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It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again #3022723 01/09/20 07:52 PM
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Anderton Offline OP
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I think music has become increasingly unlistenable over the years.

Of course the loudness wars have something to do with it, but the EQ is cut a lot hotter/brighter. Both contribute to listener fatigue, and also, they're maybe one reason why more people relegate music to a background soundtrack - it hurts too much to turn up the level.

In addition to dynamics being MIA and EQ not resembling the real world, as I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I think not having tempo changes is problematic. In my most recent recording project, all the songs have tempo changes. I can't do a control group of songs that don't have tempo changes, but I'm quite sure that songs incorporating tempo changes do have a greater emotional impact. It's something you feel.

Streaming services can help restore sanity...I've been mastering to -11 LUFS and lower, and the dynamics are refreshing. I'm also being more conservative with EQ, and paying more attention to sounding "real." I've noticed I can turn the music up louder, and listen to it longer, with these kinds of changes. It makes music fun to listen to again.

Can we turn things around, and make music more listenable again? Or is it too late - people have gotten so used to hyped music that unhyped music sounds wrong?

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022755 01/09/20 09:00 PM
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The first big step was taking the beancounters (IE major labels) out of the loop.

mp3.com opened the floodgates to unreleased music, but you had to weed through a lot of lame music to find the good stuff. Soundcloud wasn't much better.

There's good music out there, it's just a matter of finding it. I rely more on peer recommendations.

Good songwriters are out there, but I lament the lack of good PLAYERS. Especially new guitar players, most of the playing I hear reveals partially developed playing skills. The riffs are rudimentary and the expressiveness is pretty barren. Guitar players are hardly alone, I hear it in a lot of synth players.

Ensemble skills are another thing that is lacking. Getting multiple instruments to be heard in a mix is a skill that is learned not taught. EDM can be interesting but I tire easily of songs that are 100% electronic. Or rock songs that are 100% high gain overdriven guitar. It's refreshing to hear variety.

We're in the age where solitary songwriting is the norm. Home recording freed us from the expensive recording studio but it had its own thorns. Everyone can use their own computer at home to build a song by themselves, and they forget there are other players out there who can contribute. Often a computer sequence is pretty much a completed product with little room for anything else. Before that, you had to form a group and jam to develop song ideas. That's what is missing these days.

Culture has a lot to do with "listenable" music. Before the internet we were restricted to radio. As I traveled around the US (before internet), I heard music on radio that I don't hear back home.

The next step was taking corporate radio out of the loop. By then, "popular music" was getting unlistenable. The internet brought us the world, and I've noticed that music from Europe can appeal to me more. People in Europe and Asia have a better appreciation for classical music, and that leads to more sophisticated songwriting. But in the US there's not much demand for that level of sophistication. That is reflected when European recording artists hesitated to tour the US for lack of familiarity. Few groups cross over those domestic barriers.

It's tempting to debate what makes good songwriting, but that should be a separate topic.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022789 01/09/20 10:45 PM
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I morn the Brill Building and Tin Pan alley days.

There are plenty of singer/songwriters who are good at both, but there are way too many who can't do both. So someone writes a good song but can't sing well - a great singer should be used. And there are great singers who can't write.

There was a day where people like Leiber & Stoller, King & Goffin, Mann & Weill, Barry & Greenwich, Pomus & Shuman and single songwriters Like Diamond or Bono wrote songs for people who specialized in singing and playing them.

I think the bulk of pop music was better then.

Of course there were exceptions with some spectacular singer/songwriters too.

Just one reason - there are others.

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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: The Real MC] #3022859 01/10/20 05:39 AM
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Originally Posted by The Real MC

It's tempting to debate what makes good songwriting, but that should be a separate topic.

Feel free to start it!!!

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022861 01/10/20 05:44 AM
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But I'm thinking so much about the writing, as the Real MC notes, that's a separate topic. Even if there is good songwriting, can it survive a +6 dB bump at 5 kHz, no dynamic range, and a beat that's metronomic and doesn't breathe? I think it's the technology itself that can be problematic.

I was talking with a friend today about vinyl. He just doesn't "get" why people think it sounds better, because it doesn't. I explained that you had to master differently back in those days. The medium drew limits that said "don't step past this." There's really nothing about digital recording that forces people not to follow their worst instincts. Conversely, there's nothing about it that forces a particular mindset on you.

To paraphrase my 2nd amendment friends, "technology doesn't kill music...people kill music." No one from Sony or Philips said you HAD to compress the crap out of everything, boost the treble, and have metronomic rhythms if you were going to record on CD.

