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Loud masters

Hi, I was wondering what you all thought, I personally like to make my masters at a certain level, not as loud as many albums have been mastered lately, because I like to keep the dynamics intact, so I take the master mix to aproximately -10dB RMS, but this is kinda quiet compared to some of the newest rock albums in which most songs are taken to levels that can reach -5dB RMS, of course dynamics are totally killed. However, this is a new trend that is including itself in pop culture, the louder, the better. So now, if a master is quieter than other masters, it's less professional in popular ears? how can we deal with this


Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 06/06/2006 - 03:29
Michael Fossenkemper wrote: This is the dilema. I take each project to where it wants to go. Some are able to be loud, some not. Not everything is created equal.

I should send you some of my clients. They want there acoustical stuff as loud as Rap or Heavy Metal. I don't know how you can decide where "it wants to go" isn't that what the client is telling you? Just wondering???

Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 06/06/2006 - 06:54
Like the old saying goes, "would you jump off a cliff if someone asked you to?"

I've built a client base that more or less respects my opinion. I push it to where I start to get diminshing returns, then I back off a bit. 9/10 times I don't get any volume louder requests. If I do, I'll explain why I didn't go louder and let them decide. If I strongly disagree with their request, then I respectfully recommend them to someone else. Almost all of my clients are by word of mouth. So if I start destroying material for the sake of volume and they recommend me to someone else... You can see how one can get a boat load of volume crushing clients over a period of time. So in these instances, I would rather not take the gig. I'm not saying i'm in the practice of turning away clients, but i've found that the ones who are the most concerned about volume crushing loudness are the least experienced and don't really care how they sound. Not the kind of client that I would go out of my way to attract.

RemyRAD Tue, 06/06/2006 - 12:04
Cosme, this is not a new trend. This is an extension of the "LOUDNESS WARS" that radio has gone through for over 40 years. Not only do the broadcasters totally crunch your signal after it has been expertly mastered and released, they crunch it "spectrally" compressing multiple frequencies independently (multiband compressor)! And for the icing on the cake the radio stations may also utilize what is referred to as "COMPOSITE CLIPPING". We're not talking about clipping the audio directly but the RF signal itself, which in turn also clips the audio and adds undue distortion. And all for that extra edge of loudness.

If you combine an already hot compressed recording with the highly compressed technique of the radio station broadcast you'll get a signal that is louder than loud! If your song is louder than another song on a competing station, your song will be deemed "better" than the other song and station. Which we all know is not really true but a advertising marketing gimmick that still continues to this day. So it all comes down to the mindless many that will listen to their favorite loudest station and will favor the loudest songs on their loudest station over the softer songs on the softer stations. Can you say STUPID? They don't think they are?

The customer is always right.
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Tue, 06/06/2006 - 17:16
Don't discount the power of the salespeople at any given radio station, either. (Respectfully, they are not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, if you get my drift...)

I recall certain idiotic sales managers at a CLASSICAL MUSIC station (!!!) in the late 80's pushing the Program Director and Chief engineer for "more volume" so that he could go in to his clients and say: "See that? Just listen to how your ads just JUMP OUT at you when cruising down the dial." This was far more important to him than the purity of the music, of course. (Meanwhile, we had classical music purists calling up and SCREAMING about the modest compression they were already using.)

Everyone hated the guy, and for the most part, over-compression was a big no-no there anyway, but it was always an issue of contention. I know it's worse on pop/rock/rap stations now as well. I can't imagine it getting any better, as long as the inmates are running the asylum.

You just have to do the best you can, keep your clients informed with "The truth" and hope for the best. As long as you are honest about what's going on and why, you never have to feel bad about turning the work away, or giving in to yet another ridiculous volume request.

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 06/06/2006 - 18:30

I would just love to be able to record all my client's material the way audio engineers used to record back in the 90's, I personally love Smashing Pumpking's recordings or Green Day in their early Dookie years, back then a nice recorded acoustic rock drumset sounded just like that, a nice sounding rock acoustic drumset, now the best sounding rock drumset is the one that sounds most like a triggered drumset. I haven't heard a single rock song this year or the past year in wich the kick drum actually sounds like a kick drum, of course loud mixing makes kick drum peaks to be totally slaughtered, killing most of the low frequency thumping, making the kick drum sound more like a click maniac paper drum. Even the guitar sound has changed, most people like the new "Cabinet Emulator" sound instead of warm tube crunchy yet buzzing sound that gave rock that beautiful analog feeling. But what can we do to change a worldwide trend? I'm starting to think that this is something serious, will this evolve to the point that our careers will be based on recording shit for the rest of our lives because of a stupid "loud" trend???

Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 06/06/2006 - 19:27
No, it doesn't have to be that way. You just have to do what you like. There are plenty of people who appreciate a great sounding record. Build your own niche. People from all over the world will come to you to get THAT sound. it means you will have to turn away work. But you don't like it anyways so it's no real loss. If you are true to what you believe in, then others will follow you. I have to remind myself of why i'm doing this all of the time. I turn down more work than I take. Not just because of sonic reasons, but for quality of life reasons too. I don't want to work on sunday night, so I choose to turn down gigs that have to be done on sunday night for God knows whatever reason. But it's also important to build yourself to a point to afford to do this. So it's a fine line you have to walk. I am fortunate enough to be able to choose not to do certain gigs. But I am able to do this because of not what I did, but what I decided not to do. In the 90's, most of my work was hip hop. I decided that I didn't want this to be my bread and butter and only concentrated on world music, jazz, and R&R, turning down all the rap and hip hop gigs. I "Lost" a lot of income for a few years until I established myself, but I was happier. Now I do about one hip hop or rap gig a year because I choose to do it, not because I have to do it. Money isn't everything, happiness counts for more than we think.

JoeH Tue, 06/06/2006 - 20:17
Well spoken, Mike. I couldn't agree more. But, it's a tough lesson to learn, and very hard to implement for those trying to get somewhere. I too am in a position where I may turn down work that is wrong for me or my business.

Sometimes, it really does make sense to take a pass on something, rather than being miserable the whole time and hating life. That may come as shock to some, esp when things can be tight all over and every dollar counts. But living with yourself and enjoying life makes it all the more important.

In past discussions about this, there were some comments about not "learning" from the clients (who presumably knew better?) or ignoring some kind of new 'artform." To me, bad is bad, and always will be. There certainly CAN come a time when one must grow a spine and tell somewhen when they're wrong, even if it hits us in the pocketbook or costs us a client.

Mike's comments about attracting the right clientel are right on; eventually you'll attract the kind of clients you want. It's very hard to get going, but you'll love yourself in the morning if you do.

FWIW: I AM finding that some folks are learning (finally?) what's going on with the loudness wars. Once I show them a squashed waveform vs. what their "un-crunched" material looks and sounds like, many immediately say: "Don't do that to MY music." Another way to get people to calm down about their relative loudness issues is to play their loudest song first (very often putting it first on the CD, as well), and then use that as their max level setting, esp if it's a concert or a compilation of related material. Very often, that's enough to put them at ease, knowing that the volume settings work relative to each other.

Thomas W. Bethel Wed, 06/07/2006 - 04:48
Funny this topic has come up.

As of July 1, 2006 Acoustik Musik, Ltd. will be going back to what our name is all about. We are going to concentrate on our roots which has always been acoustical music. We are redirecting our efforts and will be doing mainly Jazz, Classical, Folk, Country and Bluegrass mastering after that date. We will not be doing Hip Hop, Heavy Metal or Rap.

This is not an easy decision and may cost us dearly but for my own peace of mind I need to do this now.

For most of thirty five plus years I have been in audio I have done mostly classical, jazz and folk recording, mixing and mastering so it is something I feel very comfortable doing.

Since our mastering company was founded 10 years ago we have tried to be a one stop do it all company and have met a lot of wonderful people along the way and have worked on some GREAT projects. The problem is that I do not feel fulfilled doing some of the mastering I have had to do to stay in business and I am now at a point that I want to choose the types of music that I master.

Only time will tell if I made the right decision but I feel very good about it and hope that by redirecting our efforts we can still make some money.

We talked this over with our clients and have done a lot of soul searching before coming to this decision but I think it is right and correct for where we now are.


Pro Audio Guest Wed, 06/07/2006 - 18:38

Wow you're all really experienced in this industry, actually I ask all these questions because I'm a prospective student of Music Engineering, It has always been my dream to work with audio professionally and I'm going to UM soon to start my career at last, however, I live in Venezuela and I work at a recording studio here, and although I love recording rock music in every style, I've noticed that if you specialize in a certain genre in wich you feel comfortable working (specially rock, jazz, RnB, and everything that isn't latin music or reggeaton) you're income is reduced totally. So I was wondering, how much is your income reduced when you start turning down clients where you work? How different is it?

RemyRAD Thu, 06/08/2006 - 10:27
I am just like many of the other professionals who are responding here. I tell most prospective clients that call me, " if you don't know how to play an instrument and cannot sing, then you won't want to work with me because I only work with talented people". My other friends with recording studios have told me you can make a living that way and they are basically correct. Another reason why I am a freelance engineer in the broadcast industry so when I am not recording stuff, I'm on the air engineering talking head news programs, running around with a video camera in the field and editing video along with authoring DVDs. Bread and butter! No 35 takes of bad guitar solos or, ripping somebody else's music track to use for a "beat". I'm quite happy with my decision although I would like to make more $ recording more real music.

Picky picky broad
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Sat, 06/10/2006 - 16:48
I like dynamic classical music at home where I can listen in complete silence and enjoy all the subtle nuances, but I hate this driving in my car where I have to employ a manual "compression" to be able to hear the pianissimo passages of a Prokovjiev piano concerto but have to turn it way down when the big cadenza kicks in (let's not even discuss something like Stravinsky where you can go deaf if you're not fast enough)! Let's face it: radio is made to be listened in the car and so I do not mind the over compression. Personally I push the mastering for loudness of classical music to the limit, then back it of a bit (like someone else already stated). Sometimes loudness is better (even in classical)!

