CD levels, last 20 years.

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by golli, Apr 3, 2004.

  1. golli

    golli Active Member

    Apr 17, 2003
    This has been talked to death, but here goes :lol:

    I put a few songs in CDA5.0.

    I began with songs from Bridges To Babylon and Goddess in the Doorway, the first thing I notised was a waveform I had never seen before on my system A blue brick wall as if I had painted my LCD screen with a broad stroke :shock: and the meters were stuck between -0.4 and -0.1db.
    Then I put A Pink Floyd song From the 1991-2 album: Delecate Sound Of Thunder (comfortably numb).
    And then: Run Like Hell, from The Wall 1980.

    Both Floyd songs had a "normal waveform" and sounded more........................well, comfortable. With the meters going from c.a -1.0 and -0.1 db.
    I'm not saying that the Jagger/Stones song sounded worse but my ears got tyred quick when listening to them, and another thing is that to have this compilation playable, I had to turn the Jagger/Stones down 7.6db's, to get a equal level.
    The Pink Floyd levels were roughly the same but those two songs were mastered in 1980 and 1991/2. That leaves me to belive that this level competition has just happened in recent years.

    This may not be useful info for anyone but I was quite shocked how far those mastering engineers would go in squisshing the Jagger/Stones. I thought they only did this with Rap or Heavy Metal stuff :) (and it is quite fatiqing for the ear)
    Or was I seeing the pressure from A&R people breething down their necks :evil:
  2. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    yes, this has been talked to death everywhere in the mastering community. It is a recent trend and it's not. it started with vinyl, then radio then cassette, now CD. all formats have had their level wars and now we are in the middle of a battle. I spend a lot of time trying to get my levels hotter and still sound good because that's the single most requested thing i get. Everyone wants it loud. sometimes i get them to turn it down but most times i don't. Hell i spent all day last saturday trying some new things to sqeak out another db (in fact i think i've spent most of last year doing this). It's a complex problem that might not go away until it gets worse. More than half the sessions I do are about level and not quality. It's not just rap and rock either. i did an album last week where the meters never dipped, nailed to the top, that was before i did anything and they still wanted it louder. It seems to get worse by the month. As the big guys find ways to make things louder, so must I to get certain business. Granted, It's my decision whether or not to play the game. sometimes i do and sometimes I don't. My job is to give what the clients want but at the same time look out for them as well. I'll push the envelope if that's what they want but if it's really going to far then I'll also tell them, show them, explain to them, but they ultimately have the final decision.
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    The biggest problem is the 5 CD changer. The producer, the artist or the record company executive puts YOUR CD into the changer with 4 other CDs that have been recently made and then compares the LEVEL of your CD to the other ones in rotation. If your CD is not as loud then he, she or they inform you that there is something wrong with the mastering. They have stopped listening for quality or for the essences of the songs all they want is LEVEL. It is literally the war of LEVELS.

    As a mastering engineer and a CD listener I am ashamed of some of the stuff that is being foisted on the public today. It is over produced, over compressed, over EQ'd, and has been driven into digital clipping to make it sound even louder. If you look at some of the work of my contemporaries you will find CDs with hundreds of digital overs in them. Maybe even thousands of digital clips. We have pushed the limit and clients want more level. They seem to relate level to record sales or air play. I can tell you from experience in radio that heavily compressed over eq'd material actually sound softer on the radio then normally mastered material due to the nature of the processors every radio station uses to make them the loudest spot on the dial. Robert Orban, who is one of the people who makes the equipment for the radio stations, has written extensively on this subject. His conclusion. GO BACK TO THE OLD WAY OF PRODUCING CDs IF YOU WANT THEM TO SOUND GOOD ON THE RADIO.

    I had a blues project in house for the last couple of weeks. The groups leader/producer wanted the CD to sound GREAT! and was willing to have it be a bit less overdone in terms of level to get a better sound. But he too fell for the level wars and I was finally forced by him to jack up the levels so it would be competitive with other blues albums. It still sounds good but it sounded better -3 dBs ago before I boosted the level and the compression.

    It is current level overload trend going to end soon? It does not look like it in the immediate future. If some artist would have enough courage to release one of the albums with out going overboard with the levels and it would become a mega selling album based on the musical content alone then maybe people would start to rethink the level wars and if a couple of albums came out with reduced levels and also sold well maybe the trend would reverse itself and mastering engineers could get back to what they do best - making albums sound GREAT! You are correct in that this all started recently (within the past 3 years) and has been a thorn in every mastering engineer's backside since it began. The only ones that are really enjoying this trend are a couple of mastering studios (mostly in NYC) that are financially benefiting from this "trend" because they have found ways of overdriving the music so much that it is the loudest on the planet.


    Hope this helps!
  4. golli

    golli Active Member

    Apr 17, 2003
    So you're saying -3.0 and not -0.3 ago. There is quite a difference even on my little monitoring system, so I would imagine that a 3.0db difference on a pro mastering system would be worlds apart.

    This blue waveformwall I was talking about, I wonder how it would look on a music score, like the composer or conductor would say to an orchestra "now everyone play as loud as everyone else and no f***ing dynamics or emotion in my pit".

