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SH Spotlight I was asked "Why do recordings need compression/limiting during recording, mastering?"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Dec 13, 2016.

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  1. James_S888

    James_S888 Forum Resident

    Yeah. I've now played the vinyl of Blue and Lonesome. It is much better than the digital. Even though I am guessing that Ron McMaster used much the same resolution files. The vinyl has dynamic range. The digital does not.
    The vinyl is playable. Over and again. Once you've played the vinyl, the digital is pretty much not playable.
    I ran the digital tracks through audacity. As others here have done. Mostly, they are all sausages.
    Bottom line, Stephen Marcussen is a butcher of other peoples art.
    JulesRules likes this.
  2. James_S888

    James_S888 Forum Resident

    Another example: "Rocks off" from Exile on Main Street. I ran through audacity;
    1. the 1994 Virgin remaster that Bob Ludwig did
    2. the 2011 remaster that Stephen Marcussen did

    Bob Ludwigs remaster is dynamic, has range and sounds great. The Marcussen remaster is a sausage. It also clips throughout and sounds harsh and unpleasant.

    Industry people who make decisions, it is well known you read this forum. Note: Stephen Marcussen is a butcher. This man should not be mastering music.
    JulesRules likes this.
  3. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

    NYC Man
    I'm sure a lot of recordings that I like the sound of have more compression than I think they have, but I like to be able to hear everything as a separate instrument, I don't like live sound (re the effects of a concert hall that Steve mentioned in his initial post) near as much as "clean" studio sound with a lot of detail and separation in the instruments, including for classical recordings, and re the comment about demos, aside from when there's a lack of polish in a performance, or a lack of more elaborate arrangement elements, I usually think, "I really don't see why this demo couldn't have served just as well as the finished product." When I hear demos as bonus tracks I very often like them as well as the redone versions, and sometimes I like them better . . . to a point where it starts to seem to me like a scam to make artists think that they can't do just good of a job themselves with much simpler, cheaper equipment via portastudios, computers with simple/free software, small home studios, etc.

    Anyway, what I really hate is when compression is used so that it sounds "smooshy," so that it seems to occupy a relatively narrow range EQ-wise, and so that you lose clean separation/detail in the instruments. And of course distortion/clipping, when it's not there because the musicians wanted that effect, is something I hate, too.

    Especially with my composer's hat on, I don't really see how music can have too much in the way of dynamics, and far too much music has no dynamics (just like far too much music has no counterpoint--it instead seems ignorant of some compositional parameters). As long as you're not getting unintentional distortion/clipping, music should sometimes range from sounds so quiet they're just on the edge of your hearing to dense walls of non-distorted, very loud sound.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2017
  4. elfary

    elfary Forum Resident

    I'd like to ask our host just one question:

    who calls the shots for the dynamic range of an album ?

    the label ? the producer ? the artist?

    Sure it's not the ME. LOL

    A few years back i read in Gearslutz how fed up the late great Mike Shipley (RIP) ended up after working on a Maroon 5 album to build a pristine sound just to witness it destroyed in mastering due to the loudness crave of the label (Octone).
  5. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

    NYC Man
    The bottom line is that the use of compression has been on the rise since the mid 1990s, and in my opinion, production--even if the blame lies primarily with mastering--has been on the decline since the 80s (during the 80s the more serious problem was the love of some awful timbres). The 70s were the pinnacle production-wise if you ask me. Obviously compression and limiting were used in the 70s, but they were used well. Mainstream contemporary production/mastering is horrible. I don't understand how anyone thinks it sounds good. There are good-sounding contemporary records, but they're records that don't at all follow contemporary mainstream production trends. And there hasn't really been a single album released in the last 30 years that where I didn't think that it would sound much better had it been made in the 70s instead.
    painted8 likes this.
  6. Funi

    Funi Forum Resident

    I wonder if anyone THINKS it sounds good.
  7. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

    NYC Man
    Haha, maybe no one does, but then what are they doing?
    JulesRules likes this.
  8. AnalogJ

    AnalogJ CMO (Chief Musical Officer)

    Salem, MA
    And isn't he the one that did the awful Peter Gabriel I-IV reissues?
  9. Funi

    Funi Forum Resident

  10. empirelvr

    empirelvr "Give me the chocolate, and nobody gets hurt!"

    Virginia, USA
    As off as some of those "vintage" remixes and remasters may have been (and some were, there is no denying it,) they did have one positive benefit. Since you and Inglot and Furmanek demanded first generation mixdowns and multitrack session reels for as many of those early endeavors as possible it proved that many of the oldies many thought were poorly engineered or made with little care were actually very well, sometimes spectacularly, well recorded. It gave a lot of insight into how cavalier record companies were in the treatment of their assets.

    I still remember the goose bumps I got when I heard "Rock Around The Clock" off of the "From The Original Master Tapes" CD. What an epiphany!
    McLover likes this.
  11. Spruce

    Spruce Forum Resident

    Brigg, England
    Are there any studios (UK) that allow "Joe Public" in to observe how they actually make a record?
  12. Carl Swanson

    Carl Swanson Forum Resident

    All sounds are not created equal.
    g.z. likes this.
  13. James_S888

    James_S888 Forum Resident

    I played an early '70s "boxed" Decca "Let it Bleed" last weekend, followed by the vinyl of "Blue and Lonesome".
    It was remarkable how much better the Decca sounded. Fuller, rounder, more three dimensional and better sounding.
    Put another way, it was remarkable how much worse "Blue and Lonesome" sounded than an almost fifty year old recording.
    Don't get me wrong, I love Blue and Lonesome, it's a great record. It's just a shame it could not be better sounding.

