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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,049 Member Since:04/02/2011

#21 [url]

Apr 13 15 8:56 AM

drknob wrote:
 
OPINION ALERT! In my personal opinion, most descriptions of sound quality are BS, highly subjective, communicating very little. There..... I said it. On the other hand, we do need to find ways to discuss sound quality.......

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." - variously attributed to Gore Vidal, Martin Mull, Frank Zappa......

I do think it's important, though, that we don't conflate "hard to communicate" with "unnecessary to communicate." Describing the way things sound, and how that relates to the way things make us feel, is at the center of what I imagine a lot of us do (at the very least).

When we ask a vocalist to "tell me the story" or "go deep into the feeling that inspired the writing of that lyric," it's similarly highly subjective, and certainly runs the risk of communicating very little.  It's also centrally important, even if the "return on investment" (in terms of "accurate conveyance of ideas per word") is very, very low.

As with musical theory, we can learn a bit about the technical underpinnings behind the equipment we use to (hopefully) enhance our ability to communicate more expediently. The problem is when we don't know enough about the technical side to justify the words we're using-- hence why "fast" and "slow" can be very misleading. Most of the time when someone uses those, they have a notion of what they think "fast" might sound like, but that's not necessarily based in technical reality.

Sort of how, if a non-literate musician were to use the term "harmonic minor" when he intended a minor harmony, without realizing that the "harmonic minor" scale is a different thing (or in an effort to sound smart)-- that would hinder, rather than enable, communication. Same as when someone with no electronics background delves into using words like "slew rate" to describe a subjective impression of immediacy, or to try and add weight to a subjective opinion by couching it in objective-sounding terms.

 

brad allen williams

Last Edited By: soapfoot Apr 13 15 8:59 AM. Edited 1 time.

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drknob

Gold Finger

Posts: 788 Member Since:02/02/2011

#22 [url]

Apr 13 15 9:03 AM

soapfoot wrote:

drknob wrote:

 
OPINION ALERT! In my personal opinion, most descriptions of sound quality are BS, highly subjective, communicating very little. There..... I said it. On the other hand, we do need to find ways to discuss sound quality.......


"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." - variously attributed to Gore Vidal, Martin Mull, Frank Zappa......
 



I do think it's important, though, that we don't conflate "hard to communicate" with "unnecessary to communicate." Describing the way things sound, and how that relates to the way things make us feel, is at the center of what I imagine a lot of us do (at the very least).


 

I'm completely in agreement, Brad. But, I think we need to be on high alert that the meaning and intent of music and sound description is fraught with peril. The possibility of miscommunication is high.

Harold Kilianski

Music Industry Arts
Fanshawe College

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soapfoot

Ruby Baby

Posts: 7,049 Member Since:04/02/2011

#23 [url]

Apr 13 15 9:27 AM

Very much agreed. I feel the best way to avoid miscommunication is if all parties involved ditch pretense, posturing, etc. and just say what it is they want in whatever words they 100% understand. If an artist says to me "I want my voice to sound like it's floating in air", then that's honest and gives me somewhere to start. I'm positive we can get her voice to "float in air" if we're open-minded in our collaboration about how we get there.

It's when things get oddly specific, and when someone gets out of their (experience-based) depth with technical recommendations/explanations/speculation, that things get dicey. Usually that's when the tail-chasing starts.

Of course, many conversations legitimately, under the best of circumstances, have a high potential for miscommunication. We just accept it and have those conversastions anyway, because they need to be had, and hopefully we have the ability and persistence to navigate through that all to productive satisfaction.

brad allen williams

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aleatoric

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Posts: 258 Member Since:01/02/2012

#25 [url]

Apr 13 15 5:59 PM

Thanks for all the replies guys.  Interesting to hear others take on this type of processing.  While I wholeheartedly agree there are mixes that can benefit from a bit of vibe/color in the mastering stage my personal aesthetic certainly leans more towards a clean (I like JanP's use of the term "clean analog") approach unless specifically requested to do differently.  Which brings me to:

twerk wrote:
At least once a week I get a client looking to hear a bit more saturation/harmonics/distortion in the end result.

 

This is very surprising to me.  In my nearly 5.5 years of running my studio (and I worked on a few dozen albums prior to officially opening) I can recall two direct requests for added saturation or "more color".  One guy straight up wanted a more distorted/saturated sound (it was a punk project) and the other wanted me to do a revision with a tape emulator plugin (he specifically asked me to use a tape emulation plugin if I had one, which I did, that was an EDM project).  Both of which I accomplished digitally with positive results and feedback from the artists.  So out of many many projects its come up twice for me that a more colored/saturated sound was the what the artist wanted.  This is actually less than the number of times I've been requested to use reverb!  So, to me, this type of processing almost falls in the "special effect" category of things I do extremely rarely and almost always just upon request.  