At least the streaming services are trying to restore some degree of sanity...it's a start.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022924 01/10/20 03:09 PM
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Sadly, I think that making better music is what's needed in order to make music better. But this is so subjective that it's hard to argue. Throw away the drum programmers. Only record songs with good lyrics, Only record tunes with interesting melody and harmony. Keep me interested. Don't give me a 2-1/2 minute song that has one two-line verse and the chorus repeated 12 times. If that's all you have to say, send a tweet.

More banjos, fewer hi-hats!

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022956 01/10/20 05:07 PM
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I've no global solution for this proposal.

The technology revolution has freed humanity, it is well within the reach of a massive population to record any music they want to create.

I do see two constants in popular music.

1. People love a simple, catchy "earworm" chorus. History shows it does not have to make sense - Lime in the Coconut - Muh Muh Muh My Sharona...
2. The girls wanna shake their ass.

The rest is "flavor of the month" or lately, "flavor of the minute".

Personally, I feel I am facing enough challenges recording music that I am happy with and have no desire to tilt at windmills. Cheers, Kuru


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022984 01/10/20 06:50 PM
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I don't think I'm getting my point across...even if the music/composition etc. is wonderful, having no dynamics, tempos that don't breathe, and putting on too much "salt" (high frequencies) really detracts from the musical experience.

Think of it this way: I don't think anyone has a problem with considering Beethoven a first-class composer. But if his symphonies were done to a click, had no dynamics, and the strings screeched like crazy...I don't think I'd be as interested in hearing his symphonies. In other words, I think we have TECHNICAL issues that cause people to tune out on music, regardless of the music itself.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022985 01/10/20 06:55 PM
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Thoughts on the EQ.

Music is consumed in a different way now.
I've been to many gatherings where somebody will stream music on their cell phone and put it inside a drinking glass as a sort of "acoustic amplifier".

The speaker in a cell phone has a very limited frequency response. So do the speakers in most laptops. I have a Music Bullet for amplifying a cell phone. It has one 1 3/8ths "tweefer" or twooter or something. If you press two side buttons the enclosure extends about 1/2", taking your lower frequency limit from about 400 hz to a massive 250 or so.

I have another little no-name goodie with similar purpose, it has a deluxe and massive pair of 1 3/4" squeakers, for that huge sound stage.
I suspect it will become normal to create mixes to target the various methods of consumption, bearing in mind that fewer and fewer of us will be listening on decent speakers or even decent headphones.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3022986 01/10/20 06:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
I don't think I'm getting my point across...even if the music/composition etc. is wonderful, having no dynamics, tempos that don't breathe, and putting on too much "salt" (high frequencies) really detracts from the musical experience.

Think of it this way: I don't think anyone has a problem with considering Beethoven a first-class composer. But if his symphonies were done to a click, had no dynamics, and the strings screeched like crazy...I don't think I'd be as interested in hearing his symphonies. In other words, I think we have TECHNICAL issues that cause people to tune out on music, regardless of the music itself.


I totally get that part.
I can agree and try to make my own recordings dynamic and use tempo to serve the song. I need that, it is part of music as I know it.

I just have no idea how to make that a popular way of doing things...


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: KuruPrionz] #3022991 01/10/20 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz

I just have no idea how to make that a popular way of doing things...


Well FWIW, when I do mastering for people, I do the master they ask for (usually squashed), do a master the way I want to hear it, and give them a choice. I've always been somewhat taken aback the most people choose the more dynamic version when given the option.

And having found out how to add tempo variations after the fact, to a two-track mix, has become a really important new tool in my arsenal. I think if more people become aware of this technique, they'll use it.

It might be a case of "if you build it, they will come." It seems that if there's a choice, people often choose music that's sonically more satisfying over music that isn't smile

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023007 01/10/20 08:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
I don't think I'm getting my point across...even if the music/composition etc. is wonderful, having no dynamics, tempos that don't breathe, and putting on too much "salt" (high frequencies) really detracts from the musical experience.

Think of it this way: I don't think anyone has a problem with considering Beethoven a first-class composer. But if his symphonies were done to a click, had no dynamics, and the strings screeched like crazy...I don't think I'd be as interested in hearing his symphonies. In other words, I think we have TECHNICAL issues that cause people to tune out on music, regardless of the music itself.


You have a great point here.

But music has become a disposable product for quick profits. Short cuts include quantized drum tracks, over-compressed songs for the volume wars, and mindless repetition.

