Loudness Wars Coming to an End?

No dynamic range here

Many audio professionals believe the days of hyper-compressed recordings may soon end. Ian Shepherd, a British mastering engineer, says broadcast audio standards may help expedite the process.

The roots of the loudness wars can be traced back to the 1980s when music engineers in Nashville, Tennessee tried to make recordings as punchy as possible for radio airplay.

The negative effects of the loudness wars, which can be described as methods to make music sound “louder” on electronics that are limited in their ability to playback dynamic content, have reached a zenith level in today’s consumer audio market.

This recent emphasis on loudness ties into how consumers buy music. Digital downloads are the preferred music delivery method. And with the combination of low-resolution digital audio files and heavily compressed music (the tool/techniques used to limit the dynamic range of music), the visceral impact of music has been lost.

What is being done?
The first major step towards the elimination of heavily-compressed music could be the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) ITU-R BS.1770-2 standard recommendation for the measurement of loudness that was introduced in 2006 and revised in 2011.

Following the ITU’s recommendations, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) released its Loudness Recommendation EBU R128 in August of 2010. Acting to rectify the problem on the broadcast side of the issue, many European and Asian broadcasters are adopting loudness standards that are based on the criteria first introduced by the ITU.

“Measuring loudness, in general, isn’t easy. Now the ITU has agreed on a new ‘loudness unit:’ the LU. You can measure short- and longer-term loudness over a whole song. They’ve also agreed on guidelines for broadcast; what the average loudness should be and how much you can vary it. The recommendation has been made law in the U.S. for advertisements and is also being adopted in the U.K. and all over the world. All the major broadcasters here – Sky, the BBC, ITV – have agreed to follow the standard.

“In the future the loudness of music and audio will be measured by this standard. Quiet stuff will be turned up and loud stuff will be turned down to get consistency. What this means is that if you take a super loud CD like ‘Death Magnetic’ [Metallica] and play it against [Michael Jackson’s] ‘Thriller’, they will play back at the same volume. But because ‘Thriller’ is more dynamic, it will actually sound louder, because it has more punch and headroom for musical impact.”

Making the Best out of a Bad Situation
Despite the record industry’s continued sales and marketing of heavily-compressed music, there are avenues music fans can pursue. Shepherd says technically-adept music enthusiasts can test the quality of their CD collections with software solutions like Audacity and the TT Meter plug-in tool. He also says that other solutions such as the Tone Boosters EBU loudness meter are also pretty affordable, and for those less technically inclined there are also less scientific methods available.

“In terms of listening, if after a while that you find yourself fatigued by what you are hearing, then the music may be heavily compressed,” Shepherd explains. “If there’s no contrast – no light and no shade – the choruses don’t lift, that’s a clue a song has been squashed. A great way to learn how this [compressed audio] sounds is to watch the meters [in these programs] while listening. This will help develop your critical listening skills.”

The future is vinyl?
Shepherd says the key to building a quality music library comes down to how the music was produced. “There’s so much space on modern devices and users have the option of using FLAC and lossless formats, and that presents an opportunity to get the highest quality replay,” he emphasizes. “The file format, however, doesn’t reflect on the dynamics: It’s how it was mixed and mastered.”

Shepherd suggests that if music fans want an alternative to downloads and CDs, vinyl may be the solution they seek.

“It’s ironic that some people are actually ripping vinyl because some labels are releasing vinyl with more dynamic mastering. The Chili Peppers last album, ‘I’m With You’, was rated at DR4 [dynamic range 4 rating], but on vinyl it measures DR9,” he says. “Adele’s album ‘21’ is more dynamic on vinyl than CD, too. This is nothing to do with any limitations of either format – the whole CD versus vinyl debate is a red herring. They’re different formats and they have different sound qualities. These differences in dynamics are choices made by the labels, artists and engineers.”

Read the full article at CEPro


20 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘In Utero’

Nirvana

1. Nirvana recorded around 18 songs in total for ‘In Utero’. Among those that didn’t make the track listing were ‘I Hate Myself And Want To Die’ and ‘Marigold’, which was the first (and only) song Dave Grohl wrote for the band. It was later released as a B-side to ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and on the Foo Fighters’ live album ‘Skin and Bones’.

2. ‘Scentless Apprentice’ was inspired by Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel ‘Perfume’, about a boy born without body odour, who stalks and murders virgins in search of the ‘perfect scent’. Cobain said that he’d read it, “about 10 times in my life, and I can’t stop reading it. It’s like something that’s just stationary in my pocket all the time. It just doesn’t leave me.”