    Well the strange thing is that the version I have, of The Wall, remastered on CD, the song Comfortably Numb starts with a digital over, when the bass, bassdrum, cymbal and guitar all come in on the first 1. There is a nasty clipping there. That remastering must have been done around 1990.
  5. gonefishin

    gonefishin Guest

    Yep, it's a trend that stinks (if ya ask me;) )

    I'd certainly rather have the main body of the music recorded at a lower overall volume, while trying to preserve some of the dynamic range within the instruments. Norah Jones - come fly with me is another good example of a recording that is simply too loud...with seemingly no where for the rest of the music to go.

    this is from a listeners viewpoint tho>>>>

    take care,
  6. Sonarfox

    Sonarfox Guest

    I had this very argument in the pub the other day. There's no denying that getting levels as hot as possible is bad practice. Vocal and Bass levels are often compressed on the way in, compressed by button-happy fools and plug-ins once it's in the can, multi-band compressed at mixdown, compressed at the plant if the noddy bloke with the wallet is clumsy with his sadie, and then finally and clumsily gets compressed to buggery if and when it gets radio broadcast.

    And since when was the loudness of music considered a real, competitive arena? It's bloody ridiculous. Just because the consumer wants to listen to his crap, disposable cover versions, with sell-out session players, throw-away lyrics and top-heavy production as loud as possible on his shite £50 mp3 player, it doesn't mean we have to follow suit.

    In a nutshell, I look to my volume knob when I wish to have things louder and I respect producers and cherish recordings that strive to capture as many of the original DYNAMICS as possible. You can stick the rest of your glossy squashed digital dustbin fodder wherever it fits best, preferably out of earshot.

    There's some wonderful white papers and resources on modern and traditional metering and levels on the internet - check out:

    "An Integrated Approach to Metering, Monitoring, and Levelling
    Practices" by Bob Katz, Digital Domain, Inc.

    Incidentally, in T-Racks, SoundForge & SpectraLab 'Comfortably Numb' peaks at -0.4 dB. The peak amplitude however, barely goes above -20dB. If your version is clipping after extraction then perhaps you don't have an original copy :D I personally think that 'The Wall' is one of the most delicately and sympathetically recorded albums from that era. That drum sound...ooh.

    Anyway, it's 5:45 am, I'm full of caffeine and nicotine and whatsmore it's my birthday. So I'm allowed to be a little humbuggish on this cold, spring morning.

    "That'll keep you going for the show, come on it's time to go..."
  7. iznogood

    iznogood Member

    Feb 9, 2004
    "The biggest problem is the 5 CD changer."

    I think the biggest problem is record company A&R guys who know nothing about music and even less about sound quality!!
  8. tomtom

    tomtom Guest

    As Sonarfox said, read some of this on the tc electronics web site:

    I rememeber finding extremely good comments on the Manley web site. Check the user manual for the SLAM or the Mu compressor.


  9. markwilder

    markwilder Guest

    I think if you want to discuss level, you need to take a step back for a moment. In the Lp days, radio was serviced with singles, whether 7 or 12 inch. These were cut differently from the Lp. The Lp was cut with quality in mind. The singles were cut so they would stand out, either by level or EQ. With the CD era, radio was serviced with an albums worth of material, not singles. That stand-out mentality needed to work for the entire album. Needless to say, the consumer and music suffers for it. Now with MP3, we are back to a singles' market, and maybe those who make these types of discisions need to rethink a separate EQ/Level philosophy for album and single/file. It's a hard trend to buck from a professional point of view. I've lost records because I've stood my ground on level. There are ways to have music stand out without killing it with an L2 or Finalizer.

    Mark Wilder
  10. TeeME

    TeeME Guest

    Simple, my rms does not climb above -17dB unless it is a test tone CD. Easy to actually have it run about -19 at times. Not loud enough? Sorry, consumers so lazy as to not hit the volume can suck an egg.

    Quality, not quanity.

    That also goes for clinents. My way or the highway. I cannot afford to do shitty work and I can afford to not do crappy work.

    Reject and rebuke the volume level wars.
  11. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Although I agree whole heartily with your sentiments there is a always the problem of doing work for hire which anyone who runs a studio is faced with on a daily basis. Do you impose your "code of ethics" on a client or do you do as the client asks and give them more level. If you are doing recording, mastering or mixing full time you basically have an open door policy and you take on anyone who walks though your door. They are the client and they are paying for you to keep the lights and heat on in your establishment. They are also the ones that contribute to your gear fund and allow you to purchase all the new "toys" everyone enjoys using. If on the other hand you are doing this for fun of as a secondary source of income you can be more selective in your choice of clients.

    When I win the lottery I will do only the projects that interest me and forget the rest. Until that time I need to make a living so whatever or whoever walks in the front door gets my undivided attention and if they say turn it up I will (or someone down the block will be more than willing to do what they want) but I will do it in such a way that it does not harm the music and does not degrade my reputation as a good mastering engineer....

    Just my thoughts......

  12. TeeME

    TeeME Guest

    I generally have a "sit-down and lets do some listening" session of education before the sessions begin. This is when I explain the general concept of where the level "should be"

    Even if I had unlimited finances (I don't) it would not change the way I would approach the final level of a project. All I can do is educate and do the very best I can. If the client still wants more RMS gain, I will show them where the max limit is without deterioration of the signal and then go above it to show what happens. If they still don't "get it" then I choose not to let inferior work come from my hands. So far, I have had no problems with this approach.
  13. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    I use the same approach EXCEPT that if the client want to smash their mix I SMASH it with the best of them after trying, very very hard to talk them out of it. Sometimes they are under the mistaken idea that this is the way music is "suppose" to sound.

    Sometimes when dealing with Rappers or Hip Hoppers they want all the lights lit on the compressor, otherwise they don't think they are getting their money's worth.

    I admire you for your principals but in today's cut throat market if you don't do what the client wants they have lots of "other" choices and most of them are more than willing to walk out and find other alternatives. They will also spread the word that you are hard to work with which in a small community can make or break a studio. Best of luck and keep to your principals....


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