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I’m a bit confused about the “radio ready song ” version vs the “brick wall”

For today’s contemporary music you want to have your mastering levels compressed as much as you can, of course without distortion or clipping, then your wave file looks almost like a brick wall.
Now, I’ve heard that for radio broadcast of your material actually is preferred NOT to send this “brick wall” version since their equipment and limiters will distort and it won’t sound good?

So, I’m very confused, first you need a good mastering/CD level – but then this won’t sound good on the radio? Do big name artists send two versions of their material?

1. Do you send two versions to your radio? One is your finished fully mastered (Digipack or whatever format CD) and also an additional CD that is the “radio ready” song? (less compressed)
2. So the “radio ready" song should be less compressed/ not a brick wall, maybe about -2db headroom?

Please let me understand this better,

Thank you so much for your help!

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RemyRAD Wed, 09/12/2012 - 17:42

Radio Ready just means a damn fine mix. It does not mean brick wall. Brick walls are fine for head bashers. For head bashing music you want brick walls. It works much better on your head that way. Brickwall limiters are however utilize in all broadcast media.

Most recordings that look like a brick, in the timeline don't sound good on the air. That's because some other rank amateur thought they were playing FM loudness wars with their CDs. And then it never sounds big. It sounds all squeezed, lifeless and flat. So while we utilize a lot of compression and limiting in our recording technique, we go for slower attack times to preserve punch. You need some peaks flying through where the compression and limiting give you the beef. Great mixes, don't look like bricks. They simply sound, loud, in-your-face and punchy all the while looking like proper waveforms in the time like. You're just confused by people that don't know what they're talking about but think they do. Way back in the day though, different mixes were done for AM monaural low fidelity radio stations as compared to high fidelity stereo FM radio stations that were starting to come into their own.

Your question about level is slightly confused. The land of digital, once in the computer, a general amplitude peak value can be chosen and signed. This has nothing to do with any kind of automatic volume control, compression, limiting, nothing to do with that. Normalization is simply a function of scanning an entire recording. It then finds the highest recorded peak of the recording. If that peak excursion never hits full 100% level, people raise the entire recording up until that peak sits at 100%. Or you can set it to 98%, 99%, if you're daring and 97%. If you really want to play it safe? You could even set it higher than 100%, but you don't want to do that. You can with certain things. For instance, a clown lobbed firecracker goes off in an otherwise nice acoustic guitar and vocal recording. That peak will be higher in level than anything else on the mellow folk songs your recording. So normalizing to 100% will make sure that the acoustical act will be too low in level and the firecracker will sound just right. Or, you might want to normalize to 180%? In doing that, it will clip the waveform of the firecracker substantially, while bringing everything up else in level. You don't care if the firecracker clips. It's better than it does. It will give it an extra snap. LOL. More like a briss actually.

So normalization and software regarding delivering a product that never goes beyond -2 DB is not entirely valid. A brick at zero DB is no different than a brick at -2 DB. If your average levels are properly balanced, and your compressors and limiters don't all have the released speeds set to their fastest along with the attack times set to their fastest, you'll have a well compressed and limited dynamic recorded sound. And don't use any " look ahead " in your compression software. Then even compression in software can sound more like analog compressors do. And that's because analog compressors and limiters cannot see beyond present time. Being able to look ahead of present time is only something that a computer could do/can do. And all after-the-fact and not in real time. So if you want a real mixed sound? You don't want the computer thinking any faster than old-fashioned analog equipment. Just because it can doesn't mean you should. It's useful and effective in the right applications. Just because it can do anything doesn't mean you should use everything. And of course this is all 100% subjective. Which is another cockroach in the mashed potatoes. Bottom line is, most of the great mixes are great mixes. And the mediocre mixes can be made to sound like fast cars and vacuum cleaners, thanks to modern day software. It's all in what you want. And whatever you're going for. So while there is a right and wrong, there is no right and wrong. There is just good, better, best. And it's one thing to do this for fun and it's a whole 'nother thing to try and do this as a living, much less become famous for it. Actually it all comes down to luck. So it feels good to be good and it feels good to be lucky.

