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Author Topic: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?  (Read 12699 times)

Arf! Mastering

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Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« on: March 12, 2006, 11:38:14 am »

The argument has been drummed into us - " it's just giving the client what they want."  I don't think it's all that simple. MEs, too, are part of the cycle of fear that not being like the majority will hurt their chances for success.  Personally, I've been lucky with successes that were not slammed, and enough of them that I'm certain that both the artists and the end listeners get it.  Here's an interesting cross post from an interview with Cat Power:

Songwriter Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) about the mastering of her latest album:

Quote:
"Well, that's the true sadness - the musical depression," she says, her diffidence falling suddenly away, as real anger starts to spark. "I'm sure even back when James Brown was cutting singles, they'd be saying, 'We've gotta get played on the radio'. But now, it's like the people are secondary to the sound. When this record was mastered, the guy said, 'This won't go on the radio because it's not going to be loud enough for the signal on the compact disc'. So I had to get it remastered. It still won't be played on the radio, but now it sounds like it's supposed to - because I pushed everything up, made everything loud, made it sound like - an advertisement, or something? That's the energy, the noise that the music industry's created, like we're all pushing towards the future. It has to fit in with the programme, you know?"

see full article here:  http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article350 266.ece
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“A working class hero is something to be,
Keep you doped with religion and sex and T.V.”
John Lennon

"Large signals can actually be counterproductive.  If I scream at you over the phone, you don’t hear me better. If I shine a bright light in your eyes, you don’t see better.”
Dr. C.T. Rubin, biomechanical engineer

carlsaff

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2006, 11:46:50 am »

I wonder who ended up remastering that. It's a great-sounding record.

Pingu

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2006, 11:50:07 am »

The more i think about people getting reeled in to the loudness wars, the more i love it.


My own music will remain as far as possible from sounding like ADVERTISEMENT.


Its a good way to put it.

How damn annoying is advertising.

Thats what new music reminds us of and if the song goes over 5 minutes it becomes an infomercial.

As i said before.

I have not come accross a song that has been crushed that was worthy to listen to more than a few times, and i doubt it would have been worthy if it wasnt smashed.

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chrisj

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2006, 12:21:45 pm »

AlanS wrote on Sun, 12 March 2006 11:38

...the guy said, 'This won't go on the radio because it's not going to be loud enough for the signal on the compact disc'.


Ooo, technical Laughing

An awful lot of mixes work and move and hit better when you bring the loudness up some, but there's still a limit. I just love the 'loud enough for the signal'. Yeah, it's not loud enough for the signal, if you don't burn the bits onto the disk really hard with a LOUD MASTERING you do run the very real risk of all the bits tending to puddle over to the side of the CD or even spill off onto the floor... I mean, WHY TAKE THAT CHANCE? Laughing

Pingu

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2006, 12:24:06 pm »

Quote:

An awful lot of mixes work and move and hit better when you bring the loudness up some, but there's still a limit.



Exactly.


Thats where i like to stop.

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Thomas W. Bethel

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2006, 02:17:32 pm »

How long would anyone here stay in business if we did not "give the client what they really want"?

Food for thought!
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Thomas W. Bethel
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Acoustik Musik, Ltd.
Room With a View Productions
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Pingu

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2006, 02:19:19 pm »

Headlines at mastering demystified are

loudness wars.
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Thomas W. Bethel

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2006, 02:43:45 pm »

See here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

and here

http://mixonline.com/mag/audio_big_squeeze/

and here

http://www.barrydiamentaudio.com/loudness.htm

and here

http://www.broadcastpapers.com/radio/OmniaHDRadio10.htm

and here

http://etvcookbook.org/audio/ntsc.html

and this from http://www.soundmirror.com/articles.html

Current Trends in Mastering: The Loudness War
June 2003 Performer Magazine


One of the recent trends in the world of mastering is what we mastering engineers call "The Loudness War." In the past couple of years there has been a steady increase in the "loudness" of commercial releases from virtually all the major labels and in almost all styles of music. We are going to take a look at the history, the listener's perception, and the pitfalls associated with this trend, as well as investigate how the marketplace pressures artists to turn their great record into merely the next loudest record.

History
As with most things in the recording world, we need to take a quick look back to get some perspective on current mastering practices. The term "mastering" comes from the earliest days of recording. It was the process of cutting a groove into a lacquer coated disk that was the "master" from which all the replicated records were made. Due to the technical limitations of the LP record (remember those shiny black things that spun and you actually put a needle in the groove?), the mastering engineer had to alter the signal from the tape to get the most out of the format. The tools that early mastering engineers used are the same as the tools we use today, namely, frequency equalization (EQ) and dynamic range compression/limiting. While mastering was originally a simple transfer of tape onto disk, over the years it developed into the creative process we know today. The mastering engineer is now the final person making creative or artistic decisions on the CD before it becomes the finished consumer product. (That's another whole topic, but we'll leave that one alone for now.) He or she must make all necessary changes that mold a diverse group of tracks into a single cohesive entity. The mastering engineer must also transform the raw mixes into a commercially viable product capable of attracting the attention of radio program directors and record company A&R managers. This brings us to the topic of the moment: The Loudness Race.