I have however gotten quite a few requests, prior to mastering where the artist said something about wanting to achieve a more "analog sound" or "analog vibe" through mastering.  For the most part I sort of just keep that in the back of my mind but don't do anything too different than I normally would do.  Usually it means I'll click the O/T switch on my FCS P3S ME and perhaps run the tracks out of my DAW into my analog chain slightly hotter (to "drive" the P3S ME a bit more) but in nearly every case the "analog sound" the artist/client were after was simply accomplished by the traditional means, good use of EQ, compression and limiting, using relatively clean analog equipment.  It's similar to an artist saying they want a "big" sounding master.  Not doing anything out of the ordinary and just serving the mix properly almost always accomplishes the "big", "analog" or whatever other buzz word type description is expressed.  Basically they just want the mix('s) to sound better through mastering and some get this across using a variety of terms.  

Now, that is not to say I don't enjoy adding very subtle amounts of analog character, the keyword here is subtle though.  My Sontec MEP-250EX inherently has a bit of a sonic footprint.  Anyone who has used this EQ (or another model of Sontec, although I've heard they can vary quite a bit unit to unit and year of manufacturing) knows what I am talking about.  It's hard to put into words, and after all the EQ was originally designed with the utmost transparency in mind, but I find even a trip through its op-amps with the EQ set flat imparts a little something.  Rarely a liability and I find the Sontec excels on around 90-95% of the projects I get in but at the same time it brings a little something to the table that a totally clean digital EQ does not.

Likewise with my FCS P3S ME with Class A mod.  Again a very clean and musical analog compressor.  However engaging the O/T switch with the Class A mod (a Class A driven cinemag transformer coupled output) does add just a subtle tone that works on lots of stuff.  Again though subtle is the keyword here, especially if you're not driving the unit hard.

Overall using these two pieces in tandem bring a musical and slight but pleasing analog characteristic (if you want to call it that) while still staying very true to the mixes (obviously setting dependent but I'm talking the "tone" they impart).  

Very recently (sort of what prompted this thread) I had an artist come to me who had previously gotten his EP mastered by another mastering engineer and he was not happy with the work provided.  I don't know who it was, or what kind of equipment was used but I know he paid someone else to master the project originally.  Outside of what in my mind were very poor EQ choices and some major track to track discrepancies (one track was straight up 4-5dB louder than the another in terms of perceived loudness) there was this rather thick veil over the whole EP with his mastered versions.  Either some sort of overly heavy handed analog unit or maybe some sort of analog emulation or saturation plugin was used but it legit sounded awful and way different than the mixes (which were very good).  There was also a large increase in audible noise floor compared to the mixes.  Obviously the client was not happy with the masters either, hence coming to me.  Why some take this approach, especially when not asked to (the client gave me no notes at all on the project before sending it) really makes my head scratch.  Not the first time I've seen this sort of processing done to perfectly good mixes and when not requested.  Anyway, I guess that's my own two cents on the topic.  Apologies for the long post.  

 

Last Edited By: aleatoric Apr 13 15 6:12 PM. Edited 1 time.

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morespaceecho

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 2,191 Member Since:29/01/2011

#27 [url]

Apr 13 15 8:13 PM

i did a record last friday where the band and the recordist/mixer were friends....i knew they'd recorded in the drummer's basement, most likely using nothing-special mics, and going into a prosumer interface into a laptop. the mixes sounded really good, i was impressed....but the mixer had said "you're going to have to get your hands dirty on this one"....i think he was mainly just being modest, but i was also pretty sure that all the records the band really loved were probably made before 1973, and they would probably like it if their record sounded more like that than something made on a computer in 2015. 

the mixes didn't really need much eq, what they really needed was....can someone come up with better terms than 'vibe' and 'mojo'? i hate those words now. but that's what they needed. i did a little more than i normally do, pushed a couple things a bit more than usual, and you know it really turned out great. everyone was happy. whatever works.

www.oldcolonymastering.com

morespaceecho.bandcamp.com

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JanP

Silverado

Posts: 56 Member Since:09/04/2015

#28 [url]

Apr 14 15 5:44 AM

I think we all confirm that talking about sound isnt easy at all. Everyone has its own perception of what sounds good or transparent or whatever.
Where starts 'saturation', where ends 'mojo'...? What sounds 'fast', what is 'slow'... Its easier when sitting together or, at least, listen to the same sources.
I have just recorded two different short, raw audio examples; one processed with some 'mojo' (and a DAAD-Loop), the other without.
Would be curoius tho hear what you think of the diffrence.
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/13138516/Musik/mojo_test.zip
(just peak normalized)

Last Edited By: JanP Apr 14 15 5:59 AM. Edited 1 time.

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waltzmastering

Platinum Blonde

Posts: 1,587 Member Since:02/02/2011

#29 [url]

Apr 14 15 8:14 AM

drknob wrote:

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." - variously attributed to Gore Vidal, Martin Mull, Frank Zappa......

