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Author Topic: Are you scared?  (Read 5698 times)

bblackwood

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Are you scared?
« on: March 02, 2005, 12:02:54 pm »

With the current threads regarding 'loudness' running here and on GM's forum, I've been thinking about the 'level wars' as well as the bigger picture - what's wrong with the industry? I think the two are related, lemme explain...

As usual, this will take some background and will likely involve much meandering, as I generally jot stuff like this down sort of stream-of-conciousness...

Anyway, to figure out what's gone wrong, I tend to look back at history and examine what worked and what didn't. Loudness has been an issue since music began being recorded as a business, frankly - many old-timers will regale us with tales of how they worked to cut records hotter than the next label. Loudness isn't a new issue and it will always be with us, but we have tools now that allow greater destruction of music than ever before, and many seem to be quite cavalier in exercising this new power. But what's different about today? Is the industry full of brave souls daring to do to music what no ever dared before?

No. Not even close.

I believe the industry is full of fear - immobilizing fear that stems from thinking that rocking the boat will result in one losing one's 'safe spot'. So many people are making so much money now they dare not do anything different, daring, cutting edge, and this problem starts at the top (labels) and trickles down through the artists, producers, engineers. Think back 30 years ago and you have bands that really knew how to play their instruments, really knew how to perform, and really wished to change the status quo. All you have to do is look at bands like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin - bands that did things differently than what everyone else was doing, had a definable sound, and had legions of fans. By now you might be thinking I'm blaming the bands, but I'm not. Bands are really just doing what it takes to achieve the dream. Do you think a A&R guy ever told Zep, "great record, but I don't hear a hit..."?

As stated above, the problem starts at the top, the labels. Over the years, the glutton attitude of gobbling up as much of the market as possible has created an environment where you have inexperienced people all over the place in A&R. The cost of producing an album, while peaking years ago, is still extremely high once you roll promotion into it (including the $500k videos and such), so the labels are scared. No one is willing to take a chance because if it bombs, they're fired. So they stay 'safe', rehashing the same crap over and over. And as this happens, people lose interest and sales drop. So they labels get more scared, become more homogeneous (chasing the last 'big hit'), and sales drop even more. Music loses it's perceived value among the buyers, downloads increase, purchases decrease, and the vicious cycle continues spiraling downward...

But it's not just the labels, it's us too - the production people. There was a time when producers, engineers, mixers and masterers (PEMM) worked really hard to make the audio sound good. I know, it's hard to believe, but that's actually what history shows us - PEMM's used to care how records sounded. They cared enough to to fight and claw when someone suggested corners be cut, or that principles be compromised. Not so anymore, in general. There are still a few who aren't scared.

Now, let's get this straight once and for all - I am in no way suggesting that an artist should be told their view of their art is wrong. I feel like our job is to help them achieve their goals. It's the label's job to reject their view of what their art should sound like, not ours - the labels are ultimately the ones dropping the ball here - they have the power to refuse releasing terrible sounding records as they're paying the bills. I cut obscenely loud records from time to time to please artists, but in those cases it's always after a revision to turn it up that loud - the first ref they get is as what I consider to be a sensible level.

Anyway, we can sit around pointing fingers at the faceless labels all day, but that will get us nowhere and I 'm quite sure they wouldn't listen anyway. If we want to change the industry, it has to be a grass roots movement. The 'a-list' engineers don't want to rock the boat - they're making money hand over fist and have no trouble sleeping at night. It's going to have to be us revolting against the ever-lowering acceptable level of sound quality. But that takes guts - are you willing to lose a client because you take the time to teach them what's going to happen to their record as it's played on the radio? Are you willing to lose a gig for calling out the producer for requesting it be louder because the latest hit as louder? These questions are hypothetical, sure. Some people won't be talked down, and if you approach it wrong, you'll certainly lose the client...

We complain all the time, but sitting here whining to each other about will accomplish nothing.

Do you think you can single-handedly change the industry, given time? I do.

