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BOB LUDWIG ON MASTERING An excerpt from Masters on Mastering

September 11, 2006
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Gateway Mastering and DVD's Bob Ludwig is concerned that some people's practice of making masters can get as loud as possible can detract from the musicality of the final product.

Everybody wants their disc to sound great, but it seems that nowadays a lot of people equate “best” with “loudest.” That puts a lot of pressure on mastering engineers to compress their masters heavily so that they can achieve as hot a level as possible.

Gateway Mastering and DVD's Bob Ludwig is concerned that some people's practice of making masters can get as loud as possible can detract from the musicality of the final product.

According to Ludwig, however, this is anything but a healthy development. “This horrible trend started about eight years ago, with the invention of digital-domain ‘look-ahead'' compressors,” he says. “First was the German Junger compressor, then the Waves stuff, and the most infamous of all, the TC Electronic Finalizer, a great piece of gear that's often misused. I'm so glad these devices didn't exist when the Beatles were making their music. Never in the history of the human race have people been exposed to sounds as compressed as in the past few years.

“It's a losing battle for musicality,” Ludwig laments. “To me, it's a fact that highly compressed music is tiring to the ear and doesn't make you want to listen to something over and over again. Could this be one of the reasons for the record industry's demise?

“The problem is that many artists, producers, and A&R people are very short-sighted,” he continues. “If you take a new recording and compare eight bars of a piece that's been mastered by four different engineers, often the loudest one sounds immediately the most impressive to the listener. Hardly anyone listens to 40 or 50 minutes of the whole recording and decides how the total musical experience was for them. Radio play used to be an excuse, but levels now are radically high, and it can be proven that the high levels make them more difficult to broadcast. Just ask Bob Orban, who makes many of the compressors used in FM stations around the world.”

So what's the trick to keeping the natural dynamics? “That's the creative part of mastering” says Marcussen, “and I try to fit the creative part into the competitive part today. I was working with a client yesterday, and we had a situation where we had an extremely dynamic song sandwiched in between two songs that were far from that. And when you master, the goal is that each song comes in and hold its own.

“We had a piece that was literally a whispered vocal that went into a huge chorus,” he continues. “It was one of those things where I had to go ahead and manipulate the level, the rides, the moves, the this, the that, and the other to make the song loud enough — while keeping some honesty to the dynamics of the song. It just becomes an issue of trying to work within the guidelines that are set up. Fortunately, yesterday's project was a project that was a loud record but didn't have to be the loudest record in the world. So it gave me a little more room to work with to give the illusion of level and dynamics.”

Hall sees it this way: “There are a few labels that just want you to make it hot. That's basically their request. Obviously any competent mastering engineer is going to do that. Most of the labels pretty much let you do your thing. They figure you know what you're doing if you've been doing it for 20 years or more.”

Click here to read the entire article Masters on Mastering.

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