The trend of increasing loudness as shown by waveform images of
"Something" by The Beatles mastered on CD four times since 1983.
"I listened to all
the CDs submitted to NARAS for
consideration in the 'Best Engineered Non-Classical' Grammy category.
single CD was squashed to death so that their CD would be the
Nichols - Grammy winning
engineer for Steely Dan, Beach Boys and more
- Jan. 2002 Eq Magazine
wrote this article in 1999 and added to it occasionally. Along with
many other mastering engineers, I honestly think music would sell more
if it went back to a decent "standard" level. A STEP IN THE RIGHT
DIRECTION, FINALLY, IS MASTERED FOR
iTUNES. And it's notable that iTunes Radio turns DOWN super loud
audio masters - and Apple encourages dynamics to be put BACK in music
for the sake of better sound!
Meanwhile, what I've been saying since in this largely ancient article
The recent (2005 to 2014) hot CD levels have become the
standard. The labels and A-List
artists have dictated how we should "calibrate" sound quality through
more and more ridiculous volume. Louder CD's don't sound as good on the
air, and they can be
more fatiguing to the ear. Truly, the "good ol' days" when vinyl
(records) kept the playing field more even have faded...
the good news is that
we've developed HD Separation Mastering, which actually restores
dynamics, even at hot levels. (Maybe not STUPID hot, but competitively
hot levels.) Contact us
to inquire about how to get mega-hot levels and still keep the feel of
a dynamic mix. Meanwhile...
- I was working
on a Separations project and things were going well, just a few tweaks
were in order. The client mentioned that toward the end of a
song, the "volume dropped." What actually happened was: in the
where the volume dropped, they had
added in more
instruments to their music, which in turn saturated the overall signal!
up with more instruments makes a waveform more complex. This makes it
harder to hear what's going on. Key: fewer instruments are easier to
When the client added more instruments, more density/complexity added
to the mix displaced
openness required for a louder sound. The "Teeter Totter
Principle" was at work! More density/more music, less space = less
volume. Hint: Hip hop music
sounds really really loud because the arrangements are sparse, not
Creating insanely loud CD volume comes with a price - you have to limit
the amount of stuff that you pile on top of other stuff - because the
waveform changes as it gets louder. Here's a huge message that all the LOUD CD
fans can consider....
things like drums suffer the more the overall volume is raised. This
may sound "smooth" to you. It's because the peaks have to be reduced.
You lose character to the peaks. The more the mass of the song is
raised, the more sustain develops, especially in the bottom
frequencies. More sustain = more drone. More drone = less punch. Punch
comes from PRESENCE followed by ABSENCE OF PRESENCE.
have to tell you that in
this world of loud digital music. we WERE at
a point of NO HEADROOM WHATSOEVER. Whenever there is clipping, there
are NO BONUS
dBs after 0dBFS. What
that means is that if you add something to the ALREADY-MAXED sound,
something has to give DOWNWARD. Many mixers don't listen to
SPACE. What is open underneath the thing(s) I really want to hear
(Tip: Don't think of the little red clipping "over" lights
the same way you would think of the red area on a VU meter... it's not even
close to being the same... VU
meters are missing
11 dB above the +3 mark in
order to "register" anything close to a "zero point" - 0dBFS....)
[2014 - What's great is that Mastered for iTunes is cooling our
"loud" jets a bit, and it's about time...]
all that.... some loud CDs can sound very good, but
over a long period of time, squashed waveforms lose their natural
breath - which is
part of what keeps music interesting.
Note! Anything music that sounds
great on an exceptionally loud CD has been musically arranged to accommodate a
saturated waveform while still leaving some trace of musical muscle in
tact. If something is loud, it is because space has been created
behind it to allow it to come forward and be heard. To keep this
all working on your song, I must decrease something in order to
accommodate your more-of-everything musical arrangement. The
saying "Less is more." means less
stuff piled on top of everything will allow for more sound to come
will try cutting off the
low end of the backup vocals at that point
of your song. Low frequencies have more energy, so if I reduce
some lows, it will be a thinner
additive that comes in on
top of the already-maxed sound.
If this project was not using Separations, you would have to set the
level of the entire song based on this last portion of the music...
make that right... and then live with the rest of the song at a lower
volume... or you would have to figure this phenomena out and remix this
portion of the song.
major lesson: at loud
levels, only so much sound will come
through and retain it's punch. Add more and more instruments and
fill up more sound space, and the punch gives way to longer more sustained and even
(square?) waveforms. Punch comes from something being louder than something else that is
softer. If NOTHING is softer, then the result is smooth sustain,
the opposite of wide excursions of varying sound wave levels (and
therefore corresponding varying speaker movements).
when you make your mix - and it sounds fine.
But then it goes to mastering and I'm adding all this gain in the "no
bonus room" department. Try adding 15 dB of level to your
mixes and see how they react! Mastering didn't used to be a place
where the mixes got squashed into whipped butter! Big-label
mixing engineers often understand just how much stuff must be removed
at mix time in order to allow for that big sound to stay big.
Quincy Jones, I think, once said that a mix was finished when there was
no more stuff that could be taken out of the mix without losing the
flavor. Sparse arrangements = loud punchy music. Take rap
for example. Often, it's sparse instrumentation mixed back so
that the drums are huge by comparison. It's all about what's
RELATIVE to something else.
Why the big volume contest?
know that consumers listen
the OPPOSITE way that musicians play it.