Notes


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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Notes_Norton] #3023010 01/10/20 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton

But music has become a disposable product for quick profits. Short cuts include quantized drum tracks, over-compressed songs for the volume wars, and mindless repetition.


It might also be a chicken and egg situation, though. If listening to music has indeed become a somewhat unpleasant experience, it's natural you would relegate to being essentially background music, and not have as much interest in seeking out new music because it will suffer from the same issues.

Turning music with dynamics up so that it's loud sounds pretty cool. If the music is made to sound loud at soft levels, though, you can't really turn it up and have it sound good.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023157 01/11/20 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz

I just have no idea how to make that a popular way of doing things...


Well FWIW, when I do mastering for people, I do the master they ask for (usually squashed), do a master the way I want to hear it, and give them a choice. I've always been somewhat taken aback the most people choose the more dynamic version when given the option.

And having found out how to add tempo variations after the fact, to a two-track mix, has become a really important new tool in my arsenal. I think if more people become aware of this technique, they'll use it.

It might be a case of "if you build it, they will come." It seems that if there's a choice, people often choose music that's sonically more satisfying over music that isn't smile


I'm curious now - congrats on the new job btw...

If your client sent you tracks that exhibit the traits that Mr. Norton mentions: "quantized drum tracks, over-compressed songs for the volume wars, and mindless repetition." - I take it you could fix the over-compression at least.


Excessive repetition and quantized drum tracks are issues of musical content/composition, and not mastering, and therefore not part of your job, right?

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: GovernorSilver] #3023171 01/11/20 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by GovernorSilver
I'm curious now - congrats on the new job btw...


Not sure it's a "job" in the traditional sense, but I don't mind volunteering for something as significant as the next generation of MIDI smile

Quote
If your client sent you tracks that exhibit the traits that Mr. Norton mentions: "quantized drum tracks, over-compressed songs for the volume wars, and mindless repetition." - I take it you could fix the over-compression at least.


No, I can't if the compression is in the tracks. If it's in the master, in those cases, I ask for a version without anything in the bus - no EQ, no compression, no limiting - nada. I guess it's like sending back a steak for being overcooked smile I've even gotten songs that had clipping. I checked to make sure it wasn't intentional, and told them to reduce the master fader by 6 dB and run off another copy.

Quote
Excessive repetition and quantized drum tracks are issues of musical content/composition, and not mastering, and therefore not part of your job, right?


Correct. However, there have been situations where I've spliced up a track to add interest, or removed overly indulgent sections. Again, most of the time the artist considers it an improvement, and approves. I've even gone so far as to overdub instrumental parts on a two-track mix. I overdubbed a sampled cello once on a song, and the album sold hundreds of thousands of copies so at least I don't think I wrecked anything!

I've had "professional" mastering engineers rake me over the coals for daring to interfere with the artist's vision. My counter is that if the artist likes it, I'm helping to implement their vision. I know my "activist" mastering engineer approach isn't for everybody, but some musicians really enjoy being able to collaborate, even at that late a stage in the game.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023179 01/11/20 07:09 PM
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Great stuff! Thanks!

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023199 01/11/20 09:59 PM
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The magic in a good piece of music is in the nuances; dynamics, intonation (including intentional off-intonation), timing, groove, speed (including changes) and so many other seemingly tiny little things.

Even a great piece of music can be rendered lifeless. I remember early into my exploration of symphonic music I bought a copy of Tchkovsky's 6th symphony -- the one he wrote before he died (some consider suicide). He wrote that he wept when composing it. The copy was by Ormandy and the Philadelphia orchestra and my opinion was meh - boring.

Then one day I was driving back from Tampa, Florida, tuned to the public radio station and they were playing Tchaikovsky's 6th and it really moved me. I pulled over to the side of the road since I was driving out of range to hear the rest. When it was done, I went to a pay phone (this was before mobile phones) and called the radio station to find out who conducted it and which orchestra. It was Masur and the NY Phil. Night and day

Later on I learned that Ormandy was known for suppressing dynamics, changes of tempos and other variations. He compressed by conducting.

I don't master for listening, but my backing tracks for live performance. I treat them like a band, exaggerate the groove, never-ever compress (although I might limit a few peaks), bring the crack of the snare and the bass up in the mix, and whatever else I need to make it seem like a real band instead of a recording. No two songs need quite the same treatment, and sometimes it might take a few days to get it right, but if I'm lucky, I'll play that song hundreds of times on gigs.