3. Pennyroyal is a plant which has been used as an abortifacient, and Kurt said he knew friends who’d used it. He said the song was about someone “who’s beyond depressed.” The “Leonard Cohen afterworld” lyric was a reference to when Kurt “was depressed and sick. I’d read things like Malloy Dies [sic] by Beckett, or listen to Leonard Cohen, which would actually make it worse.”

4. Cobain claimed to have written ‘Heart Shaped Box’ after watching documentaries about children with cancer, which he said “makes me sadder than anything I can think of.” The song’s original title was ‘Heart-Shaped Coffin’. Courtney Love claimed last year that the song is about her vagina.

Kurt Cobain

5. Kurt wrote the treatment for the ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ video himself, which impressed director Anton Corbijn. However, Kurt’s original plan was to have seminal Beat novelist William S. Burroughs be the man who crawled onto the cross. He had also wanted the ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘Junkie’ writer to star in the video for ‘In Bloom’.

6. The recording of the album began on February 12th, 1993 at the secluded Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and ended on February 26th. After several years of decline, the studio was put up for sale in 2011 and bought by a new owner last year, although he was forced to change the name. It is now known as Seedy Underbelly North.

7. Before being approached to produce ‘In Utero’, Steve Albini had dismissed Nirvana as “REM with a fuzzbox” and claims to have only accepted the job because he felt sorry for them. During the recording, however, his opinion changed: “I can’t really express how much my admiration for that band grew during the course of making that record.”

Dave Grohl8. Albini’s opinion of the people around the band, however, was scathing: “Every other person involved in the enterprise that is Nirvana, besides the band itself, are pure pieces of shit.” He didn’t think much of Courtney Love either, describing her as a “psycho hose-beast.”

9. During the recording, Nirvana and Albini bonded by prank-calling other musicians. One of their victims was Evan Dando, who they rang claiming to be Madonna’s manager. Another was Eddie Vedder, who thought he was talking to producer Tony Visconti.

10. Albini was paid $100,000 for his work and stood to make much more in royalties. Against the suggestions of the band’s management, however he refused to take percentage points on sales, a stance he’s adopted throughout his career. Albini has said that he considers producer royalties “an insult to the artist.”

11. Albini and the band made it clear to Nirvana’s management that they did not want any distractions in the studio. Albini instituted a strict policy of ignoring anyone in the studio who was not a band member, and the group also refused to play any work-in-progress recordings to visiting A&R representatives. The two-week session was also booked under the name of The Simon Ritchie Bluegrass Ensemble.

12. The only other musician to appear on the album other than the band members themselves was Kera Schaley, who played cello on ‘All Apologies’. It was also one of three songs – the other two being ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ – to be remixed by REM producer Scott Litt, after Cobain felt the vocals on Albini’s original mix to be too “mushy”.

Nirvana

13. ‘Rape Me’ was given an unexpected live debut at the 1992 MTV Awards, when Nirvana opened their agreed-upon performance of ‘Lithium’ with a snippet of the song. The band had planned to play the song in full, but MTV wouldn’t allow it and were seconds away from switching to a commercial when ‘Lithium’ started. Cobain said he did it, “just to give MTV a little heart palpitation.”

14. When Walmart and K-Mart threatened not to stock the album, Nirvana were forced to change the artwork on copies sent to those stores. ‘Rape Me’ was renamed ‘Waif Me’ (Kurt’s original suggestion was ‘Sexually Assault Me’) and all foetus images were removed. The band agreed to the changes because the two stores were they only places Kurt and Krist could buy music as kids.

15. Alternate and working-titles used during the recording include ‘Punky New Wave Number’ (‘Very Ape’), ‘New Poopie’ (‘Tourette’s’), ‘Nine Month Media Blackout’ (‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’), ‘Milk Made’ (‘Milk It’), ‘I’ll Take You Down To The Pavement’ (‘Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip’) and ‘La La La: Alternateen Anthem’ (‘All Apologies’).

Kurt Cobain16. Working titles for ‘In Utero’ itself, meanwhile, included ‘Verse Chorus Verse’ and ‘I Hate Myself And Want To Die’, which was how Kurt would sarcastically reply to anyone who asked him how he was doing. The band decided against using the latter because they worried fans might not get the joke.

17. The initial reaction to ‘In Utero’ by the band’s management and label was not good. The band’s A&R man said it sounded “like crap, there’s way too much effect on the drums, you can’t hear the vocals,” and industry rumours abounded that Nirvana had recorded an “unreleasable” album (for which Albini was blamed).

