sounds great on ear buds', BUT still sound as if it were coming out of an earbud on Studio Monitors!

The 'level wars' are as destructive to decent audio as actual wars are to the people that must fight them. It is PAST DUE for a resurgence of GREAT audio which will demand that the overuse, misuse and continual abuse of them cease and desist. The 'factory assembly line' approach to the art of recording and music in general is systemic and it is up to US, the so called "Professionals" in the business to MAKE that change. It's bad enough that "MP Frees" are the STANDARD release format (to Radio as well as the 'Buying' (eerrrrrrr... 'Stealing') public. Those of us in CONTROL need to take the initiative on this. Just because the listener (and most A&R people) can't tell the difference (EXCEPT for how 'loud' something is or is not) is no reason to sacrifice the years of struggle, invention, innovation and progress we've made in audio. It's like being happy (settling??) for White Tower burgers as the EPITOME of Culinary Art! HORSE PUCKY!!!

What I will say in closing is that a great mix can withstand 15Db of compression at a Ratio of 10 to 1 and in mastering and STILL survive! If your mixes go IN to Mastering like that, there is NOTHING the Mastering engineer can do to save your work. I say, at LEAST try to do a separate Master to go to radio and MPFrees, but let the CD breathe for Christ Sakes! Do you want to make garbage records (that may even sell or win a Grammy... oh Boy!) or do you give a HOOT about the QUALITY of audio that you put your name on?

You need to be reminded of the fact that back when there WERE real Labels, America put out approximately 30 to 35,000 Albums a year. THIS past year alone, we topped out at 100,000 albums PER MONTH! Do I even NEED to say that the majority of those releases were 'Produced, Engineered & Mixed" in the box, in some "wannabe's" bedroom or basement and they SOUND like that! As professionals we need to set the bar ever HIGHER rather than sink to that level.

It behooves us all to a SERIOUS reevaluation of our concept of gain structure and dynamics as it applies to the ART of Recording.





Jeff Goodman:
Here here! I couldn't agree more.

Jeff

Gio:
Refreshing read, to say the least.

I imagine it's difficult when a paycheck is involved.... "Do it like this, or we'll get someone else!!"

Hopefully enough will not bend to the pressure as to effect some sort of long term change for the positive.

Thanks for that!

Nobtwiddler:
 Hallelujah !

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