Are you willing to lay it on the line, pissing-off your colleagues for calling a spade a spade and trying to remind people what good sound is? I am.

Are you in this because you appreciate great music, or are you simply in it for the paycheck? I'm in it for the great music.

Are you scared?

I'm not.
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Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

MoreSpaceEcho

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2005, 01:04:53 pm »

Hi Brad,

nice post, i think you summed things up really well. i'm at the very bottom of the totem pole, i'm one of those dreaded bedroom mastering guys with a pc and plugins, but apparently i'm not screwing up people's records too bad cause they come back, so that's good.

anyway, i'm definitely not afraid. this is of course easy for me to say as my livlihood doesn't depend on income from mastering, and i understand that people have to eat and do what the clients want. but i rant and rave all the time to anyone who will listen about records being way too loud and how these records are going to sound really, really stupid in a couple years.

i always cut things at a reasonable level, and haven't yet had anyone ask me to crush something. if they did, i'd send them to this other guy in town who destroys everything he touches. the relatively small amount of money i'd lose by not taking the gig is no big deal to me (though i sure could use it!) and i'd rather just keep my rep *cough* as the 'audiophile guy'.

i have had a couple projects where i gave them the ref and they said "it sounds great. can you make it louder?" and i told them i could but it wouldn't sound as good, and they trusted me and went with the quiet, good sounding one.

i just met with a new client last night, i brought up the loudness issue, they said "oh yeah, we don't care about that. the levels of the other stuff you've done is fine." hooray!

my whole thing is...when i put in a superloud cd, invariably the first thing i do is turn the volume down. when i put in a sensibly mastered cd, usually i turn the volume up. and i think turning the volume up is much more affirmative, you know? isn't that what rock music is supposed to make you want to do? anyway, i think we should all start the Quiet Records Coalition.

cheers,
scott craggs
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Samc

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2005, 04:06:34 pm »

"Anyway, we can sit around pointing fingers at the faceless labels all day, but that will get us nowhere and I 'm quite sure they wouldn't listen anyway. If we want to change the industry, it has to be a grass roots movement. The 'a-list' engineers don't want to rock the boat - they're making money hand over fist and have no trouble sleeping at night. It's going to have to be us revolting against the ever-lowering acceptable level of sound quality. But that takes guts - are you willing to lose a client because you take the time to teach them what's going to happen to their record as it's played on the radio? Are you willing to lose a gig for calling out the producer for requesting it be louder because the latest hit as louder? These questions are hypothetical, sure. Some people won't be talked down, and if you approach it wrong, you'll certainly lose the client..."


This is certainly the sensible way to reverse this trend.  Without dogma, enforcement or restricting artistic freedom.  And it certainly doesn't provide a soapbox for just a few well known personalaties who might see it as an opportunity to benefit from the movement.
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Sam Clayton

Bob Olhsson

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2005, 11:02:51 pm »

bblackwood wrote on Wed, 02 March 2005 11:02


Do you think you can single-handedly change the industry, given time? I do.
I decided to devote the rest of my life to this a few years ago. Where I differ from your view a little is that I think the top is reflecting the bottom as much as the other way around. It all needs to be rebuilt much as it was in the late 1940s. Surprisingly few people were needed then and I'm sure it's no different today. What we actually do is pretty simple, we connect people with music. It's all of the posing and hype that gets in the way. It's just going to take a touch of leadership to support the people inside the industry who really care. I know for a fact that there are a lot of them.

MASSIVE Mastering

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2005, 11:29:02 pm »

I'm with - Well, everybody on this one.  

I try to burn at a "nice" level - I hate to even admit that I try to find the level "where it starts to sound worse" as opposed to just "finding a good level" but there is the pressure...  

I had a redo last week - Same thing - "Sounds great, but it's so quiet" (at -10dBRMS).  

No, they wanted it above -8 like the (whatever that crappy recording they sent along) sounded like.  

