And I thought Dynamics were a good thing...

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by FifthCircle, Feb 4, 2005.

  1. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    This probably goes under the mastering context, but how many of you have found the volume war translating out to acoustic music?

    I will do dynamic manipulation- especially to the performances with massive dynamic swings. However, I have a chamber music client that has been killing me with requests for less dynamic range.

    I've pulled out every trick I know to keep things sounding good and limiting dynamcis. I've used manual level changes, m-s processing, parallel compression, and limiting. They came back to me and said basically "Sounds fantastic, but it distorts. We have to turn it up for the soft stuff and then when it gets loud, my stereo distorts. It sounds like it is made for a high-end setup."

    It was mastered so that the RMS for most things is about -18 to -20. When it gets loud, the RMS approaches -10 (getting to pop levels here) and there are almost no square waves from over-limiting. I'd usually consider that to be a pretty good job, but evidently it isn't enough...

    Anybody else have suggestions on getting more level and preserving the overall sound? BTW, they consider Norah Jones first album to be the ideal of what they are looking for...


  2. LittleDogAudio

    LittleDogAudio Active Member

    Hey Ben, I had a very similar thing happening on a project that I mastered.

    The best way that I could deal with it was using a Pendulum OCL-2 limiter. It allowed me to get the volume without overdriving everybodies system.

    So I guess it was just the quality of the signal path that saved me.

  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    one trick (arguably lame, but it works) is to put the loudest track on FIRST, so they'll adjust their set for that level, and (Maybe, hopefully) keep it there for the rest of the disc. (At least, that's how one client preferred to listen to it that way...)

    Sounds like, though, perhaps your chamber music client isn't all that worried about dynamics, or is coming from a different place (other than classical music?)

    As I'm sure you're well aware, Ben, there's a ton of subtle (and NOT so subtle) tricks and techniques in Samp/Sequoia to help work around this sort of thing. (Very often, I'll make a quick cut before/after the applause of somethign (esp if it's louder than the music) and then bring the rest of the track's (music) volume up to a higher level, since the peaks were relatively lower without considering the applause.

    But it can be dicey if there's a loud soprano or other big peaks in the music. Only you ears can REALLY tell you if you've gone too far. (or violated the audio hippocratic oath: "First, do no Harm!"

    I really HATE to mess with great dynamics, though, and it gets wierd when you have a client that doesn't understand the difference between processed "pop" and serious music. (Do they ever listen to a good NPR station, and hear tracks they THINK they already know heard on a less=compressed format than the other rock/pop stations? It alone can be an ear-opener!)

    Can you afford to draw a line in the sand and tell them how far you will or will NOT go? That may be your REAL answer.....
  4. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Don't these people attend concerts?
  5. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Perhaps the answer is to send them to someone who does nothing but pop music and let them experience a waveform that looks like a square wave in all its glory.

    After that they will probably slink back and never mention the word "car" again. At least if any of them listen at home.

    OR give them what they want and request that your name not be associated with the end result.

  6. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    The fact is, we can philosophise all we want, but the client wants it so that she doesn't have to jump up and change the volume knob on the stereo.

    It is a piano trio that performs in sort of a "cross-over" style of playing. The music includes world influences, tangos, and other contemporary music.

    The example CDs that they liked included the first Norah Jones disc, the Yo Yo Ma tango disc, and several others of similar style. As I said, I've pulled out a lot of dynamic range (probably upwards of 10 dB!) and I've managed to keep it sounding pretty good. I could always just use a limiter and smash the !@$! out of it, but I'd like to avoid that if at all possible. I used some M-S processing to open the sound up and do some EQ tricks and I've used parallel compression to add a lot to the bottom end of the dynamic spectrum while maintaining the peak/transient information at the loud end of things...

    I can't change the order of the CD as that is set for musical reasons- the first piece is not anywhere near the loudest (actually the last pieces are).

    I'll be spending more time on it today, but Geez... Oh yeah- the stereos being used for the judgment are a boom box and a car.

  7. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    But what color is their money? If they are paying for all the extra mastering gymnastics, is this really a BAD thing? If they are ultimately happy and your name is not on it, is there a problem?

    Yes, it is frustrating to have a client complain about good work and prefer what we consider poor work, but it IS their money, and if they aren't happy, your competition will be spending it, not you.

    If someone with ears hears it and asks you about it, explain. In the end a happy client is better for your business than someone who tells people that you "couldn't give them the sound they wanted."

    My $.04 (infaltion).

  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    it's a fine line between them, indeed. (giving them what they want vs. artistic integrity.)

    I guess it depends on the direction of the project, and what's expected at the outset. sometimes you do have to compromise...