How do we perceive loudness?
Psychoacoustics is an entire field of research that deals with how humans perceive sound. Although these scientists spend their careers studying how we react to sound, we are only going to look at how we react to and perceive loudness.

There are two different ways to measure the loudness of a sound. The first is to find the peak level that a sound reaches; the other is to average the sound level over a period of time. The ratio of peak to average level is called the crest factor. In general our ears respond to the average levels, not the peak levels when judging loudness. An example of this is found in listening to different kinds of music. When you compare the peak levels of classical music with commercial rock, they both peak at the same level, but perceived loudness of the rock music will be much greater because the average level is much higher. One generally accepted rule is that the louder sound will always grab our attention and, for short periods of time, sound better to us. This is why when the record company A&R guy is listening to twenty CDs of new bands, the loudest one will grab his attention. This is great for a single, but as we have found in many of the current crop of hypercompressed CDs, this "full on all the time" approach ultimately fatigues the listener. A variety of dynamics will keep listeners on their toes and make them continue listening. The film community has used this dramatic dynamic for years to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Five large explosions in a row do not have the same impact as four little ones and one huge one.

The origins of the loudness race
Everyone thinks that this loudness race is a recent phenomenon. However, its roots go back many decades. From the earliest 45 rpm singles, people have been trying to have their product be the loudest record in the stack on the record changer. Going back 20 or 30 years, many record companies would send out compilations of new singles to radio stations on a single LP. When producers and artists listened to these, if their song wasn't the loudest one on the record, they would call the mastering engineer and have them raise the level so as to be competitive. We can all see where this is going: the race to be the loudest record was on!

With the advent of the compact disc in the 80's, a whole new trend was started. The CD's increased dynamic range and absence of rumble, ticks, and pops caused the artistic community to embrace dynamic range. Many extremely dynamic titles were produced in this period. Several record companies even went so far as to put disclaimers on a CD saying they were not responsible for speaker damage caused by the extreme dynamic range of the particular disc! With the release of the first 5-disc CD carousels with shuffle play in the late 80's, the race started all over again.

Many mastering engineers consider the early 90's the golden age of mastering, because decisions made about the loudness of a disc were made for aesthetic reasons and not by marketing people. Many of these records are still alive and kicking today, but if you compare the level of some of the loudest records of the day, like Nirvana's Nevermind or the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, these records are 6 to 8 dB quieter than virtually all the commercial rock today. (Just as a note, 6 dB is perceived half as loud). This trend is not limited to the rock world. Virtually all genres have fallen victim to the loudness war. Hip Hop, R&B, AAA, AC and even folk/Americana are making records that have all the music squashed into the top 5 dB of a medium that has more than 90 dB of dynamic range.

Moreover, the formats and the locations that we listen to music have changed. This has fueled the loudness war. Many people today listen to their music via mp3 and AAC on their computer, in the car, and on the Walkman/iPod. Because of the limited dynamic range and frequency response inherent in these systems, the data compressed versions of the music sound better. Also, compressed music sounds better in the car, because it gets the sound up over the ambient motor and road noise. Whereas in the early 90's we were mastering records with the assumption that they would be listened to on a consumer playback system in the living room, today we need to take into account the other locations people listen to music.

How did you make it that loud?
As with most things that have to do with music these days, much of the loudness revolution has been brought about by new technology in the studio. High quality digital limiters and compressors have completely changed the way we think about compression and loudness. In days before these devices, we were limited by the maximum amount of compression, slow attack/release times and distortion for which analog compressors are famous. There was no such thing as a brick wall limiter. Current digital compressors and limiters have none of these limitations. They can look ahead at the music and compensate for any transients that are on the way. As with all powerful tools, it has become incredibly easy to do more harm than good.

I am frequently asked, "How do I get my record to sound like the latest and greatest record on the radio?" Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Most of the records on the radio are productions that cost $100,000 and up. Also, they are done by people with the experience of many records under their belt. But there are several things to think about when you want to make your record loud. I always tell people, "It
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Thomas W. Bethel
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Acoustik Musik, Ltd.
Room With a View Productions
http://www.acoustikmusik.com/

Doing what you love is freedom.
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bblackwood

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2006, 04:51:39 pm »

I'm certainly giving my clients what they want.
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Brad Blackwood
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dcollins

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2006, 10:58:28 pm »

bblackwood wrote on Sun, 12 March 2006 13:51

I'm certainly giving my clients what they want.


Wadda ya guess it costs to keep a place like Sterling open for a month?  Just for salaries, power, brioche etc?  Probably more than you would think.

Yet they seem to be able to stay in business, year after year!  If AS and BK don't want to cut a loud record and actually turn away or lecture clients that ask for it -- fine.  It doesn't make any sense to me, but I respect their right to run their studio however they see fit.

I find it all a bit naive, as my local restaurant will make a Masala that actually makes your eyes bug out cartoon-style -- but only if I ask for it.....