So, "under protest" I cut the lows, and pummeled it through the garden.  I thought it sounded horrible, and let them know that it was on the way.  They loved it.  It didn't sound anything like the original mixes.  Thin, crushed, harsh...  Ruins my mood, my day and what little faith I have left that this will end some time soon...  
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John Scrip
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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2005, 12:34:26 am »

I think history makes everything smell a little better. Bands that rise to the top and stay are the exception to the rule. for every pink floyd, there were 1000 others that sucked. Volume is a problem, but no more of a problem than others in the past. I'm sure guys used to complain that certain records used to make the needle jump and say where is this going. high end used to be a problem that everyone tried to overcome, now it's not. If it isn't volume, then it would be something else. Bands want to stand out from the rest and right now it's volume. Some want 25 songs on a CD. Some want multichannel. It's always going to be something. If you take away the russians, there are 25 middle easterners waiting in the wings.
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Michael Fossenkemper
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jfrigo

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2005, 12:37:46 am »

I'm thinking we need to get the up and coming artists and producers to understand. Maybe the next generation of artists can be better informed and that will help. Also, youth and rock 'n' roll wants to rebel - how do we encourage them to rebel against cookie-cutter crappy sounding records?

Like Brad says - the guys at the top of this pyramid aren't going to rock their golden boat, so we need to get at tomorrow's top guys now. Those are the people to influence, and the people we have access to, so there's a start.
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lucey

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2005, 10:27:44 am »

I've stated the idea pretty clearly that Fear vs. Love, or Intention vs. Happenstance is the timeless battle of humanity and that bitching from the cheap seats is not enough.

The loudness wars mirror everything in the modern economy/society.  The issue of fear and group think today is pandemic.  Yet fear is not new, it's just easier now. The new things in this era are:

a) the advanced (ever more competitive) capitalist economy
b) the advanced democracy (which has been rolled into a corporate/military/industrial/payola state as in no time in the past)
c) the advanced communication/information age, which makes quick hitting ideas stronger (easier to spread) than deep and complete ideas.  

Mastering content:  Loudness is a quick idea ... dynamics is a deep and complete idea.  Cooperation between peers is non-competitive and not encouraged.


As for Fear, the human being has always been the same, some of us are stronger while some are weaker, some are bright while some are slower.  We never change throughout time, yet the environment we live in does.

Now it's changed and is changing BIG time, it's a new world in many ways.   The competition of capitalism gets tougher every day by definition, and this is a situation that acerbates the fear and inhibits education, need or desire for thinking outside the box or challenging/questioning authority or power structures.  Why bother? The easy money and social acceptance is with the lemmings and the excuses.

Why are Americans increasingly Republican at the same time that PAC money has taken over Washington DC and corporations have become economically and politically dominant?  Because alignment with money and power is the easiest way to survive financially and socially in a supremely competitive democracy and an expanding global economy.  Humans have always been lazy on the whole, but now the stakes and repercussions are greater and more obvious.

(Americans in particular are walking a tightrope that's even higher, as we are about to fall from our position as the most powerful people in the world, in this lifetime ... and our ever increasing national debt is owned by Asia, as well.   We are living in a bubble of denial.  Mastering content:  So are the Mafia.)

Everything is more obvious and heightened in this era, but it's more of the same.  It's an exciting time to live if we have the patience to watch all the failures and corruptions on love based on fear.  



Yes, we all need to decide to be leaders or followers, afraid or courageous, trend setters or trend followers ... now more than ever in history because the advanced nature of our economic and political (communication/information) age is making everything move toward convenience, toward fear, and away from progressive ideas or individual thought.  These require will and provoke change and in this high paced economy that's more scary than ever.  Habit and fear and greed and the "Devils" motivations are more likely than ever, but these are not new.  Most religions in the West define "good" vs. "evil" in the way that we would define "love" vs. "fear" or "appropriate dynamics" vs. "habitual slamming"


As said, a power structure of our own on loudness, a formal paper from a group of accepted leaders, is the only way to balance the inevitable human nature qualities and the era of competition and technology we live in.  These are tough times in every way, but we are fortunate to be here and to have each other, and if we cooperate it will help stem the tides (or fear and other lower emotions) that for all time were present, yet now are more potent (due to advanced technology), more obvious (due to increased communication technology) and more  dangerous (based on the ever more competitive capitalism economy).