A few entertainment purchasers have asked me why we sound so much like a live band when other duos do not. I tell them I do my own tracks while most others buy karaoke tracks. Then to lighten things up I tell them I sell snippets of my music to other musicians in over 100 countries on this planet -- so if you hear another band and you like their sounds, they bought it from me -- if you don't like it, they bought it from someone else.

It's self-promotion and a joke so it's not pushy.

Notes


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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: KuruPrionz] #3023269 01/12/20 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Thoughts on the EQ.

Music is consumed in a different way now.
I've been to many gatherings where somebody will stream music on their cell phone and put it inside a drinking glass as a sort of "acoustic amplifier".

The speaker in a cell phone has a very limited frequency response. So do the speakers in most laptops. I have a Music Bullet for amplifying a cell phone. It has one 1 3/8ths "tweefer" or twooter or something. If you press two side buttons the enclosure extends about 1/2", taking your lower frequency limit from about 400 hz to a massive 250 or so.

I have another little no-name goodie with similar purpose, it has a deluxe and massive pair of 1 3/4" squeakers, for that huge sound stage.
I suspect it will become normal to create mixes to target the various methods of consumption, bearing in mind that fewer and fewer of us will be listening on decent speakers or even decent headphones.

Sadly, this isn't limited to non-musical people. In one of my bands, myself and 1 other person are the only 2 people out of 5 that have a pair of decent tower speakers. The other 3 listen to music on their phone or laptop through a small Bluetooth speaker.

It's the same in my other band. The guitarist used a pair of small cheap computer speakers with a subwoofer until I finally convinced him to at least run it through the PA speakers (we rehearse there). Everyone else has gone to a Bluetooth speaker.

We're all in our 50's with decades of playing and band experience. I've been in a band with 2 of these guys for over 30 years and back in the day we all had stereo systems but now they've dumped them. I remember helping friends move and setting up the stereo was one of the very first things we did. Now due to space limitations or simply a lack of caring no one seems to have a decent sound system any more.

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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023276 01/12/20 03:37 PM
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Perhaps music doesn't have the importance in people's lives as it once did. Perhaps the competition from phones and computers took over.


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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Notes_Norton] #3023289 01/12/20 05:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
Perhaps music doesn't have the importance in people's lives as it once did. Perhaps the competition from phones and computers took over.


Well, this gets back to the premise of the thread - a lot of music doesn't give a great listening experience. Maybe there's not a lot of incentive to get really good speakers, unless you're making your own music, and have control over how it's going to sound.

Last edited by Anderton; 01/13/20 06:53 PM.
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023305 01/12/20 08:20 PM
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Update: I was asked to master a mix a client wanted to use at a NAMM demo room. Now, they turn things up pretty loud in demo rooms, so I did my usual mastering job that holds up well when you turn it up. Well, the mix engineer (a Grammy award winner, by the way) didn't like it, and he was going to be the one credited, so I was cool with him doing the master. I asked for a copy to hear what he did differently, and wow - it sounded like it had a massive treble boost, and a neutered midrange. So I analyzed it; there was indeed a huge boost over the 4 kHz to 8 kHz range, while 200-400 Hz was way, way down.

Now I understand the virtues of the "smile" curve, and have been known to dip masters a bit around 300-400 Hz, but to my ears the results sounded nothing like real music, like what you'd hear from a band live. And if you turned it up, it was painful.

And then it hit me: Have these engineers to whom we've trusted our music blown out their ears, and not know it? I was curious, went online, and checked typical frequency response for normal hearing loss over time. The high-frequency response was the mirror image of the boost the engineer had done....not reassuring.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023307 01/12/20 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
Perhaps music doesn't have the importance in people's lives as it once did. Perhaps the competition from phones and computers took over.


Well, this gets back to the premise of the thread - a lot of music doesn't give a great listening experience. Maybe there's not a lot of incentive to get really good speakers, unless you're making your own, and have control over how it's going to sound.



Up here, rents have gotten stupid high. Glad I got my condo in 2006, I pay about half what it would cost to rent the same space.
Huge student population so lots of part time minimum wage jobs.

Good sounding speakers would be unobtainable to most folks - financially out of reach. In part, because they pay so much for cell phone service. I know quite a few folks who use their cell phone as their computer, music system etc...


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: KuruPrionz] #3023439 01/13/20 06:56 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
[quote=Anderton][quote=Notes_Norton]
Good sounding speakers would be unobtainable to most folks - financially out of reach. In part, because they pay so much for cell phone service. I know quite a few folks who use their cell phone as their computer, music system etc...