18. Despite both band and label being convinced that the album would not be a commercial success, ‘In Utero’ debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 180,000 copies in its first week of release. It has since gone on to sell over 15m copies worldwide.

19. The man dressed in drag on the CD itself is Michael DeWitt, a longtime friend of Courtney Love, who was Frances Bean Cobain’s nanny for a time shortly before Kurt’s death. DeWitt has also been identified by some conspiracy theorists as a suspect in Kurt’s alleged ‘murder’.

20. ‘In Utero’ is Krist Novoselic’s favourite Nirvana album because “we just played music, we worked together really well, we were laughing, we were concentrating, we were open. And that really shows on the record. We didn’t mess around. Nobody got bombed, everybody was focused and clear-headed. I’m really proud of it, it’s a beautiful record.”

Nirvana

Facts and images sourced from NME.


Nirvana’s In Utero Re-released today!

Today sees the release of a remastered version of the band’s third and final studio album, In Utero.
The re-release features 70 tracks including previously unreleased recordings and demos, B-sides and compilation tracks and live material featuring the band’s final touring line-up of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl and Pat Smear. It will also include the Live And Loud show from Seattle’s Pier 48 on December 13, 1993.

Watson: Supercomputer DJ

The developers behind Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, have recently announced plans to introduce the intuitive learning machine to the art of DJing.

Watson, who is already being represented by public relations and artist management firm the Agency Group, will be programmed to apply his existing algorithms to accurately respond to the desires of persons on the dance floor.

“I am very excited to DJ,” says Watson, while cycling through millions of Beatport pages and simultaneously diagnosing cancer cases more accurately and efficiently than doctors.

Lead developer David Ferrucci states that he feels Watson will be able to “bring the soul back to electronic music.”

“The current EDM trend has left electronic music completely lifeless and without emotion,” says Ferucci.

“We’re hoping Watson will be able to bring electronic music back to its most organic and truest state.”

According to the IBM team, Watson’s preferences lie in tech house, a genre he finds to be “formulaic yet groovy.” Presently, some of Watson’s favourite artists include Stimming, Krause Duo, and The Glitz.

Watson’s complex programming should — in theory — allow him to mix better than any human could. After sharing the line up at a secret after-hours gig with former LCD Soundsystem member Nancy Whang, it seems as though Watson’s skills may be already topping those of human DJs.

“Watson killed it,” says Whang while reminiscing about their back-to-back performance at last year’s Xerox employee Christmas party.

“He was extremely receptive to the crowd’s reactions to his selections; taking them on a journey that was awe-inspiring yet comforting for the length of his three-hour set…he is definitely a better DJ than I am,” she went on to confess.

The Agency Group has already begun forwarding Watson promotional releases from producers all over the world. The group says electronic musicians can expect to see Watson’s feedback on their releases right next to Richie Hawtin’s and Seth Troxler’s in the near future.

Source: Equalizer


Moris Tepper’s Ten Commandments of Guitar Playing

Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart hired Moris Tepper to be his full-time guitarist in 1976, a position he held until the Captain’s retirement in 1982. Along the way he imparted these handy guitar tips:

1. Listen to the birds.
That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar.
Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush.
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil.
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out.
If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone.
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key.
That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty—making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument.
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place.
When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine.
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Source: Dangerous Minds


Comparing The Mixes: Nirvana ‘In Utero’

In Utero

In Utero

We are now 20 years on from the release of In Utero by Nirvana. An album loved by the fans but disliked by Nirvana’s record label.

The initial reaction to ‘In Utero’ by the band’s management and label was not good. The band’s A&R man said it sounded “like crap, there’s way too much effect on the drums, you can’t hear the vocals,” and industry rumours abounded that Nirvana had recorded an “unreleasable” album, for which producer Steve Albini was blamed. As Kurt Cobain said, “the grown-ups don’t like it.”

Geffen subsequently got the record remixed by REM producer Scott Litt, and this is the version that got released.

A remastered version of the iconic grunge band’s third and final studio album is being released to mark its 20th anniversary. It will feature 70 tracks, including previously unreleased recordings and demos, B-sides and compilation tracks and live material featuring the band’s final touring line-up of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear.

I found this video: Comparing The Mixes: Nirvana ‘In Utero’ on Youtube. It is an excellent video which offers back to back comparisons between the mixes by Albini and Litt. Check it out.