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Brian Lucey
Magic Garden Mastering

"the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology" - unknown

Bob Olhsson

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2005, 10:52:55 am »

The new thing is that this is the first time there has been a shrinking market for music in 50+ years.

This means musical and recording quality both need to become much more compelling for music to survive beyond just being a minor subset of television broadcasting or a souvenir such as a tee shirt.

The good news is that a single artist could turn the whole thing around as has happened before. I see our challenge as being to create the fertile ground for that artist and a new generation of managers, promoters and record labels to grow from. Creativity in all of these areas desperately needs a restart!

lucey

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2005, 11:09:08 am »

Bob Olhsson wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 10:52

The new thing is that this is the first time there has been a shrinking market for music in 50+ years.



Sales in the UK are up.  Sales for independent labels are way up.

They have embraced more thoughtful music, and are looking for timelessness, not the trendy pop crap which has poisoned the majors and the consumers.
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Brian Lucey
Magic Garden Mastering

"the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology" - unknown

chrisj

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2005, 11:50:20 am »

I've been saying that hot mastering kills longterm sales, and I'm sticking to it. I know it's a controversial topic to suggest that a CD won't keep on selling year after year if the sound hurts you, but that's the way it is.

I'm working on an even more outrageous extension of this idea involving further arcane metering voodoo... as near as I can tell, there are lots of ways to make sound ugly and excessive, but the only one that helps you with longterm sales is if you have excessive crest factor, because there's a correlation between exceptional performance and peak energy going way beyond RMS. People find that ugly too, sometimes, but it sells over the long haul.

malice

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2005, 12:03:03 pm »

lucey wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 17:09

Bob Olhsson wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 10:52

The new thing is that this is the first time there has been a shrinking market for music in 50+ years.



Sales in the UK are up.  Sales for independent labels are way up.




Yes, bust starting back from where ?????

malice

lucey

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2005, 12:23:23 pm »

malice wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 12:03

lucey wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 17:09

Bob Olhsson wrote on Thu, 03 March 2005 10:52

The new thing is that this is the first time there has been a shrinking market for music in 50+ years.



Sales in the UK are up.  Sales for independent labels are way up.




Yes, bust starting back from where ?????

malice


Since they decided to go for long term and music driven over short term and image driven.

ProTools edited music and Video driven music are no different than Loudness in mastering, it's all a flip of the priorities with changing technology and low emotions driving the cart, instead of using will and choice with the new technology.

The hard work of finding, recording honestly at reasonable volumes, and selling great artists is too hard for most when the easy work of making attractive people sound better and louder than was previously possible is available.

Even Al Schmidt said that with DAW editing and new technology they are MAKING artists, not finding them.  These created products are sonic widgets that fill a predetermined niche, not musical creators who will change the world by their very presence in it.   And with the assasinations of real people this century (MLK, John Lennon, Malcom X, etc.) it makes sense for the artist's to hide behind other professions in many cases.  Fear again.  
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Brian Lucey
Magic Garden Mastering

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malice

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2005, 12:30:36 pm »

I hear you Brian,

I was just bringing your attention over the fact that the crisis was more severe in UK and sales were down for a longer time than US. I remember at some point that you could be in "Top of the pop" with less than 5000 record sales ...

Making progress from this situation is not an achievement and cannot be considerer YET as a turnover ...

malice

Bob Olhsson

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Re: Are you scared?
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2005, 12:52:28 pm »

It would be very interesting to see figures on new music sales that exclude catalog sales over the past 20 years.
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