I wouldn't give a radio station but one mix. The people who play them and make them famous are not technical people. It's for you to decide what you believe to be your best foot forward. You're not trying to appeal to mommy or daddy anymore. This is strictly business. If someone asks me to provide for them something that sounds more aggressive, I'll make it aggressive. If it's too aggressive, and it shouldn't be, you can't always undo that. It's like putting too much salt on your food before you taste it. And I can assure you, the Michael Jackson CDs we got at NBC radio, were the same ones you got in the store. So, say, for instance, if you knew your Latino-based group recording was going to air here in the USA, you might want to create a more heavily compressed mix for AM radio? Because most of the Latino stations in the USA are still AM. And where possibly it may play in Mexico, Central America, South America, FM stations, you would want to deliver your ultrahigh fidelity and beautifully mixed CD version. So some of your releases may be influenced by knowing what the intended end delivery might be. So if I was doing a Latino release, I'd likely create both AM and FM mix version, since I live in the USA? I would only do that if requested and would propose the question if not.

Does that help honey?

Not lucky lately... well yeah... I just miss my other Neve.
Mx. Remy Ann David

Trex Thu, 09/13/2012 - 03:19

Thank you so much "RemyRAD" for the wonderful explanation and help!! I really appreciate that.

So my best understanding - a "brick wall" recording is not necessarily good and it's ok if there's headroom and you can see some peaks and "waves" around. And just a good, fat well balanced mastering level CD will do it for a radio broadcast?

Thank you gain:-))

RemyRAD Fri, 09/14/2012 - 02:06

Of course those folks that are into the heavy metal/death metal genre of production, frequently want that brick like waveform. Why? Because it's supposed to be nasty sounding, and it is. So if you want nasty, you want to think brick. If you want nice, always remember sticks and stones can break your hearing. But big soulful guitar solos will never hurt you.

I love my own mixing technique and don't follow trends.
Mx. Remy Ann David

mindprint Tue, 10/09/2012 - 09:39

I've had clients complain sometimes that after the record gets mastered the radio people avoiding playing local records by telling them that it needs mastering and it turns out all they are saying is I can't play your record because either the format is not right or someone didn't get enough push from special sources. So like RemyRad pointed out brickwall limed vs radio master has nothing in common and but really is the same thing in modern day comparison.

RemyRAD Tue, 10/09/2012 - 13:26

Lots of rock 'n roll radio stations feature a homegrown hour or two, that highlights local music in their communities. And that's when they'll play most anything. When they're not doing that, their programming company, has no place in their programming for local music. Most radio stations do not rely upon the program director these days to dictate their format. Like so many other things, it has been sourced out to programming companies that know how to get their people, the ratings they want by the music selection provided to them by the programming company. And that's why they really don't vary from that. They come up with these other lame excuses instead. They won't want you to know that the format you are listening to is not the one they actually created. They think it's sort of like Kentucky fried chicken's secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices and therefore has to be highly protected. So nothing will displace their programming companies programming. And it's not just them making that decision, it's the station ownership. And most today are owned by huge conglomerate corporations and not the mom and pops that used to run these stations in yesteryear. And that's when people were still breaking new ground. Today it's all financially based. So if you've got enough money to throw at something, you can get anything played you want. But that doesn't usually include the wealth of DIY earners. Everything is based upon thy holy profit margin. It's really sad that our entertainment has been reduced to this. So the only thing that will get played is the stuff that can generate huge profits. And they're not original enough to want to break new ground anymore. Again, it's due to outsourcing but outsourcing right here in the United States. I think either way we look at it, outsourcing will be the undoing of our economy? Nobody wants to take a chance with a guy who has an original idea anymore. It's a risk. And people don't want to take risks. They are too timid in thinking they will not make their quarterly advancements for their shareholders. It ain't about whether mom-and-pop likes the idea of a band anymore. They're paying for their programming and that's what they're going to use. Because the corporate shareholders are now making all of these decisions and not the program or music directors that used to do that job. And that's why the Internet has become the logical place to go to break new ground, today. And the proliferation of independent labels has proved that. It's a whole different world today. Kind of like George Orwell's 1984. It actually came true. We're living it now. And it's all rather fascinating because really none of it makes sense. It only makes cents. And that's really all people want today.

I just want some good old-fashioned rock 'n roll.
Mx. Remy Ann David