    Note to Masher Marcussen and the industry people reading this;

    How can you justify the new recording from one of the worlds all time great rock bands sounding considerably worse than one of their recordings from fifty years ago?
    painted8 and JulesRules like this.
  14. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

    NYC Man
    With Blue and Lonesome I can kind of excuse it as something gimmicky--as if it's supposed to sound like you're watching a vintage electric blues artist in some smoky, greasy tin box of a dive on the Mississippi River in the 1960s. The first Alabama Shakes album has a similar vibe. If I don't hear it as something gimmicky in that way, though, I agree that it just sounds badly produced, typically so for current "standards," unfortunately.
  15. dartira

    dartira rise and shine like a far out superstar

    Yes. And he explained truthfully how the mastering engineer was not to blame in this case. It was the 'suits'. He even gave their names and recounted how there had been discussions but they went over his head in the end, making the final product louder and pushing it into distortion.

    As a mix engineer myself, I can tell you that it's not always the suits that demand ridiculous levels.
    Sometimes it's the producer, often times it's the artists themselves. And unfortunately, there are now a lot of mastering engineers who just presume everyone wants it crazy loud. Either because they don't know any better, or they're tired of having to do revisions every time.
    There's still a great deal of passion and knowledge going around, but the knowledge portion is dwindling.

    People in the industry need to start trusting their ears again. They must know that a lot of stuff they've worked on is not sounding good. I do.
    It's a bit like you're a chef in a good restaurant that decides one day to put a burger & fries on their menu. That becomes a success and you're put on burger duty until further notice. After a while, you find yourself wondering when you can go back to making good stuff again. But, it's your livelihood. You can protest and even go on strike, but quit?
    Anyway, I did quit in the end. I now do work as a translator, and still run my own recording studio, so I can work on stuff I love.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
  16. Terrapin Station

    Terrapin Station Forum Resident

    NYC Man
    In your opinion, why do some people want that uber-compressed sound?
  17. bibijeebies

    bibijeebies Forum Resident

    Amstelveen (NL)
    People tend to underestimate how many -older- musicians are hard of hearing.
    painted8 and Max Florian like this.
  18. ranasakawa

    ranasakawa Forum Resident

    Is it possible to decompress a overcompressed CD by using software such as Adobe Audition ? The Rolling Stones 1970s Re-Masters for example
  19. dartira

    dartira rise and shine like a far out superstar

    I don't know exactly, I think there are many reasons.
    I know a few people who actually prefer that steely sound of heavy brickwall limiting, that uber-compression.
    But I know many people who don't particularly like it, but who think that that is what you need to make it 'sound like a record'.
    I've done a lot of work where clients asked me to give them fairly dynamic mixes and who were very happy with them. But then a friend's or spouse's remark about the relative lack of loudness is sometimes enough to make them change their mind.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
  20. Carl Swanson

    Carl Swanson Forum Resident

    I heard another person comparing that to reconstituting a cow out of ground beef.

    Even if you knew what gear was used, and the exact settings, I suspect the result would be less than stellar.
    JulesRules and ranasakawa like this.
  21. tmtomh

    tmtomh Forum Resident

    Our host will know more than us about this, and my guess is that he'll agree with @Carl Swanson , both in the content of his post and the succinctness of it.

    For what it's worth - which might be very little, here's my very limited experience. I've used Izotope's declipper plugin on several rips of my CDs, to mixed results. I would say I get a truly good result - a result that sounds better than the original with no major drawbacks - only about 20% of the time. Given that I try to minimize the number of compressed CD masterings in my collection, that 20% translates into only a handful of successful attempts.

    The problem, at least as far as I can tell, is that very few compressed albums are both (A) compressed enough that it makes an audible difference to declip it, but also (B) not compressed so much that in order to meaningfully increase the dynamics you don't negatively alter the frequency balance and the mix.

    In most cases if you run the declipper at a conservative/recommended setting, you simply end up reconstructing a relatively small number of randomly scattered peaks - if the original waveform looks like buzzcut haircut, the declipped waveform in these situations looks like a bad buzzcut haircut - a good number of buzzcut areas, with a bunch of random stray "hairs" sticking up and down (the reconstructed peaks).

    In the opposite situation, you can run the declipper at a more aggressive setting - and then you get a much more natural looking waveform. The problem is that such an operation usually has to "dig down" too much into lower-amplitude parts of the waveform, so the result might be more dynamic but also bizarrely unbalanced EQ-wise, for example "scooped out" sounding in the bass and mid-bass. In that scenario the result isn't much different from bad-sounding, DR-increasing "cheats" like just cutting the bass - that'll almost always produce a DR increase, but it sure won't improve the sound.

    Once in a while I've gotten lucky: the waveform has a natural look and natural-seeming distribution of amplitudes after declipping, and the result still sounds punchy and properly balanced.

    But overall I'd say it's a last resort - only if you cannot locate a more dynamic mastering. Heck, if you're going to be futzing with it in Audition or another audio editor, it's much easier to start with a dynamic mastering (or digital rip of vinyl) and apply some EQ or whatever to that, rather than trying to decompress a compressed source.
    ranasakawa and superstar19 like this.
  22. monotubevibe

    monotubevibe Forum Resident

    tmtomh likes this.
  23. spindly

    spindly Forum Resident

    Chicago, IL
    I guess I love that sound!!
    Ben Adams likes this.
  24. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    Yet, I'm betting that was the goal of the first compressors, to work without altering fidelity.

    The first thing I noticed the first time I used one was that it most certainly did. I didn't like that, coming from a purist point of view, but I soon discovered that it was the sound of records.
    bibijeebies likes this.
  25. Grant

    Grant Just chillin'!

    United States
    During my favorite era of recordings, from the late 60s to the early 80s, recordings sounded like product. The goal seemed to be to create a product, not to reproduce life.
    Ben Adams and Doug Sclar like this.
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