    I am VERY VERY fortunate in that I'm usually able to explain my case when it happens. It happened not too long ago with an Ivy League, University-level Male Glee club with the exact same question: "Why doens't sound as loud as (insert flavor of the month here)?" I took a lot of time with the music director and walked him through it, even showing him waveforms. Fortunately, he preferred the "true" version, and I dodged a bullet there.

    But, ok, now what about the converse: How many have dealt with musicians and conductors (admittedly, this is a bit more of the "old-school" folks) who absolutely HATE and DETEST any kind of compression or artificial level change?

    I have at least two clients that are almost "idiot savants" (and I say this with NO disrepect) in that they can hear ANY change in the dynamics of a radio broadcast - but at the same time don't care about chair scrapes, coughs, or even passing cars sometimes. They just go CRAZY at hearing compression on the radio. (one client went BANANNAS on the phone with me immediately after a broadcast, threatening to NEVER allow his work on the air again, becuase of the compression of FM radio.)

    Admittedly, some of these folks need to get out more, and we did once (not too long ago) catch the station involved for NOT using the right setting on their Optimod. (it had kicked over to the Jazz setting an hour early, due to mis-matched daylight savings time settings)

    Still, these people HEAR the difference, and it (the perceived change in the very dynamics THEY created) makes them scream bloody murder.

    Another area of the "Idiot savant" process: they hear the change in amplitude, but NOT the (Lack of) change in overtones associated with it. In other words, the horn or flute or string or whatever will indeed come UP in amplitude, but the OVERTONES do not change proportionally to a louder (FFF) performance. Makes no difference to my complainers, they STILL hear it as a corruption of their carefully crafted dynamic range of sound.

    I don't hear it this way, do any of you? My ear/brain says: Ok, yes, this was compressed a bit, but the music really did NOT get more 'excited' as the level change would indicate. I've been listening to music (as well as creating it) on AM, FM and every kind of analog/digital media since I was a kid, and i'm admittedly a little bit immune (or accustomed to) the compression associated with FM radio broadcasts, even today.

    However, I DO mix and master things for radio broadcast a little differently, knowing how it's going to "hit" the optimod, etc. and to be fair, most NPR stations have come a long long way to better sound, and more intelligent peak limiting, etc.

    I'm still surprised at times to get the 3rd degree from "purists" who want NO compression at all on their FM radio experience.
    If it just gets impossible to explain it to them, I gently suggest they just go home and put the CD on instead. What makes me REALLY chuckle is that these so-called "know it alls" know nothing about peak limiting in FM broadcasting, and FCC guidelines and limits when it comes to "overmodulating."
  9. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Believe me-

    I have no issues with dynamic control on classical recordings... Hell, you look at what we had on the best of the old analog recordings and there is so much more that can be done with digital. Between tape compression and the limits to dynamic that you can have at all on a record, you have a lot less dynamic contrast than is available today. Because of that, I have no problem lowering the dynamic range- it can even be difficult to listen to on a decent set up when there is such a wide range of dynamics.

    The issue here is more of the artistic, when are we compressing too much. We are already way below what you would have had on a record, but there still are dynamics. Now, I have about a 15-20 difference between the softest passage and the loudest peaks. In RMS- it translates out to a paltry 10dB difference.

  10. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Hi Ben,
    I´m only a beginner at this, but I have been there as well. And in a way, I guess they are right. Any contemporary music will be compared to the pop scene. And the artist is in charge of the artistic content.

    So why not simple slap a multiband compressor across it all, turn the output volume up a bit and run it into a hard limiter. It might sound worse in your ears (mine too), but better according to the client.

    Perhaps you could ask an assistant or even a neighbour to take the blame / credit for doing the mastering if you want to save your name. You could even use my name if you want to (you, know, hot and rising star on the Scandinavian scene... not).

    Now send this "supermastered" stuff to the client, and see if they are happy. Well, if they are and pay you, thats one paid for gig. Next gig is next thing.

    Sorry for this, a bit fed-up with things today. A few of my files didn´t reach the backup disks, and now they want a remix. Every other file is there...

  11. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Bullseye! My guess is, they don't. Common problem all over the music industry, live music is the reference.

    We always use a modicum of compression of schools choirs, nothing more than 1.6:1 with a threshold of about 20deebs. But we tend to not use it at all with chamber music.

    As Ben says, we also find its use dependent on the type of music as well.
  12. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    Can you get them in the room with you and let them hear different amounts of compression in realtime?
  13. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Well, I've remastered it... We'll see how they like it this time.

    I basically upped the levels of compression (mostly in the parallel compression area, but also some overall compression) and added some additional limiting. I'm not happy with the sound- I've never cut such a loud classical album.