Musicians play music at normal volume, and when they want it to be more
exciting, they punch
The home listener is different. They turn their stereo to a comfortable
listening level. When they hear
something softer, they perceive it as being weaker.
record companies don't want their artist's CD to sound weaker
than anybody else ... they almost always strive for the loudest sound
possible, not the most ideal sound possible.
The down side: Some artists are
flattening out their sound.... rendering it
punch-less and distorted... with no low end muscle, soggy mid-highs and
flat high end. They're using tons of pluggins and compressors (more
on compression here)
to approach what
mastering does to get those CDs hot.
as the CDs of 2007 get even hotter than 2006
and 2005, you almost have
slam and compress your mix... because the mix frickin' changes
as you limit those pesky
dynamics!!!!! How else will you know if you're putting enough kic
in the mix...? or enough clarity on the vocals (cause the instruments
just keep a comin' up as the mix gets squashed....)? How do you
know what to do to PREDICT how to mix for a hotter final CD???
order to cut a
slammin hot CD, you must smoothly limit the peaks in order to
not create clipping which can sound harsh and
fatiguing in time. Yet, the whole effect of a musical peak (like
say on a kick drum) is
that the waveform surges out over
the music. The peak sound has a cool
impact that stands up from the other sounds. This is punch that comes
from a wider speaker excursion caused by
that bigger peak, which means the
is actually moving more air... farther -
therefore... more punch.
flatten out all these peaks by over-compressing or hard
limiting and bring up the softer material that is all around those
peaks, the speaker excursion (distance it moves) is
smaller (in relation to the softer parts) - thereby reducing the punch
of the music. Granted, the overall sound is louder coming off the CDR,
but the overall sound is flatter and less open sounding.
Everything is more in-your-face all the time.
different kinds of loudness. One that is sometimes overlooked is called
"apparent loudness" which is a frequency-dependent kind of level. This
is a phenomena whereby the meter level doesn't increase but the
apparent volume does. Use your ears, and pay close attention to the
arrangements of top-drawer commercial CDs. Less is more!
Q) John, can you reduce the guitars on the
sides of my mixes and bring
up the drums in the center for more punch? -Jeff
question was submitted before we started doing HD Separation Mastering
which solves issues
like this. However if someone is using a traditional stereo mix,
we can reduce the width of the side guitars, but as the drums in the
center come up, the vocal and other elements in the center will come up
as well. Taking the guitars down will "teeter-totter" everything
up in the center of a 2-track mix. A subtle change may do the job
- it's all about preferences and references.
Separations, we would say "we can't make an apple into an
orange. we can, however, shine up the apple." Using Separations,
we can in fact actually create an "appleorange." In all cases,
creating the final balance is always about the teeter-totter
effect. If we tilt one thing back, something else comes
forward. The same is true with the arrangement of the instruments
- add more and more instruments and it's harder to hear the
drums. The teeter-totter effect is the
same for actual frequencies - you have to carve a "frequency hole" for
other elements to come through and be heard. It's important to
know how mastering affects mixes, so experiment with pre-squashing your
mixes to see what needs to be done to keep the music punchy.
How do you
keep your mixes hot and punchy without
high-end mastering rig?
1. There are no rules.
Solution: Create Separations. No more
no more late night debates - get your mix to sound great and create
separated musical elements -- and in mastering, it all comes
together. If you have 14 songs and #8 needs the vocal brought up
a bit, simply open the non-destructive file format and bring up the
vocal. If song #10 needs more drums... go for it. If you
prefer the stereo mix, it's all there in the format - nothing is
Most important: Save time by
doing homework, and get the mix correct. The best way to do that is to
A/B your mixes with commercial CD productions on a level-matched
Leave headroom in your mixes (2dBFS is good) and
build the excitement into the individual tracks for a musically
vibrant, punchy sound. Then let the mastering engineer send it
the roof for ya. With $100,000 worth of eq's, compressors & such in
the processing chain, the chances are that you'll end up with just as
much level with more punch and musical impact... and a CD that is more
pleasant to listen to over a longer period of time... because it will
naturally than a total squashed-to-the-max stereo mixdown. And
mastering process might cost a bit more than that cool $150
SuperGodSmasher Plugin for your PC... add in the flexibility of
the Separations format, and so long as you've made good
sonic/recording/arranging/production decisions during your project,
you'll have a competitive final sound.
into your mixdown
more exciting and more magical, and it's worth it. For this reason I
don't recommend mixing through a Finalizer unless you are very
conservative with the settings. It makes it too easy for everything to
sound good. I've mixed this way, and I immediately knew what the
problem was once I got my own mix into the mastering room.
this is a no-rules business, and certainly everything you've done
up to this point may be exactly what the doctor ordered for your
project to hit the top ten - exactly as it is.... so use your best
creative judgment, have fun, and DON'T get addicted to the
technology!!! Keep your music first and use top-notch talent every step
of the way - at a price that's appropriate for you. Get people
involved, promote relentlessly, and have a good time along the way.
More info: Wikipedia,
great article on Dr. Lex' site
and more here about the end of dynamic range.
Remember the rules:
2. If you can't make
Separations, make alternate mixes so you
into a creative corner.
3. Label your masters. Clearly. ID numbers,
song names, take notes, etc.
4. If possible, don't use audio CDR's in
for mastering - use
24 or 32 bit files!
5. Leave a second of "air" before your song
starts when making a mix or a Separation file
Fly Miracle Project
Fly Miracle Project