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the evil of the loudness wars has reached my studio...
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Nutti
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Joined: 12/06/2013 08:41:39
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Location: Ostrobothnia, Finland
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I had a band in to make their ep in my studio in november last year. As I run a little one-man-studio in my sparetime I try to work with bands as smoothly and nicely I can while doing all the stuff myself. I depend on them to get the feeling of coming in having a great time while recording some music so that they might spread the word around of my little studio. Now as a small project studio I offer my clients a complete finnished mastered record at a very low price so that young kids would be able to afford to make their own record without spending thousands of dollars. That is my vision.

(Yes, I know that it's not so good to master yourself due to the same ears, equipment ect.)

Well, with my latest project a band with years of experience came in and some of the members had a few records in their pocket already, so they knew how everything worked. I told them that for the price they will get a finnished mastered cd at a standard NON loudness war rms level of around -10 to -8db. I finnished the project at -9.7db rms but they wanted the mixdown so that they can compare the mastering from other places. So I gave them the files, waited a few weeks and checked back with them how it had gone with their ep. They had chosen a mastered version from a big commersial studio and I asked if I could get a copy to compare with my version.

As I got to my studio I started analyzing and got chocked by the levels...they where at -6db rms and all the life was gone. So I got in touch with them again to hear of why they chose that master. I already knew the answer...

So I started thinking, how are guys like me who like dynamics supposed to keep a good reputation when the big studios are still squashing the song? Am I doomed to start pushing the limiter, release it and forget about it? Spotify has since the beginning of their musicplayer had a volume control built in to get all songs the same level for the listener. So the loudness wars are pointless there...I recently read that itunes since this year (? Or last year, can't remember) have built in a similar setting to get levels more to be the same. Still records today are being squashed lifeless by the big companies. When will it stop?? And am I better of mastering at -5db rms to keep customers happy and to be a bit louder than the big studios? This is sick!
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Beauvais
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Joined: 02/09/2010 08:39:51
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I would always offer at least two versions of the master. One really squashed and one how you think is right. Then the customer can choose, I mean it's their choice after all. But if you show them both versions side by side and tell them about the differences and what they lose when going super loud, chances are they will listen to you.
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nathanjc
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Joined: 20/03/2013 18:25:33
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I think that a lot of this has to do with people's listening habits. Music is an accompaniment medium, more so than it has ever been. What I mean by this is people rarely listen to music alone, it usually accompanies something (driving, walk,ing, cleaning, talking, exercising...) so in order for music to be able to compete with these other activities and not draw attention to itself it must ride at consistent levels. Don't get me wrong, I am a massive proponent of dynamics in music, but have you ever been in social setting where the music keeps fading in and out? It's really unsettling, though this could just be my cultural upbringing.

There is also the Radio argument that in order for your song to be noticed it must be the loudest. This, I personally feel is what is wrong with loudness wars.

One option would be to offer two versions. A compressed version and a dynamic version. Nine Inch Nails offered this for their last album. I don't know how it did sales wise and if there was a difference to which was preferred. But I think that this is a really interesting and promising option, because really music serves multiple purposes and is played on different devices and systems which are each designed for radically different purposes.

It would be interesting in the future if all the mastering information was imbedded in the song and you could choose which compression techniques were applied dependent upon your environment.
LMike
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Beauvais wrote:I would always offer at least two versions of the master. One really squashed and one how you think is right. Then the customer can choose, I mean it's their choice after all. But if you show them both versions side by side and tell them about the differences and what they lose when going super loud, chances are they will listen to you.

I personally despise that squashed and often kinda pumping limited sound... the sound that (often enough) results from chasing 'loud'.

There appear to only be (relatively speaking that is) a few people who can do "excruciatingly loud" (DR 4 or whatever) really well and many of them seem to also be really good at mastering in general or actually be ME's. The majority of the time (to my ears anyway) that kind of limiting for loudness in the home studio in most hands harms the music in some way or another, unless there is a talented hand behind it.
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Beauvais
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LMike wrote:
Beauvais wrote:I would always offer at least two versions of the master. One really squashed and one how you think is right. Then the customer can choose, I mean it's their choice after all. But if you show them both versions side by side and tell them about the differences and what they lose when going super loud, chances are they will listen to you.