    That being said, I'm sure they'll love it- and if I don't keep my customers happy I don't have a business.

    I've discussed at great length with them the issues of a loud album and they are quite insistant that they don't want to have to be "running for the volume knob." Since they are paying the bill, I do what they want... In the end, I can encourage the artistic integrity of the project, but it is their project and they are the ones paying the bill. If I always put the artistic purity of a project over the business, I'd be broke... (well, more broke than I currently am... :? :p )

    We'll see what they think about this master.

  14. Javier

    Javier Guest

    Hello FifthCircle. IMO I would handle levels this way:
    I would manually move up the softest passages by phrases.
    IE: Lets say that you have a phrase that leads to a mf (say peaks at -10). I would raise the whole phrase by 6or 7 db so it will peak at -3 db. That would be mf. Forte at -2 and fortissimo AND fortississimo at -1(maybe with a little compression and manual removal of short transient peaks).Even in the case that you have a long phrase that continuosly grows in volume there are many inner portions that you can manipulate for reducing the dynamic range without affecting the harmonic content. Volume would mostly raise in small steps rather than continuosly. I think what they are listening for is the relative change of amplitude within the musical phrases. I don´t think (and i hope) they can be able to tell if the mf that happened 2 minutes ago was almost as loud as the forte they hearing (by 2 db). This method has worked for me. Best regards for you all fine engineers. Javier
  15. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I am currently working on a project in "world music" The performer did all of his own recording. He did all the WRONG things during the recording phase but now wants me to pass the "magic wand" of mastering over the project and make everything ok. He is located in a far city and we are sending him refs at intervals. One of his biggest complaints is that "all the tunes should sound the same and be at the same level"

    This, as you might imagine, has not been an easy CD to master since I am dealing with all kinds of problems plus an artist that wants his stuff LOUD but with "lots of dynamic range" When he first recorded this stuff it was done in all kinds of different venues and he also wants it all to sound like it was recorded in one venue complete with the same reverb and the same ambience. We have been working on this project since July. One of the tunes has a berimbau (an instrument that looks like a gourd with a bow sticking out one side) he has drilled a hole in one side and places a microphone inside the gourd. He bangs the instrument on his lap as he is singing. Problem is that the microphone is loose inside the gourd and when he bangs it on his lap the microphone produces some really nasty square waves which are distorted. I had to go though and manually fix each occurance of the problem which took hours to do.

    We are in the final stages of the mastering and he is determined that he wants all the songs at the same level and wants me to "compress them" so they will sound good to someone listening in their car and they will not have to adjust their volume control for the whole CD or if they are listening to his stuff on radio and he wants it to sound as loud as a rock tune that it played before his material. Some of the tunes are done on a solo thumb piano (mbira) and are very soft some are he and his partner singing Isreali folk songs and some are production numbers with lots of instruments and lots of level. One of his tunes starts out at about -22 dBFS and goes at the end to 0 dBFS. This is in the space of about 4 minutes of song. He wants the begining and ending to "sound the same"

    I have done work for this artist in the past but all of his work up until now has been done by a professional recording engineer and the tracks were great to work with from the start. These a proving to be almost undoable.

    This loudness race has to STOP and soon because it is ruining MUSIC.

  16. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Javier, I've done a few tricks like that from time to time, to bring a level up here and there, it does work in a pinch, but I can't imagine being forced into doing that for an entire CD. Fairly time-consuming, isn't it?

    Tom, I certainly hope you're getting paid well for this madness. (I can only shake my head in agreement at reading some of these stories...been there, done that, don't wanna do it again if I can help it!)

    I'm currently dealing with a client that is "fixing" the audio bed of a multimedia soundtrack that will go onto a DVD. The music is from two performances of "classical" holiday (mostly Christmas) music, and it involves narrator, soloists, choir, harpsichord, piano, a glass 'armonica, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Well, almost....)

    There was video shot as well, but he's so bent on fixing little things, that any "sync" has long been destroyed (and we're not doing the video portion for them anyway...that's someone ELSE's problem now). Now that we've "Fixed" all the dialog and narration, we'll be tackling the music tomorrow. I know he'll want the quiet solo string passages UP as loud as can be, and he'll want to reduce the field drum and concert drum (which sound WONDERFUL left alone) to fit in the squashed dynamic range he's looking for.....sigh..... we weren't able to put a mic on the glass harmonica player (for visual/sightline reasons at the performance) so I can't WAIT untill we get to "Fixing" that part....

    I'm thinking maybe we need to revive the "Horror" stories thread and make it a sticky. There seems to be no end to the things we sometimes get forced into doing, eh?

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