Mastering - why does so much of it suck?

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sublemon
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Post by sublemon » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:30 am

chris harris wrote:
That's true. So many people just send the CD master to the plant to have someone who doesn't give a shit cut a lacquer from the CD master. Ooof.

In the end, sending the cutting engineer a loud master is useless anyway. The person cutting the lacquer has the ultimate control over how loud your master is cut into the lacquer. Sending them a super hot CD master just means that they'll likely turn it down when cutting the lacquer. To me, that's the best thing about mastering for a vinyl release. It has nothing to do with LOUDNESS, and everything to do with the overall sound and sequence. I LOVE prepping masters for "flat cut" lacquer transfers.

FWIW, the mastering on the new My Bloody Valentine album is absolutely gloriously beautiful. Particularly the (separate) vinyl master! It's so wonderful sounding!
Only problem is the cutting engineer can turn it down a bit, but the peaks are still clipped if you send them a clipped master. It might be a bit better than the CD, due to the magical vinyl voodoo, but It will still make a crappy sounding LP. Fortunately I think some places are still making a better master for vinyl, and not always using the CD master.

totally agree on mbv.

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Re: Mastering - why does so much of it suck?

Post by sublemon » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:35 am

Nick Sevilla wrote:
And that is part of the problem. The ignorance of the definition of a term is partly to blame for why people get their mixes squished to heck and back again.
You cannot have fully dynamic mixes when you are compressing them.
You do NOT use a compressor to get e more dynamic mix, but to get a LESS dynamic mix.
I am talking about dynamic RANGE. As in, a compressor will reduce the size of this dynamic range.

Next time you say you used a compressor on a mix, please refer to it as a less dynamic mix, because that is the truth of it.

Cheers
I should also add, I *like* the sound of my mix bus compressor. It adds something to the end results i get on my "masters". But, used judiciously.

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Post by sublemon » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:43 am

It's just, I am getting tired of buying albums by great bands, who are using guiatr-bass-drums, and writing songs that seem to want to have dynamics, but everything is crushed out. Every snare hit sounds as loud as every bass drum hit and every tom hit. Every acoustic guitar sounds as loud as every electric guitar. The quiet part of the song where is is just the vocals is just as loud as the intended crescendo at the end. 6db of dynamic range on rock music is pathetic.

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Post by sublemon » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:49 am

fossiltooth wrote:Attempting to answer this question properly would take me about 2500 words.....


......So here you go: http://trustmeimascientist.com/2012/04/ ... dness-war/
The problem with this, is yes you can turn down the volume, but if the peaks are clipped, you have already ruined the sound. The volume knob cannot restore that. But, if you make a good master, then the listener can choose to use the volume knob (or software scheme) to make everything jsut as loud. That would be a better option.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Fri Apr 05, 2013 9:54 am

not much to add here that hasn't already been said. i'd happily cut people's records quieter if that's what they wanted. what sucks is everyone wants their shit as loud as everything else, and everything else is too loud.

that said, by 'everyone' i don't really mean everyone...most of the stuff i cut is at a pretty reasonable level. quieter than what was referenced in the OP. still though, it sucks when you do a really nice sounding master, and get the email back saying "we love it, can you just make it louder?"

and sorry tony!

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Fri Apr 05, 2013 12:06 pm

Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't have "those" clients! Almost everyone I work with wants a good sounding master and is easily talked out of making everything loud once we have the conversation about the pros and cons.
It might be because I do more roots based music than rock or it might be the fact that I'm in Canada which has a long tradition great bands and artists never getting on the radio (ever). Maybe I/we are lucky in that respect.
There are two MEs i use on a regular basis and I don't even feel like I need to have the conversation with them anymore. They know what I want and know I'll intervene if the client is pushing to do something stupid.

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Post by Nick Sevilla » Fri Apr 05, 2013 12:31 pm

sublemon wrote:It's just, I am getting tired of buying albums by great bands, who are using guiatr-bass-drums, and writing songs that seem to want to have dynamics, but everything is crushed out. Every snare hit sounds as loud as every bass drum hit and every tom hit. Every acoustic guitar sounds as loud as every electric guitar. The quiet part of the song where is is just the vocals is just as loud as the intended crescendo at the end. 6db of dynamic range on rock music is pathetic.
That is more of the mix problem, therefore the band asking for this.

All the mastering guy can do is crush it more, but only to a point, and a lot of my ME friends get mixes already crushed to hell, so they don't even need to use compressors nor limiters, just a bit of EQ.

Cheers
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Post by dfuruta » Fri Apr 05, 2013 5:58 pm

sublemon wrote:It's just, I am getting tired of buying albums by great bands, who are using guiatr-bass-drums, and writing songs that seem to want to have dynamics, but everything is crushed out. Every snare hit sounds as loud as every bass drum hit and every tom hit. Every acoustic guitar sounds as loud as every electric guitar. The quiet part of the song where is is just the vocals is just as loud as the intended crescendo at the end. 6db of dynamic range on rock music is pathetic.
the right conclusion to draw from this is that your favorite bands suck, not that mastering engineers ruin everything

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Post by losthighway » Fri Apr 05, 2013 10:17 pm

I have felt that anytime I was pissed off about "all the bands", or "all the albums lately", I ended up needing to find some positive exceptions instead of dwelling on the negative. There is so much music being released right now with a great range of artistic and technical quality. This includes the dynamics of the mastering job. Maybe you should find some records to be stoked about.