I personally despise that squashed and often kinda pumping limited sound... the sound that (often enough) results from chasing 'loud'.

There appear to only be (relatively speaking that is) a few people who can do "excruciatingly loud" (DR 4 or whatever) really well and many of them seem to also be really good at mastering in general or actually be ME's. The majority of the time (to my ears anyway) that kind of limiting for loudness in the home studio in most hands harms the music in some way or another, unless there is a talented hand behind it.


I agree, it's not that easy to get something really loud without seriously impairing the fidelity. But my point is that in the end it's the customer's/artist's choice. And if you show them both options, possibly RMS level adjusted, you might be able to convince them to go with a little less loud version. Historically speaking, even a crest factor of 9dB is rather loud.

And the OP also mentioned software players like Spotify or iTunes which do (or at least can) level songs according to their RMS. With people increasingly using such players rather than CDs, the loudness war eats its own tail. Show the artist how in such a player a really loud master does not sound louder but just lifeless and they might listen to you.
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Nutti
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Offcourse! Two versions! Why didn't I think about that? Then my name might have stood alone on their record...well, atleast I learned that now, and learning is always +++

I tried explaining to one of them about the crushing of dynamics, but they thought the other master was so much louder and more alive? Don't know how those two add up but atleast I'm happy that they got the result they were looking for, and they said that they were very happy with the recording and that they might come back later this year, so not everything vent down the drain.
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jBranam
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well i am glad i don't do this for money... i would go broke. i don't do all loud... i prefer variance in the dynamics. on the front lines of the loudness wars... there is no room for a breath or a sigh to emphasize thought.... it is just blah blah blah.

remember you have to live with yourself on this... if you don't care... then make the money. if you do care about what you produce then tell the loudness junkies to hug your left one.

call it a GREAT mix and tell em if they want it loud then get someone else to crush the life out of it... it is up to them but will cost the same no matter what they do.

again... i am glad i don't want money for what i do... i sure would piss a lot of people off.
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Beauvais
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Nutti wrote:Offcourse! Two versions! Why didn't I think about that? Then my name might have stood alone on their record...well, atleast I learned that now, and learning is always +++

I tried explaining to one of them about the crushing of dynamics, but they thought the other master was so much louder and more alive? Don't know how those two add up but atleast I'm happy that they got the result they were looking for, and they said that they were very happy with the recording and that they might come back later this year, so not everything vent down the drain.


Also make sure you show both versions at the same RMS levels. Then it quickly becomes obvious when a version sacrifices dynamics for loudness.
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LMike
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Beauvais wrote:I agree, it's not that easy to get something really loud without seriously impairing the fidelity. But my point is that in the end it's the customer's/artist's choice. And if you show them both options, possibly RMS level adjusted, you might be able to convince them to go with a little less loud version. Historically speaking, even a crest factor of 9dB is rather loud.

And the OP also mentioned software players like Spotify or iTunes which do (or at least can) level songs according to their RMS. With people increasingly using such players rather than CDs, the loudness war eats its own tail. Show the artist how in such a player a really loud master does not sound louder but just lifeless and they might listen to you.


Makes perfect sense to me B, if you're doing that.

I never really had that issue so much because I would make it pretty clear to my clients that I don't "master", and that mastering isn't really mixing, and that they're paying me to make something sound (subjectively to taste and personal talent of course, "good" having "subjectively different perceptual levels" and all that) ... "good" (or better than they can), not loud.

But of course, if you're the "last stop", it's not destined for the DiscMakers mastering room or something, you certainly might try to make it a little louder... or make the print they'll be listening to in the interim a little louder.