I guess "good" is relative. I think there are consumer devices and headphones that sound reasonably good, certainly way better than the cheapies packed with an Android phone. I reserve "bad" for things like laptop speakers, cell phones speakers, and the like. I don't expect everyone to be an audiophile, that's for sure, but even some of the "plug these into your cell phone" speakers provide a far better experience than the laptop speakers themselves.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023466 01/13/20 09:58 PM
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"Good" is relative.

I've mixed cover songs for a band reunion that I played in, and burned some CDs for friends.

The feedback I got was that the mixes sounded great even on crap laptop speakers. I heard that quite a few more copies were made of those CDs.

Sometimes it's not the speakers, it's your mixing skills.

...and *I'm* the one with the hearing impairment, 60% loss in both ears. Would you have ever guessed that from this mix?

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023566 01/14/20 03:17 PM
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I do remember in the "old days" reading about engineers who created a mix and then tested it on crappy car speakers (before cars had anything more than one oval speaker in the dashboard).

Perhaps if you mix for the lowest common denominator in mind, the mix will turn out better? Just guessing, I've never really done this.

I mix for my duo's backing tracks at very low volumes. If I can get the balance there it holds up well at higher volumes.

Notes


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Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Notes_Norton] #3023583 01/14/20 04:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
I do remember in the "old days" reading about engineers who created a mix and then tested it on crappy car speakers (before cars had anything more than one oval speaker in the dashboard).

Perhaps if you mix for the lowest common denominator in mind, the mix will turn out better? Just guessing, I've never really done this.

I mix for my duo's backing tracks at very low volumes. If I can get the balance there it holds up well at higher volumes.

Notes


I double check my mixes in my car which is a good acid test. I also check the mix at low volumes, which not enough people do!

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Anderton] #3023611 01/14/20 06:38 PM
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KuruPrionz Online Content
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I mix on a pair of Mackie HR824 speakers, the USA models. I tend to mix at lower volumes and will only play back louder when I am getting close to being done.
I also use headphones - Sennheiser HD 280 Pro and vintage AKG that are missing their badges but I think are 240? Condo life, late at night you can do technical stuff for a mix easily with headphones.

I'd love better stuff, gimme munnies!!! :- D

When I am happy with a mix I also listen to it on my 2014 Macbook Pro and two crappy little speakers intended to plug into the headphone outs of cell phones. These are all pretty bad.

I haven't found myself adjusting things for the little speakers, I assume they have simple HPF circuits to prevent instant death from low frequencies frying their little voice coils.
I do want to hear some definition from the bass and kick drum. Vocals need to be clear. I don't get too picky on the crappy speakers otherwise.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: Notes_Norton] #3023753 01/15/20 04:41 PM
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Reezekeys Offline
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
I do remember in the "old days" reading about engineers who created a mix and then tested it on crappy car speakers (before cars had anything more than one oval speaker in the dashboard).

That’s what Auratones were for. I had TOA’s version.

The goal was to make your mix sound good on both those and the studio’s main monitors.

Re: It's Time to Make Recorded Music *Listenable* Again [Re: The Real MC] #3025100 01/22/20 07:32 PM
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Chip McDonald Offline
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Originally Posted by The Real MC
T

mp3.com opened the floodgates to unreleased music, but you had to weed through a lot of lame music to find the good stuff. Soundcloud wasn't much better.

.


I lament the lost of MP3.com. I quickly made $$$$ with zero promotion, had people contacting me from all over the planet, and then one morning...

...I pull up the website and Madonna is on MY landing page, and a few days later I can't log in, then everything goes away.


Music and musicians have been devalued today, like an Ansel Adams poster hanging in a bathroom at a restaurant. The context of "appreciation of quality" is no longer present.

In it's place is "Evaluation of Adequacy": how many check boxes does the music tick? Then it's "ok". That's all. Hence people have no problem with a band that is basically taking the Zeppelin catalog and repurposing it, because they're adequately ticking boxes, and therefore it's "good".

People are also numbed from being bombarded with crushed audio, constant dopamine stimulation from social media (that a.i. is literally steering people towards things that create dopamine responses), and the constant inflow of information/stimulation. The dopamine resultant from listening to music for music's sake is reduced in scale.

Dopamine weariness.


Guitar Lessons in Augusta Georgia: www.chipmcdonald.com
Eccentric blog: https://chipmcdonaldblog.blogspot.com/

/ "big ass windbag" - Bruce Swedien

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