DC

Arf! Mastering

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2006, 11:47:12 pm »

Please don't make attributions to me that have no basis in fact.  Cutting records loud AND clean is not in the least bit difficult.  We all cut loud records today because there is no way out of it in most cases.  With the right tools and steps any track can be made way louder than it ever needs to be.  There's really not much to it. What is more difficult is knowing how to balance level against the natural feel of the track. My point in posting the Cat Power statement is that blaring mastering is a lot less of what the artist wants than conventional wisdom would make it seem.
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“A working class hero is something to be,
Keep you doped with religion and sex and T.V.”
John Lennon

"Large signals can actually be counterproductive.  If I scream at you over the phone, you don’t hear me better. If I shine a bright light in your eyes, you don’t see better.”
Dr. C.T. Rubin, biomechanical engineer

dcollins

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2006, 12:17:15 am »

AlanS wrote on Sun, 12 March 2006 20:47

Please don't make attributions to me that have no basis in fact.  Cutting records loud AND clean is not in the least bit difficult.  We all cut loud records today because there is no way out of it in most cases.  With the right tools and steps any track can be made way louder than it ever needs to be.  There's really not much to it. What is more difficult is knowing how to balance level against the natural feel of the track. My point in posting the Cat Power statement is that blaring mastering is a lot less of what the artist wants than conventional wisdom would make it seem.


I'm not trying to wind you up, but didn't chan also say that now it sounds "like it's supposed to?"

Don't have the CD yet, but "Living Proof" does sound a bit ess-y on the radio. What is up with the video for that song?

I would argue that getting it loud and clean is somewhat difficult, and requires a "multi-disciplinary" approach.

DC

Arf! Mastering

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2006, 12:48:53 am »

dcollins wrote on Mon, 13 March 2006 00:17

 but didn't Cat also say that now it sounds "like it's supposed to?"


You of all people are not detecting a little sarcastic irony there?

Quote:

I would argue that getting it loud and clean is somewhat difficult, and requires a "multi-disciplinary" approach.

DC



OK, "somewhat difficult," but far from the most difficult aspect of mastering.
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“A working class hero is something to be,
Keep you doped with religion and sex and T.V.”
John Lennon

"Large signals can actually be counterproductive.  If I scream at you over the phone, you don’t hear me better. If I shine a bright light in your eyes, you don’t see better.”
Dr. C.T. Rubin, biomechanical engineer

dcollins

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #13 on: March 13, 2006, 02:47:07 am »

AlanS wrote on Sun, 12 March 2006 21:48


You of all people are not detecting a little sarcastic irony there?



Hello?  

Show me the irony?

Tell us about the VOC....

Quote:


OK, "somewhat difficult," but far from the most difficult aspect of mastering.



What is the most difficult part?

DC

Patrik T

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Re: Are MEs Really Giving The Client What They Want?
« Reply #14 on: March 13, 2006, 03:59:56 am »

Wow. Chan Marshall was told that the level would end up too low for radio.

I cry a bit. How sad isn't this?

I have Chan's early CD's. Like "Myra Lee" and "What would the community think" and so on. Those recordings really have great qualities to them. They are lo-fi. Kind of porta. None of todays high end frequency lamabada madness. But a LOT of nerve.

Might have to do with the lo-fi. Yeah, those early works are really fine recordings. They are low in level, they are foggy but they are great. The mid 90's was really good in the indie scene area.





I don't know if anyone else have noticed that a lot of the Drag City (USA)/Domino (UK) releases were/are NEVER squashed. A few examples: Jim O' Rourke - "Eureka" (this one must be one of the most beuatiful pop recordings in modern time), Everything by Will Oldham/Palace/Bonnie prince Billy..., the albums by SMOG. All these recordings are quite low and far away from any limits and  most of them sound extremely great eventhough the label is kind of indie and I guess, on small budgets.

"I see a darkness" by BPB was released 1999 and is an amazing album in order to show how far away from the zero dBFS things can actually stay without loosing things. There are songs on that album that peaks waaaaay below the ceiling. The album is so low and still Johnny Cash (RIP) actually managed to substract enough information to record a cover of one track. How's that for "too low for radio/CD"?

Since I feel that Cat Power and all these Drag City artists had very much in common during the early and mid 90's (eventhough Chan did not release on Drag City), I also think it is sad that Chan Mashall feel this "pressure" on her while the Drag City artists still can release music that is really great sounding and far from being squashed and commercialized. Maybe it has to do with Matador. Who knows.



Anyway, I understand Chan's statement "sounds like it's supposed to". She's most likely bitter about it because obvioulsy SOMEONE said that something was too silent. Something that obvisously had gone through a mastering process was found to be too silent. We'll never know what the original master sounded like, but I guess it had huge great balls of fire and beauty.

At Matadors website you can listen to the new recording. Put this against the "Nude as the news" video on the same site and note how much more cat power there is in the latter one. I must say that I prefer the 1996 edition of dynamic vocals before the flat Chan voice anno 2006 in this case.

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