Pro Audio Guest Sat, 06/10/2006 - 18:47

I don't know. In rock dynamics have a great deal of importance because of the intruments that are used, if you totally shave a kick drum peak it won't give you a low frequency thump, and so it can hide easily in the distorted guitar mush of loud sound( that is what it will become after over compression), in classical music dynamics are also important because of the impact that causes. What would Beethoven's 5th be without dynamics, just think about it, I think rock and classical mixes are the most delicate and can be easily screwed up with bad mastering

Pro Audio Guest Sun, 06/11/2006 - 19:08
Sure, Cosme! I was certainly not implying you should always destroy the dynamics to get loud masters, I just said that I didn't mind radio stations compressing the music to make them more enjoyable listening in your car driving on the highway!

By the way Beethoven's 5th symphony would still be a great piece even when played without dynamics, just listen to some youth orchestra trying to play it: no dynamics, out of tune and out of time but the composition still stands strong! :)

RemyRAD Mon, 06/12/2006 - 22:25
Cosme, I don't really agree about your comments regarding what happens to the sound of the bass drum on " loud mixes". Many of us have used dynamics processing on bass drums, in our mixes. It adds a little more "meat" to the sound of the bass drum. It does not do what you describe to the sound. And to assume that, you are definitely " limiting" your potential as a good engineer.

Limiting the Unlimited
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 06/13/2006 - 18:41

Thanks Remy you don't know how good that makes me feel, actually I was reffering to limiting, It's just that I had a very good experience lately with an album I was recording, they're genre is Emo Punk, so at first they were asking for loud masters and kick drums that came out, that had attack and thump at the same time, so at first I made these loud masters, but it just didn't feel right and it hurt my ears so much because I was taking the master to -6, -7dB RMS, and these guys used 3 guitars that crunched constantly in every song. So I tried later to lower the limiting threshold, taking the masters up to -10, -11dB RMS, and the difference in the kick drum sound and the rest of the mix was amazing, it didn't crack when you turned it up,the drums in general were amazingly spaced and defined and the guitars still had a powerful sound, that's why I came with that conclusion. I'd like to hear your opinion about my work, it's linked here

RemyRAD Wed, 06/14/2006 - 01:55
Cosme, I think you are pulling my "no habla Espanol' " leg? That high-energy rock-and-roll cut was GREAT! Everything about it was first rate and fully professional. I'm not much into that kind of high-energy rock-and-roll alot but I thought that the demonic "death rattle" vocal near the end of the song was pretty darn cool! I thought your drums sound/mix was totally fine? And the mastering superb.

It doesn't sound to me that you recorded this in your basement with a cheap little mixer? It sounds like you did this in a fully professional studio, somewhere in the hills of Venezuela? Tell me more about your production process and tools?

I love galapeno' peppers
The spicy girl
Ms. Remy Ann David

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 06/14/2006 - 10:07

I totally thought you were gonna hate it for some reason jejejejej, it really makes me feel great that a professional opinion about that album is a good one. Well you'll be surprised that the recording room where I made the drum tracking is actually the worst kind for drums, it's very small and almost totally anechoic and does not help the development of the cymbals at all, but I sort of managed to get the best out of my overheads. I used 3 Samson Q Snares in every tom, 1 Sm 57 on the top of the mapex piccollo drum, an AT4050 on the hh, an RE27 in the kick drum but (that doesn't count because I had to replace it with drumagog using a discrete drums sample because I didn't get the sound I wanted only with one mic) and my overheads were 2 Samson CO2 (I totally love these pen cardioid mics, the only cost about 120$ the pair but their performance is outstanding). The guitars were recorded with a Randall RG100 2x12 combo (gotta love Randall distortion), close micing with an SM57 and a bit distant axis micing with an RE27. The guitar was a Schecter i don't remember the model with Seimour Duncan pickups. The bass was a standard Jazz Bass in a yorkville 100W combo amp, recorded in axis wth de RE27 and also through Direct Box. Vocals were recorded with the AT4050. I preamped only the overheads in drums with a TL Audio dual valve compressor preamp. Everything else that was recorded with the RE27 and the vocals also were preamplified with this dude. The snare drum was compressed a bit with a symetrix digital compressor. I used a Mackie 24/8 mixing console, Nuendo 2 in a sucky PC (I wish I had a Mac), only waves plugins in the mix (also had to use the X-Crackle a bit because of some overload in the RE27 guitars), in mastering I used a C4 multiband, then R6 equalizer to tweak details a bit, then I used Steinberg's Loudness Maximizer (totally love it) to pump up the volume and that's about it, I'm glad you liked it, I was also wondering if you had an MSN email so we could chat , that'd be cool.