And of course, it's maybe not the worst idea in the world to kinda check how a mix might react to heavy limiting by limiting a print for that purpose.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 12/02/2014 18:39:15

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matthewgorman
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I blame ipods/mp3 players. With so many varying playlists, different music era and artists, modern day artists don't want to have their song come on a playlist and be the lowest song. I hear it all the time

Radio has always crushed dynamics. ipods are now the equivalent of personal radio stations. Nobody sits in the living room next to the stereo and listens to their favorite album (what's an album?). Those days are gone. I agree, the best advice is to give them your version, and the crushed version. The role of the producer is to get the best performance to tape, and piece it together in the best possible way. Unfortunately, producers aren't allowed to have opinions most times on how that will be used, which is a shame.
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jemusic
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Firstly it is possible to master your own mixes. The key is to leave plenty of time between the two processes. (mixing and mastering that is)

It is also possible to create a loud master that still sounds punchy and transient. Hard to believe. The answer is in how you go about it. Firstly you never increase the loudness (rms levels) a lot in any one process. It sounds better when it is done over several stages. The first stage being in an editing program even before mastering. A little extra level in the EQ and compressor stages.

But the last stage is the limiter and all limiters are not created equal. One limiter that is seriously good is the PSP Xenon. It costs $250 though but it sounds quite amazing. It can add 4 dB or more of rms level to a master and not sound like it is doing exactly that. Somehow it retains a lot of punch and snap and transients. It also has many controls unlike many limiters out there and you can actually control or set how transient it actually sounds while it is limiting. It also does not break up a mix either or add distortion. (Unless you smash it of course but the secret is to know when to stop!)

I agree though it would be great to leave it alone and master to say a max level of -12 or -14 dB rms but unfortunately there are a few clients out there who simply refuse to stop there. They want it louder and then you need some secret weapons like Xenon to be able to do it.
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salvadoredelle
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radio stations and TV will squash your music no matter how much dynamics you build into your mix...then factor in the lo-fi MP3 craze... that kills the dynamics and frequency response... I recommend using a qualified Mastering facility and engineer to master your projects... You will do your clients and yourself a favor by knowing a great mastering engineer you work with for higher end projects the require and can afford this level of professional mastering. Then these guys will come back to you and record more and you will have a better relationship as you know your studio techniques and also where to send them for mastering your good work to industry standards and their taste... remember it's their music not yours so you have to go with them if they want that type of sound. Small no name bands can't afford real mastering services ... so get your experience with them and know when to throw the high end clients up to a real mastering engineer and gain their respect for your referral to a pro. I go with my clients to mastering and you should consider that as well... you will have some good input into the process and learn something too! I learn about my own mixing going to the mastering sessions... I'll take it there for my clients!

Also different mastering engineers specialize in certain types of music as well... so you should get cozy with these guys... they are your best friend at the end!

I use Paul Stubblebine in the SF bay Area... Joe Gastwert in LA is great and Bernie! is the total master of masters... you can't beat a pro with extensive experience and all the killer mastering gear that recording studios don't have... it's a different deal...

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I love reading this to find out I'm not the only one keeping stuff down around -9dB.

I have a few limiters, Alloy and Ozone which I've successfully applied with a decent bump 3 or 4dB in "loud".
But when I come back the next day, I start with the dynamic version then listen to the "loud" version and I can hear the "squish"... sure glad my ears still work to notice.
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LMike
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jemusic wrote:Firstly it is possible to master your own mixes. The key is to leave plenty of time between the two processes. (mixing and mastering that is) .


For sure. Some people (no personal idea how many either way) just don't do that though. Not that it's bad or anything to do it, but some just don't do it.

Obviously, in most home or personal studios doing everything there is far from unusual, so the good info given along those lines in this thread is most certainly directly relevant and useful to the context of anyone who does.
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dr4kan
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LMike wrote:
jemusic wrote:Firstly it is possible to master your own mixes. The key is to leave plenty of time between the two processes. (mixing and mastering that is) .


For sure. Some people (no personal idea how many either way) just don't do that though. Not that it's bad or anything to do it, but some just don't do it.


I am one of those who doesn't. It's not only to have another pair of ears, but it's also something related to talent/skills (if one can mix it does not imply he can also master...it's a totally different beast) and setup.
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