Peer to peer, there seems to be a good amount of terminology that's understood. ..but then maybe an equal or greater amount of terms that can be quite ambiguous. 
I don't think confusing word associations are exclusive to the music and recording industry.
..coincidentally, I saw Dweezil play his dad's stuff 2 night ago. Frank was highly opinionated, and I wonder sometimes what his take would be on the current state of affairs.

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ShawnJHatfield

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Posts: 187 Member Since:19/05/2011

#30 [url]

Apr 14 15 11:17 AM

aleatoric wrote:
This is very surprising to me.  In my nearly 5.5 years of running my studio (and I worked on a few dozen albums prior to officially opening) I can recall two direct requests for added saturation or "more color".  One guy straight up wanted a more distorted/saturated sound (it was a punk project) and the other wanted me to do a revision with a tape emulator plugin (he specifically asked me to use a tape emulation plugin if I had one, which I did, that was an EDM project).  Both of which I accomplished digitally with positive results and feedback from the artists.  So out of many many projects its come up twice for me that a more colored/saturated sound was the what the artist wanted.  This is actually less than the number of times I've been requested to use reverb!  So, to me, this type of processing almost falls in the "special effect" category of things I do extremely rarely and almost always just upon request. 

 

 
Believe me, I find it surprising too. It's a relatively newer request I've been getting. 5 years ago, it was maybe a once a year or less type thing. Perhaps it's just a fad. Perhaps it has more to do with our client base. I will say though, the things I'm doing that end up with the most positive feedback still sound very subtle. This isn't over the top aggressive processing that is night/day different from the source.

I agree entirely with your full post.

Shawn Hatfield www.audibleoddities.com

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adam

Silverado

Posts: 92 Member Since:21/02/2011

#31 [url]

Apr 14 15 6:46 PM

Just finished another reggae/rock/jazz-influenced album (or in their words: "new soul/reggae with bits of afro, samba and nordic electro jazz and radiohead vibes in it"). Horns, Fender Rhodes, elec bass, gtrs, drums, layered vocals. All brilliant players. Couldn't have got the results wanted without EQ'ing into the Chandler LTD's (no actual compression on all but one track) and API 550m EQ.
Last week it was the re-tubed & re-calibrated Vari-Mu brought back into action to vibe up three blues albums. As always: whatever it takes, but as little as possible.

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plexus

New Forum Friend

Posts: 2 Member Since:21/03/2015

#32 [url]

Apr 24 15 11:35 AM

Often people will ask questions like "do you use parallel compression?" or "what EQ should I put on vocals?" - I know, for myself, that all my processors are merely tools. I don't employ any specific rules to either mixing or mastering. I use my ears to guide me and my processors are tools to achieve what I want. Be it a particular sound, fixing a problem or imparting a feeling. I think the challenge comes from audio having a robust scientific side to it and a really important subjective side to it. This can make it challenging because of the human preoccupation with needing to "know" - knowledge, science, objectivity. Here is my personal approach: I strive to explore and understand the science behind audio, processors, what not. I will spend a lot of time working with a tool, looking at it's output on spectrograms and other analysis tools, trying to AB as best I can to understand what is going on from an engineering, technical point of view. Then, when working on music, I put all that out of my mind and focus on the sound, the feeling. The technical side of the work I do is aimed at understanding the effect the processor has on the audio, how it works, what quirks it has, how the parameters work together, how the processor works with other processors. Part of it is learning the tool in the context of music. Once I have that, then I can leverage the knowledge to get the feeling I want out of the music.

When it comes to saturation, like anything, its a tool. Since saturation imparts an addition of energy into the music, I only use it when the music can benefit from that. For me this is my blanket answer. "when do you use _____?", "I use _____ when I feel the music will benefit from it." How do you know when the music will benefit from it? THAT is the crux question and it's not something that can be explained away.

I think what makes a good mastering engineer is the ability to subjectively alter the sound in such a way as to make it pleasing to most people. also to affect the music in a way that enhances the subjective sense of it. basically being able to be on the same page as the artist and the listeners. When would I use saturation? Like any other processing, I use it when it makes sense to use it. The detailed answer depends on the nature of the audio at hand and so I can't give a blanket answer. I use it when I feel the audio can benefit from that which saturation imparts in the music. Beyond that, it's not really possible to explain. I think this is why mastering is seen as a "black art" by many because it's not something can be explained away easily if at all, in the sense of what "knowledge" is. ... you either get it, or you don't. either there is an aptitude for it, or not. We can explain how to listen critically, we can catalogue specific example of when we might use a tool, we can talk about the general sense of what we are trying to get out of the audio, but beyond that...

"There are things we know and things we don't know. The key to peace of mind is being ok with not knowing."

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