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Post by Nick Sevilla » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:11 am

losthighway wrote:I have felt that anytime I was pissed off about "all the bands", or "all the albums lately", I ended up needing to find some positive exceptions instead of dwelling on the negative. There is so much music being released right now with a great range of artistic and technical quality. This includes the dynamics of the mastering job. Maybe you should find some records to be stoked about.
David Bowie's new album. Not crushed.
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Post by Brian Dorn » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:56 am

I have crushed my own releases before. I have also in more recent years refused to do it. Here's all I can think to add to the issue:

1) For posterity, I have started to favor better sounding final products. Sometimes I'll let things clip the digital realm while recording, because sometimes I like the sound of it (mainly on vocals). I'm not sure how this will translate to products in the future, and I've heard it won't sound good on vinyl, but I have no personal experience with it. Basically, I'm trying to point out that it can be helpful to think about how our present choices will sound on future mediums. Which brings me to my second, more important point...

2) Programs like Spotify use algorithms to measure perceived volume. They then adjust every track to sound like they're at the same level. If you're curious about this, you can go there and check out my track, My Body is Mechanical, but This Forest is Not, which is mastered very low and is very uncrushed, against more mainstream bands with crushed releases. (I'm using my own music as an example, because I have hands-on knowledge of it.)

Personally, I see the future of music consumption diverging into two different arenas: vinyl and streaming. With both of these, crushing the final product is only detrimental.
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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Sat Apr 06, 2013 10:30 am

chris brokaw's new record is refreshingly uncrushed.

and there's always chinese democracy!

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Post by Brian Dorn » Sat Apr 06, 2013 12:27 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote: and there's always chinese democracy!
I love Chinese Democracy. Great album, and I don't feel like turning it off or down after five minutes.
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"Now that everyone is empowered with these tools to create stuff, has there been a lot more great shit coming out? Not really. You still have to have something to do with those tools." -Trent Reznor, Sound City

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Post by fossiltooth » Sat Apr 06, 2013 4:08 pm

sublemon wrote:
fossiltooth wrote:Attempting to answer this question properly would take me about 2500 words.....


......So here you go: http://trustmeimascientist.com/2012/04/ ... dness-war/
The problem with this, is yes you can turn down the volume, but if the peaks are clipped, you have already ruined the sound. The volume knob cannot restore that. But, if you make a good master, then the listener can choose to use the volume knob (or software scheme) to make everything jsut as loud. That would be a better option.
I'm guessing you're referring to the part about the transparent auto-gain features built into so many players and platforms these days. Yes: you're right to say that they don't restore lost dynamics. But they do take away the incentive to make needlessly hot masters. There is no more loudness war. It's essentially over. And it will only get more and more "over" the more people continue to switch to streaming and portable players.

That said, a lot of people will still make hot masters anyway. Not just for the sake of volume, but for the sake of tone. That brickwall limiting sound that you don't like? Well, that's now the sound of some genres of music. Regardless of the level.

It's like I always say about a Dave Fridmann mix: "It's not distorted because it's loud. It's loud because it's distorted." Big difference.

Hard limiting has become more than just a tool. It's also an aesthetic. Like other technologically-based aesthetics (big reverbs, gated snares, parallel compression, distorted vocals, bright mixes, boomy mixes) it will come and go out of style.

I wouldn't get so bent out of shape about it! A lot of times I don't master loud at all. Transparent auto-gain processors make it so unnecessary that most of my clients don't really care any more. I just go for what sounds right for the music. I don't want the level to be way off from "normal", but loudness really is a secondary concern.

Still, there are times (mostly on more electronic-y records) where I might master insanely hot. But this is not for level. It's for sound. When the records are "supposed" to sound that way, you're doing a bad job if you don't do it. To do otherwise would just be gross incompetence. The kind of incompetence that comes from "not listening" and "not understanding culture." That's way lamer than printing an occasional extra-hot master, for sure. Explaining-at-the-client that the sound they like is "wrong" would be just as bad as squishing a record that doesn't want to sound squished.

End of the day: Do what serves the record. That could mean way "too much" limiting, or barely any at all. This requires listening, conversation, and understanding both what's gone before, and we we are now. Whatever makes the music sound better and more "real" and ideally, "interesting". There is no one answer.

It's also important to remember that "more dynamic range" does not necessarily mean "better sound quality" -- particularly where popular music is concerned. Make sure to check out the end of that article. There's a back-to-back comparison of "DR levels." Within reason, they really have no bearing on quality whatsoever. There are just so many other variables at play.

I've heard great-sounding records towards both ends of the dynamic spectrum, although not at either of its very edges.

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Post by PhospheneProductions » Sat Apr 06, 2013 8:16 pm

I'm not sure I'd necessarily put all the blame of these said "dynamic wars" on just the mastering engineer. And it's certainily not just Indie music, but is spread through all genres. The Loudness wars, or Dyanmic wars starts with bands and ends with record labels, everyone wants it louder, and the general public has made it clearly noted they prefer it that way. Sadly its the select few "audiophiles" that notice a problem.

That being said, I know a great number of very successful mastering engineers here in Austin that notice and despise the problem, but if the label wants it, the label gets it, and if the band wants it louder, the band wants it louder. Its a service industry.

I like to think the next generation of engineers and DIY labels/publishers will give birth to more dynamic music through the whole process from recording to distribution. Give it some time.
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